Written by Elizabeth Joseph, Chair of Software Discovery Tool, Co-Chair of the Linux Distributions Working Group and Developer Advocate at IBM
Today, February 11, is International Day of Women and Girls in Science, declared by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015 to achieve equal access to and participation in science for women and girls. As we celebrate this day, I’d like to share my story.
If I had to sum up a career in technology in one word, I’d probably land on Creativity.
Unfortunately, this isn’t how many cultures of the world view technology careers, and it’s something that surprised me after I had my interest piqued. Isn’t it just sitting at your desk writing some magical computer language? Seems hard. And boring!
I started playing around with Linux on my desktop because I had an interest in computers, but what kept me there was the ability to customize my desktop in every way. Plus, since it was all open source, I could open up a text editor and make adjustments to C code to change the behavior of a widget I was using. This was a transformational moment for me. My computer wasn’t a black box, or too difficult for me to understand. By being creative and a little brave, I could take small steps and start understanding how things worked. I didn’t buy a book on C to start puzzling out the code, and that first C code I altered was probably terrible, but it was a starting point and gave me a quick win, and a fix to a tool I was using.
As I entered a career in Linux systems administration, I took this creativity with me and realized that I had the building blocks to build some really satisfying things, and fell in love with the profession.
I quickly joined a local Linux Users Group, where I could meet up with other enthusiasts and get support, so a second word? Community. There’s another cultural stereotype that caused me to believe that computing was solitary in some ways, but the most rewarding moments in my career, and the most successful people in my field, are folks who collaborate. In this way, the creative thinking we all bring to our technology communities, especially when folks from diverse backgrounds are involved, enable us to build some really amazing things.
Which brings me to my last word, and that’s Curiosity. I don’t believe everyone who works in technology has to feel like they have a calling or to be particularly passionate about it, but curiosity has definitely been key for me. Sometimes the answers to technical problems require that direct creative thinking, and sometimes it requires a nature hike so you have time to clear your head and allow the pieces to naturally come together. This can lead to those Eureka! moments that are one of the most satisfying things about working in technology, and cause you to pack up your hiking boots and rush back to your laptop because you solved the puzzle and can’t wait to share it with your team.
It’s with this perspective that I think about myself as a woman in technology, and how to attract other women and girls to our fields in science and technology. It may look like I’m hunched over my computer looking at a black and green screen half the time, but if you dig a little deeper you see so much more. I’m chatting with folks in my community, I’m reviewing code that others are submitting, and we’re coming up with creative solutions to problems that we’ve come together to solve. You suddenly realize that what may have seemed hard, solitary, and boring is actually quite the opposite. I’ve had friendships that have now spanned decades that came from my involvement in technical communities, and I’ve traveled all over the world to share my solutions and expertise with others in the field. It has made for a fascinating and exciting career.
I hope to see more women giving it a chance so they can share in these experiences. My advice to anyone who is looking to start out is to look for these creative and collaborative outlets, and follow your curiosity where it takes you. My involvement with the Open Mainframe Project has opened doors for me that I never knew existed in computing, and ultimately power some of the most critical systems in the world. What we do in the mainframe space really matters! In the Open Mainframe Project, I’ve also had the opportunity to learn from and work with several prominent women in the industry who are participants in and leaders of projects.
Finally, programs like the Linux Foundation Mentorship Program have allowed us to bring in new contributors from various backgrounds around the world and introduce them to open mainframe technologies. You can read a bit more about the mentorship program in an interview I did last year alongside the first student I worked with on the Software Discovery Tool, Divya Goswami: https://www.openmainframeproject.org/blog/2022/03/11/software-discovery-tool