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 from tech school. Summer break was coming up. It was time to get out there, diploma in hand, and land her first job. Months of 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 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 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 to pay back her tuition loans at night.
She was offered a spot in a program 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 show up to class. 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, at a top secret location, deep in the suburbs. (Tech was more underground back then.) Living and breathing “the soul of a new machine ”. With no interest in anything else. And she didn’t just learn how to do her own job. She learned how to do every 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.
That’s when the haters arrived.
In 1972, the feminist movement was just starting to get traction. 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. (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: