Monday, January 28, 2013

Computer Scientist and Spy

When I was a child I wanted to be: a Writer, a World Traveler and a Spy. Lofty career goals. Kids don't have all these embedded notions of what is and is not possible.

My passions led the way and I followed my gut. I kept a meticulously detailed Journal. It was most definitely a Journal and not a Diary, because a Journal meant serious business, whereas a Diary implied fluffy stuff. Each entry started with what time I got up in the morning ("Alarm went off at 7:32"), proceeded through the day, replete with commentary about my adventures, and ended with exactly what moment I went to sleep ("Lights out 11:46 1/2")

My favorite book was Harriet the Spy, and I wore my copy to shreds. Harriet was my mentor: brave, brilliant, determined, adventurous and a good friend. I emulated Harriet by toting around a Spy Notebook (so labeled on the cover) where I wrote down observations of my classmates. Strict reporting ("William is picking his nose again", "Tom hit me over the head with his book on the bus so I turned around and shot a spitball at him") mixed with opinions ("That is disgusting", "It is completely unfair to send me to the Principal when I was acting in self-defense")

No one was safe from Lisa the Spy. In the afternoons and evenings, when I was not out leading the neighborhood kids in high intensity games of hide and seek, I was sneaking around the neighborhood crouching under peoples windows and recording their (boring) conversations in my Spy Notebook. It wasn't the conversations that were really important, it was the act of being a successful, undetected Spy gathering accurate information.

Things got a bit muddled somewhere along the line, I lost track of my passions and found myself a Computer Scientist In A Cube. Stuck indoors all day, writing code. Code just didn't cut it. Constantly breathing recycled air just didn't cut it. Those ghastly pantyhose definitely didn't cut it (this was the '80s).

The story has a Happy Ending. Over a period of years, through a process of introspection, serious goal setting, muddling around, and several instances of life throwing some real zingers my way, I found myself not only a Computer Scientist but a Writer, World Traveler and Spy.

Being a qualitative researcher, author and program evaluator entails all of these activities. No cubicles, only rare short term incarcerations in germ-laden recycled air, and lots of globe trotting. No disgusting pantyhose. Ever.

It just goes to show there are endless opportunities in the computing field in spite of persistent stereotypes or what some people may tell you is "the way things are".

The reason I'm sharing all this is because of a webinar I heard last week: "Take Charge of Your Career Trajectory", the latest webinar produced by Global Tech Women. This particular webinar featured Jo Miller, CEO of Women's Leadership Coaching. Jo's first point (numbered "5") was that you need to Know Your Niche. Your ideal niche, not necessarily your current niche. You need to understand your passions and what makes you feel good. Really get clear on it. Steering yourself towards what you enjoy and feel good about makes the greatest difference over the long run.

Depending upon how far off you are from your ideal niche, it may take a while to get there. But it doesn't have to take several decades. Jo provided a ton of useful, actionable advice for technical women (and anyone else!) to consider. I found my way to where I am somewhat circuitously, but you can speed things up if you set your heart and mind on it. Heck, if I can be Lisa the Spy then you can be anything!

Luckily, the webinar is online. I highly recommend checking it out. While you are at it, if you are in the computing field and doing something interesting let me know. I'd love to write about you!

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