I see writing here as a way of working out ideas, not issuing profound certainties. Beyond my assured hatcheting of grammar and spelling (hi Sandy), I learn as I share, where I am often (a) wrong, (b) blind or (c) wrong.

Upon an insightful comment form Maha Bali I am rethinking the assertion on Over Easy of “technological learned helplessness” sounds a bit too much like totally blaming an individual.

As she makes it clear in a followup post A Feminist View on Learned tech Helplessness, in Maha’s experience and probably many others, it’s the result of how women have been treated in pursuit of learning technology. Boys are encouraged / girls discouraged. The Lego Gender Remixer makes a pointed case.

I don’t see the fact that in learning a technology Maha found herself turning to men only for help (Tim, Mike me); it seems more of a matter of seeing who she knows who were visibly trying the same technology. I don’t ask Maha questions about jQuery not because of her gender; I have not seen her doing jQuery programming.

Maybe that line of logic is faulty too.

In thinking about Maha’s experience of being patronized in technology, I went reflective, like before when I tried to ponder who was memorable and who was not in my education, thinking of women who have been influential, inspiring, formative in my own path to a career in this field of educational technology, one that did not exist when I was a kid. Or if it did, I did not know of it (sideline: my cousin David got a PhD educational psychology at Arizona State University in the early 1970s and he said they studied educational technology– it was 16mm film).

And then I wondered back again, is it slithering to say “I have been inspired by women”? or questionable to say, “I don’t think of gender when I think of ______”? I don’t want a pat on the back for trying on a feminist perspective. I’m just trying to work out a scattering of neural activity.

I cannot discount at all what Maha describes in her experience as a woman. I also have not lived it. <obvious>And that does not mean it does not exist</obvious>.

The list grew long, and I know I will miss many, so I am trying it out anyhow– “For She Who Influenced Me… Thanks”. In some kind of chronological order and back again.

First is my sister, Harriet. She was one of the first graduates of a computer science program at University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC). I remember her saying when she started it was not even a major, the program was in the math department. Through her program she got an internship at the Social Security Administration, which grew into a 30+ year career, eventually as a high level program administrator of technical implementations with converting paper processes to digital at Social Security centers across the US.

It was because she was already on a path that I chose to be a Computer Science Major when I entered university (“it’s a good field to go into”). I may have later had some counter influence as Harriet started blogging during the years she and her husband were doing long term sailing trips (she got way more comments than me). She will probably be the first to add some thoughts to this post. Hi Big Little Sister!

Not strictly technology (well one can say Writing was one of the first technologies) but still highly influential on me was Mrs Kershman, my 10th grade English teacher. She was firm, challenged us and taught us to really love writing. That it matters. That it’s not just putting a splattering of words on a piece of paper.

My memories of studying computer science at the University of Delaware is really dim, what I called before as an unmemorable. I cannot remember a female teacher, and at best my classes were likely 95%+ male.

Fast forward through my switch into geology major, moving to Arizona to go to graduate School at Arizona State University. Worthy of an entire blog post of its own is the influence of Sue Kieffer who took me under her wing when I decided to start a PhD in Geology. An expert in things like mathematical modeling, gas dynamics, and just a creative thinker, she also hinted at what a challenge it was to be a leading figure in a field almost completely dominated by men, and for all she told me, I bet it was just a small amount. After she left ASU, she got a MacArthur Genius award. She remains a friend, and also is still active in her field, roaming and exploring the natural world and doing crazy things like running marathons.

You think the female/male ratio is bad in technology? It’s likely worse in the sciences. In my research with Sue I was starting some early graphics visualization of data, using some quaint now what was cutting edge, a Mac IIsi. This is what made computers click for me- not as a pursuit unto itself as taught in Computer Science, but as a means of studying the world. I may have learned more than any class would have taught about writing for scientific journals (it was Sue who really stressed getting away from the academic passive voice). And it was Sue who listened as a caring person when I decided that pursuing a PhD in Geology was not the direction I wanted to go. She’s been a long time friend, now retired near Seattle, and I hope to visit in March.

Naomi was the person who took a chance of hiring an unproven geology PhD dropout to be an instructional technologist at the Maricopa Community Colleges. I was given a lot of freedom to experiment with technology at the Maricopa Center for Learning & Instruction. It was she that lit my interest in digital storytelling; she sent me to a conference in Hawaii in 1996, where I got to meet Dana Atchley. The sweet irony? Namoi’s last name is… Story. Her background was instructional design, so while not having the knowledge of instructional technology, she saw a lot in its potential. And she modeled a lot of the leadership at Maricopa at that time of giving people space and latitude to be creative. I would not be where I am now, if she had not taken that chance on hiring me.

Early on in my career there was another instructional design in our center, let’s just refer to her as “S”. We worked on a few projects, and “S” was pretty clear in asserting that she was responsible for all of the design and plannings for multimedia projects were were developing with faculty. I recall many times I was “just the technologist” and my role was to “build her ideas”. She was rather dismissive to my design suggestions

She did not last long. I can cite her as an influence too.

My colleague and later director of the center, Maria Harper-Marinick was similar influence. She’s now a Vice Chancellor at Maricopa. I have to say the diversity of that system in its time was impressive. I recall when I was there at least 4 of the college presidents were female, 4 were people of color (some overlap). This was reflected down the leadership chain, at least in the Academic and Student services branches (Technology then was still pretty male-ish). It was, as a true mentor on leadership to me, Vice Chancellor Alfredo de los Santos (Hispanic) would say “it’s because ‘Community’ is our middle name”.

Lots of Maricopa influences come to mind. Betty Field, a math teacher at Paradise Valley Community College, was on my hiring committee. She was also an early leader in some early early Computer Aided Instruction that was mainframe based (was that TICCIT)? Betty was a broad thinker in terms of using technology. She was also adventurous; in her first math faculty position at Northern Arizona University, Harvey Butchart was a colleague who was reknown for his explorations of unmapped hiking routes into the Grand Canyon. Betty and her husband Roger were doing the same; I remember her saying they were backpacking 50 of the first 52 weeks they lived in Arizona.

My early colleague in presenting about the web was Donna Rebadow, a wildly fun colleague (we laughed) and serious / thoughtful about teaching online. She was an amazing force of understanding about technology, and flowed with stories about her experiences with students. I recall one online psychology class she taught where part of the experience she organized was a trip to a homeless shelter; she would say that students really connect to the learning when “they hold a crack baby.” Donna was tireless at trying all of the technologies that came along in the 1990s and beyond. It was with Donna I got a first invited speaking trip; in 1996 we went to Douglas College outside of Vancouver.

Someone I met early at Maricopa was, Billie Hughes an instructional technologist at Phoenix College. They were doing inventive work with MOOs and MUDs. towards her latter years, she worked remotely from Alpine, Arizona, informing me about this idea of teleworking. An English teacher at Glendale Community College, Karen Schwalm led the development of the Electronic Forum, a pre-web course/community environment. I could go on all day with formative woman colleagues in my Maricopa years right onto now to the group of tech using faculty I stay in touch with- Donna, Lisa, Sian, Alisa, Shelley… the majority of close tech colleagues, people I still get ideas from… women. Maybe one or two guys.

(I am not even close to done, and I am running low on steam here).

The count increases even more when I shifted to the years I was at NMC. One colleague I remember shared the amusement of going to an early large Java conference, and for once she found that the tiny minor small advantage was the lack of lines in the women’s bathroom. All kinds of women in the tech field. Holly Wictchey then at the Cleveland Art Museum, perhaps one of the funniest and insightful people in the world of museum technology. Wendy Shapiro, a powerful leader at Case Western.

There was Hilary Mason then at a small New England College, but who generously shared code, and then she goes on to be a data scientist at bit.ly and more. She is easily one of the smartest programmers I know, male or female. There was Jo Kay all the way from Wollagong, I got to know of all places, in Second Life, and later went on a trip with to the Blue Mountains. She’s a force of generous technology not only in virtual worlds; She gave me some CSS designs for the Horizon Project wikispace sites I was using for NMC (which they are still using). Also in Second Life there was a code artist name Kisa who helped me out with some scripting; later when the voice service was a feature and we did a live demo at an NMC conference, I found that her voice was… rather deep. I still connect via twitter.

There are all the critical thinkers and open life shares I know trough blogs, like Leslie Madsen-Brooks, Barbara Ganley, Barbara Sawhill, Laura Blankenship. All influences. There’s Martha Burtis at UMW, who quietly thinks big ideas and codes new ideas (the ds106 Assignment Bank was all her assembling from one tossed idea in a Skype call), all in the shadow of some guy named Groom. She is silently brilliant (big fan here!).

This could go on and on. I’m already lacking enough fingers and toes to lost the women who have been instrumental in me being where I am now in the field of technology.

But I have left out the most important one. And every one of us, male, female, white, brown, black, green… has to give her credit.

cc licensed ( BY-SA ) flickr photo shared by cogdogblog

Yep, Mom. Besides the obvious birthing, diaper changing, feeding, bathing, dressing, nurturing stuff…

My favorite Mom moment was in 2011 when I was planning to quit my well paying, secure job at NMC to… take a road trip. I wanted to let her know, and fretted over the phone call. I expected her to ask me if I was crazy. I expected her to remind me the economy was bad and it was not a time to be without money. She would ask about my health insurance. She worried about me a lot.

But Mom surprised me by doing the complete opposite of my expectations. Her immediate reasons to my telling her I was quitting my job was, “I am so excited for you! I cannot wait to see all your photos and read it on your blog.”

My mind, my expectations were “blown away” (as she liked to say).

Her computer use was minimal- she used web mail, and she bookmarked my blog and my flickr stream.

And the followup moment was sometime during that road trip, I think it was in Canada, when I had less connectivity in the middle part of the country. When I finally got her email, this is what I read:

How come you have not posted to your blog in a week?

Just when you think you know someone…

Writing this story again just makes me pause and both miss and cherish her. So thanks Mom, Harriet, every woman I have listed and the many more I have forgotten. You are all there. And have taught me more than I could learn myself.


Top / Featured image credit: Public Domain image by Nemo from Pixabay http://pixabay.com/p-297566/

The post "She… and My Path in Technology" was originally slapped on the butt by a cigar smoking doctor yelling "It's a post!" at CogDogBlog (http://cogdogblog.com/2014/12/she/) on December 16, 2014.

6 Comments

  • Maha Bali

    Beautiful, touching post, Alan. Ur one of the most sensitive men I know (boy, I hope ur like that in real life and not just in writing hehe – but still not every man writes with vulnerability ; was wondering recently how many men would admit like Audrey Watters to having impostor syndrome? Dunno if men even get that feeling)

    • Alan Levine aka CogDog cogdogblog.com

      Thanks Maha. I guess you will have to wait; heck you were wondering once if I was in the tea party. Here’s some secret news for you– everyone deals with imposter syndrome. Oops I wasn’t supposed to let that slip out!

  • Sandy Brown Jensen

    Beautifully written homage to the great SHE ( who should always be a “who” and never a “that”– just sayin’).

    I learned the tech I know almost strictly through reading documentation and applying it.

    I am now a Faculty Technology Specialist, and my workshops attract 95% middle aged and older women trying their darndest to advance their skills.

    My observation of my aging professoriat is that the men are just as far back on the other side of the bridge to the 21st century, but when they are forced to ask for help, they don’t ask me–they ask one of the male Faculty Techs.

    If there are young teachers who are so hip to tech that they don’t need help, I don’t know where they are or on what social media platforms they may or may not be communicating. At any rate, I doubt they would come to me as an older woman tech; I don’t fit any stereotype they have of nerd, trending, or hip.

    In many ways, I feel ghettoized–I don’t know as much as the truly nerdy male techs as they cluster together and talk code amongst themselves. I am an oddity to other women, who tend to pretend to admire/be intimidated by my unique skill set and high social media profile.

    In short–or perhaps at length, I believe both ageism and sexism are alive and kicking in the academy…

    • Alan Levine aka CogDog cogdogblog.com

      Despite my usual sarcastic tone, I hope you know that (can I use that here?), that I really appreciate your direct and sincere comments, especially when you bring insights like these. Such a basic unmet human need to get even small amounts of acknowledgement– not like credit and kudos, but just to be seen by others. I’m sad.

  • Leslie M-B

    Thanks for this post, Alan, and for the shout-out. It means a lot to me. Hugs to you!

  • Sandy

    It’s been a year, and I have mostly retired. As I re-read your excellent blog post, formulating my thoughts, I was startled to see my year old comment was pretty much exactly what I was thinking the second time through, too. However, this time I found I was adding a reflective layer looking back on my so-called career and appreciating the women who helped lift me up out of the seventeen years of part-timing up into a decade of full-timing.

    The college president, Mary Spilde, took an active interest in me as a member of her “Inspiring Leaders” program. My dean, Susan Carkin, kicked me up the step system by making me re-do my portfolio no fewer than three times. BECAUSE I was that rarity, a woman who could find her way around Moodle, Google, and her various iOS devices, they valued and promoted me, and for that I am very grateful.

    I recently was surprised in a tech meeting by the president, no fewer than three Vice Presidents and a variety of deans, faculty and classified friends for a big award. I was in a meeting with almost all men, but the award flash mob was almost all women.

    I think I conclude from this that it truly takes a whole community (college) to round out a career, to make it rich and deep, as I am increasingly seeing mine was.

    Thanks again for this post celebrating the women in your life. Well blogged, Dog!

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