Taking the long view in tech

Thoughts become things, things become thoughts.

My lucky punchcard, from IBM days circa 1985.

I’d been looking forward to the Anita Borg Institute’s Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing for months; by May I’d already booked my hotel and flight for the October conference. After walking the convention center for three days with twelve thousand fellow attendees (nearly 90% female), I can say it was the very best tech conference I’ve attended. And, I’ve attended more than a few. Women definitely need to sponsor and attend more tech conferences for women; there are so many more opportunities to relax and have fun when you’re not walking on eggshells as an outsider.

My strategy was to join all the keynotes and afternoon plenary sessions for inspiration (they delivered!), then join a few key technical sessions and take several passes around the gigantic career fair. As I was packing up for the flight, I grabbed my ‘lucky punchcard’; when I arrived at the registration desk I tucked it into my badge holder.

I like to say ‘plans are just the things from which we deviate’, and my deviations included an opportunity to mentor with Mozilla during Open Source Day at the conference. What a pleasure and a great honor to work with these terrific women.

Open Source Day at the Grace Hopper Conference

I introduced myself as someone who has been a software engineer for a long time, and pulled the punchcard out of my badge holder owning that I’ve done everything from 360 assembly to React and still enjoy it all. The punch card was just a prop, a sentimental keepsake, and I didn’t expect the reactions. Who knew that a ‘punchcard selfie’ would be a thing?

The ever popular ‘punchcard selfie’

Another wonderful deviation from my plan included two ‘speed mentoring’ sessions, where people rotate from table to table for introductions and conversation. Along with the great conversations there were many more ‘punchcard selfie’ moments. Several young women asked if they could hold it, as if it were a fragile fossil from days gone by. Punchcards were designed to be durable; I love the feel of the card stock and can’t bring myself to laminate it.

Speed mentoring at the Grace Hopper conference

By the end of the conference, my lucky punchcard became a thought. The card has seen many jobs and technologies come and go. It’s worn, complete with coffee and wine stains, but it is durable, perfectly functional, and can still be used to create technical outcomes. It’s my avatar, my elevator speech.

During punchcard moments, I would share that when the card was punched I could not have imagined the tools I use today: .NET, Node.js, React, NoSQL. I was involved in early efforts to transfer CAD drawings between IBM locations through the emerging VNET network, and worked on geographic database applications within IBM during those heady days when we eagerly anticipated the ability to perform a two-phase commit in real time. I still work with collaboration and data technologies, and love the endless possibilities in tech.

I challenged my younger colleagues to imagine what their punchcard moments would be like when they return to the conference in twenty years (a keyboard was one of the popular answers… “you mean, you used to type???”). I know I’ll be there, and I’ll still be in tech.

Thank you ABI, for an amazing conference, and for the opportunity to connect with these bright and capable women. See you next year!

If you’d like to connect over a punchcard selfie, please look me up.