My nerd story

I was born to be a nerd.

My dad was an engineer and pilot in the RAF. We come from a long line of engineers, all the way back to Napier, the dude that figured out logarithms.

As a kid I wanted to learn everything about everything. I read every book I could lay my hands on, and I took  things apart to see how they worked, notably, an alarm clock that never went back together right. (Why is there always a spring left over? The clock still worked, so I guess you could call it refactoring.)

I first programmed when I was in the fourth grade. I was eight. A school near me had an Apple II, and they set up a program to bring in kids who were good at math to learn to program. Everybody else was in the seventh or eighth grades, but my school knew I was bored, so they sent me. We learned LOGO, a Lisp.

In the seventh grade my school got BBC Bs. I typed in games in Basic from magazines (Computer and Video Games, anyone?) and modified them. I worked out how to put them on the file server so everybody could play. The teacher could not figure out how to get rid of them.

I saved up money from many odd jobs and bought myself a Commodore 64, and wrote code for that. All through this, I still wanted to be a lawyer/veterinarian/secret agent/journalist. I don’t think I ever considered being a programmer at that stage. I don’t think I knew it was a job, as such.

At the start of my final year of high school, I had a disagreement with my parents and moved out of home, and dropped out of school. After a short aborted career as a bicycle courier, I applied for and got a job working for the government as a trainee, a program where you worked three days a week and went to TAFE (community college) for two. They called and said, we have a new program which is on a technology track. Is that interesting? I said yes, and that was my first tech job.

I went from there to another courier firm where I did things with dBase, and worked in the evenings at a Laser Tag place. One night, at a party, I started talking to these guys who were doing stuff with recorded information services over POTS. They had the first NeXTs in Australia, and I really wanted to get my hands on them.

They offered me a job, and I was suddenly Operations Controller, leading a team of four people. Still not really sure how that happened.

The bottom fell out of that industry, and I went back to school, finished high school, and went to college. Best decision I ever made career wise was my choice of program. I studied Computer Science and Computer Systems Engineering at RMIT. I was the only woman in the combined program. It was intense: you took basically all the courses needed for both of those programs (one three years, one four years) in a five year period. We took more courses in a single semester than most people did in a year. I loved it. I had found my tribe.

One day, I went to the 24 hour lab and I saw a friend, Rosemary Waghorn, with something on her terminal I had never seen before. “What’s that?” I asked. “It’s called Mosaic,” she said. “This is the world wide web.”

I sat down. I was hooked. I knew right away that *this* was what I wanted to do.

That was twenty-one years ago, and now I work at Mozilla.

2 Comments

  1. Tonskie:

    Awesome Story.

  2. Dave:

    This is a great and inspiring story. I sent you a message yesterday about another lady engineer I am representing who has a similar story-perhaps the two of you could create great synergy. Please check the Linkedin message I sent.

    D

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