My mom is a nerd and a genius.
She would always deny it. Growing up, she told us often that she has dyslexia and found reading very challenging. That she loved to learn, but couldn’t pull good grades in school, and it disappointed her family greatly. I didn’t know back then if she even viewed herself as smart. But she found ways to express herself through pure geekdom that more than made up for poor grades in school.
You won’t see many pictures of her techie side. She’d always be the one behind the camera and behind the scenes. She didn’t like having pictures taken of herself, which is ridiculous, since she’s beautiful.
My mom was a stay-at-home mom and dad worked as an engineer. My dad has his own awesomeness and his own geeky ways, but mom’s main way of expressing herself was to collect, and learn about, technology.
Early in her life, this showed up in mom’s moviemaking. She used her dad’s 8mm camera to make her own special effects in this movie with her childhood friends.
In my childhood, she used my brothers and me as guinea pigs. She thought it would be fun to teach us how Hollywood movie makers make fight scenes look so real, so she pitted us against each other in this little action movie.
As a child of the 1980’s, I grew up during a technologically AWESOME time – the very beginning of the home-gaming and home-computing era. My mom was the driving force behind our family’s computing. She and dad got us our first Atari 2600 game system in 1980. She convinced the other neighborhood parents to get their kids systems too, so we could all game together. My aunts and uncles all got 2600 game consoles too. We swapped cartridges often.
Mom took me and my brothers to our very first gaming competition at the local K-Mart. We participated in a Space Invaders competition. I think one of my brothers won a T-shirt.
By the time I was in late elementary school, mom had caught Atari fever and Atari had come out with a home computer. She convinced dad to get the Atari 800xl computer.
Our first home computer came with a TAPE RECORDER as a media storage device, and a BASIC cartridge. I remember the anticipation of that first day as my mother popped in in the cassette tape for Crush, Crumble, and Chomp! And we sat there for a half hour waiting for the game to load. Then we played, but I think my baby brother hit the reset button and then we had to load it from the tape again.
Mom convinced a bunch of the neighborhood moms, as well as many of her own brothers and sisters, to get Atari computers as well, so we could trade cartridges and play games together.
Mom got a subscription to an Atari magazine (Antic!) and got a modem (I think it was 1200 baud). We would dial numbers on our pushbutton phone and wait for a tone, then hopefully hang up the phone. We’d watch the lights blink and pray the connection didn’t get interrupted, which it did often. Mom would connect to a server for an Atari enthusiasts’ club and download BASIC programs. She and I would edit the programs, or sometimes we’d type in the programs from the Antic magazine and hope that they saved properly (which they often didn’t). We eventually got a 5 1/4 inch floppy drive which helped the reliability a lot. She introduced me to text-adventure games such as Zork and Planetfall. I loved them and played all the time.
My seventh-grade gifted/talented project was to create a board game. I asked my teacher if I could create a computer game. I went home and, with mom’s help and troubleshooting, I wrote a trivia game in BASIC. I brought it to school for my project demo, and it worked, but people got frustrated because the answers were case-sensitive and spelling counted.
I got a B.
When I was in junior high, I tried growing plants for my very first science fair project. None of the plants sprouted. I went to my mom three days before science fair and broke down in tears because I didn’t have a project. She said she had an Antic magazine with a project in which you could turn Atari paddles into a lie detector. She asked if I’d like her to help me make an Atari lie detector for my science project, and I said YES! So she did.
I got a B.
My mom had a kindred spirit in our neighbor kid, Rick. Rick’s mom was one of the ones she convinced to get an Atari 800xl computer so the kids could have fun with it. Rick got his own subscription to Antic, and my mom helped him troubleshoot his own computer projects after school. For science fair, Rick got his Atari computer to communicate with weather satellites and download weather maps. Mom spent a lot of time helping Rick with the project.
Rick got a B. I think this upset my mom more than my B. To be fair, neither of us used the scientific method really well, but Rick deserved an A. It was a heck of an engineering project. He printed out weather maps on that dot-matrix printer behind him. None of the science fair judges really understood it, and I don’t think anyone really did except my mom.
The kid who won science fair that year did her project on paper towels. Whatever. Her mom doesn’t know her daisy wheel from her dot matrix, her RAM from her ROM, her kilobytes from megabytes.
In the 1990’s, we entered into Windows computing and the exciting connectivity of AOL and CompuServe. I went off to college. As her babies grew up, mom decided to get a part-time job. She became a sales lady for Victoria’s Secret, working in their catalog office where you phoned in your orders. She taught herself HTML and image editing. She was convinced Victoria’s Secret was missing a big opportunity to enter online sales. She reached out to the executive team a couple of times and even prototyped a web page for them, with an adorable animated gif of an online sales rep ready to take your order. She was upset they never seemed to take her seriously, but she was right all along. She left Victoria’s Secret after a while. Imagine – hawking lingerie wasn’t really her thing.
Today, my mom stays active in tech by doing movie editing, archiving photos and family history, and troubleshooting her friends’ and family members’ computers. She’s kind of an expert on viruses and malware. We call her all the time when the computer is misbehaving.
Consider all this, and the fact that my mom has never had a paying job working in high-tech and has no college degree. She taught herself everything she knows. She’s the ultimate computer hobbyist. That’s my mom!
Here’s mom today. Beautiful and funny and savvy as always. I love you!
End note: fewer than 10% of all Computer Engineering degrees are conferred to women. I took my first programming course in college, and finally received my first A on a technology project. I loved it. I got a degree in computer engineering. I wonder.. if there were more geeky moms to play around with computer “stuff” with their daughters, perhaps there’d be more of us.