It was a busy time for the young girl. She went to high school by day and attended tech school nights and weekends. She was still in Grade 11 when she graduated at the top of the class having worked at the tech school as a teaching assistant for the final six months.
Summer break was coming up. It was time to get out there, diploma in hand, and land her first job in tech. Many disappointing job interviews and rejections followed. No one was willing to give her a chance. Maybe you’ve been there too at one time or another in your own career.
One day she got tired of all the waiting around and took matters into her own hands. She called up the manager who had interviewed her the week before and asked him point blank, “Are you going to hire me or not? I can do this job, I want this job, and I need to know right now… yes or no?”
That’s how she got her second yes! In the summer of 1971. Years later, her boss told her he had been so taken aback by her directness on that call, he had to give her a chance. He saw something in her!
It was an entry-level position of course. But that did not matter. The important thing was… She. Was. In.
Now she had an entire summer to wow her first employer. She had to convince them to keep her on full-time come Fall. Switching to the evening shift in September meant she could finish Grades 12 and 13 during the day while earning money needed for rent and to pay back her student loans at night.
The following Spring, having been selected to present her plans for self-directed education and performance assessment to the admissions committee, she was offered a spot in the Programme for Integrated Studies at the University of Waterloo – one of the best places to study computer science at the time.
But her high school principal refused to grant her an early release so she could get started on her post-graduate work asap. He threatened to withhold her diploma if she didn’t attend her Grade 13 classes. And, he made sure she knew he did not approve of women in tech.
But she did not care. Even at 16 she could see he had no vision — no sense of where the world was headed. But she did. And she already had the dream job she wanted so badly and had worked so hard for. He couldn’t steal that away from her.
Never let anyone steal your dreams.
She worked in a data centre tucked away in the suburbs, and lived and breathed “the soul of a new machine ”. With no interest in anything but her work. She didn’t just learn how to do her own job; she learned how to do every single job in that data centre. On her own time. Just because.
Less than two years later, this girl would become the youngest systems engineer in the history of finance and banking to lead a major technology change for a large global financial institution. She was 17.
Every banking system and business process was impacted and had to be redesigned and reprogrammed. There was no one who could advise her — the technology was so brand-spanking new, it hadn’t been fully implemented by any other bank or company in Canada or the USA yet.
She was provided with all of the new machine’s technical specifications, an office on mahogany row, and had 3 months of free reign to design, test, and train her staff of 10 to implement everything needed.
There was only one mandate: it all had to work by the due date. And one non-negotiable restriction — all communication with the bank’s top senior management at Head Office could only be done in writing and the signature must be initials only — there was never to be any mention or indication of her first name.
That’s when the haters arrived.
In 1972, the feminist movement was just starting to gain traction in the mainstream. But the prevailing attitude was women didn’t belong in tech. Despite the fact female computer scientists had been making awesome contributions to the field since 1842 when Ada Lovelace published the algorithm intended for the first modern computer. And many talented women had proven equal to the challenge since the mid-20th century.
Still, most of the men on her team had been systems engineers for years. Some had daughters her age! It was not easy winning them over. Especially the ones who felt her job was more rightfully theirs. She had more than a few haters. But, in reality, doing something new requires you to weather the storm. It’s the storm that provides your path forward and prepares you for being able to handle the challenges and responsibilities ahead. (You will face many such storms as you work on building your own business.)
Together, they made it work. That pivotal project led to her first-ever testimonial. The head of the company she worked for, William R. Wade, wrote: