Women In Tech: Technology’s Rapid Evolution Over 30 Years

Interesting cover story on today’s USA Today. Not the one that Donald and Shelly Sterling are going to sell the Clippers for $2B to a “Tech Guy,” but the one about diversity in Technology. My comments on the Sterling situation are an entirely different story.

So the article is about Google and their workforce demographic. The USA Today pins Google as an “exclusive boys club” because they are 83% men, 17% women. Having been in the marketing of Consumer Electronics for nearly 20 years, I don’t find that shocking at all. That’s what the data has been for years; we’ve often marketed to boys and their electronic toys. After all, the saying “guys love gadgets” came from somewhere right? I believe this is changing as technology continues to be a greater part of our daily lives.

ti-994aAs an early computer adopter of technology, my age bracket is now coming into leadership roles at these companies. When I was a young kid my dad brought home the Texas Instruments TI-99/4A “personal computer.” It was revolutionary and I instantly fell in love with technology. It opened up a whole new world to me. Several of my friends’ parents brought home the TI or maybe the Commodore 64 or the Tandy 1000. Of my friends with computers, we all had sisters, none of which seemed overly interested in the technology. Small sample size, but that was my initial experience.

To the contrary, my friend Mike and I spent HOURS programming a videogame in the programming language “basic.” It was line after line of code to do a word-based game. Do you remember the books where you’d read a situation and choose the outcome, based on your choice you’d go to a page and keep on reading? That was the premise. It was called “Space Wars,” and it was hours and hours of programming fun to write the script and execute it on the computer. I cherish those days.

We’d write code for hours and then save it to a cassette tape through a connection to my Radio Shack mono cassette recorder. You’d hear the modem-like screech and sounds to regurgitate the code back into the TI-99’s RAM because it didn’t have a hard drive. It took a while, but most of the time it would come back and we could keep writing, playing the game, basking in our glory in the opening credits. That began my love of computers, technology and the early days of the Information Superhighway. It was part of my reasoning to enter college for Electrical Engineering.

My freshman year at Syracuse University, I was one of two people on my Sadler Hall floor (Sadler 5) that had a computer in their room. This was during the introduction of Windows 3.1 and Word for Windows. Very few people had a PC powerful enough to run Windows. After all it required 2MB of RAM to run Windows AND Word at the same time. That was expensive back then. My computer was a 33MHz processor with 1MB of RAM and a 20MB hard drive.

This was 1990, before email, before the boom of the Internet. I remember going to the “Computer Cluster” and the demographics of that room(s) were pretty much in line with Google’s workforce. Sad but true. It was a room filled with mostly men, mostly Caucasian and Asian. You only really used the computer for homework related to an engineering or computer science project. Papers were written on word processors.

caldor storeDuring my “Super Senior” year at Syracuse, I applied for a job with a Consumer Electronics firm in Lake Mary, Florida. I was down visiting my sister with 12 of my Fraternity Brothers for spring break the year before and saw that sign. It said “RECOTON” on the building and I remembered the days of saving my Space Wars game on Recoton cassette tapes I had purchased from Caldor.

These were mixed memories and emotions of course, as some of those 3 for $0.99 cassette tapes didn’t hold my data very well, but my technology love had come full circle. By now I had changed my major from Electrical Engineering to Finance/Operations Management. I realized I enjoyed business, marketing, and that whole side of things much more than being locked in a laboratory working on circuits.

Recoton offered me a job and I moved to Florida to enter the world of Consumer Electronics. This was the greatest single move of my life. I started my career with a great company. They sent me all over the world, and it was the decade of experience that led me to start my company Technetium. It was revolutionary for me, a Smallbany kid with hard working blue-collar parents. I entered a world of people who make things. Literally inventing and manufacturing the products I used to go buy in stores. It was amazing.

During those years at Recoton, I was blessed to meet so many amazing people. We had a very diverse group of people. Male/female, black/white. The company was amazing. It was like a family (however dysfunctional they were). Ironically, the majority of the people in product development were male. Maybe it wasn’t ironic. Maybe the early technology adopters were male. I don’t really know. That said, we continued to add amazing women to the marketing team. Some of the smartest, hardest working and most successful people I worked with were female.

When I left Recoton in 2003 to start Technetium, the Internet had been around for a few years, it was coming into videogames for connectivity, companies were more savvy and understood the importance of a website and conducting their business online and through email. It was an exciting time.

During the past decade we’ve had several employees come and go and they were never a copy of the others. They were a diverse group of men, woman, black, white, Hispanic, young, old, etc. It’s been amazing to interact with so many talented people. That’s one of my favorite parts of owning my own business.

Today we have an amazing young woman interning with us. She is majoring in digital media technology. She’s interested in the code behind the scenes. What makes it tick, how you write it to function correctly, how to improve SEO, etc. She’s eagerly learning from our team and it’s amazing to watch.

We received several résumés for internships. We went through a ton of applicants and interviewed five or six. I believe only one of those was male. The best applicants for this digital media internship were female.

texas instruments bill cosby adAs the father of two daughters, I’m pretty sure that women in technology is changing with each generation and these numbers will be very different in generations to come. I certainly hope so. My 7-year-old daughter is more computer literate and technology savvy than many of my friends. Perhaps she’ll be a technologist when she grows up. Who knows, right?

I’m pretty confident that Google isn’t purposely hiring all males, but that this is a reflection of the candidate pool from 10+ years ago. Without true knowledge of their hiring practices, I’d assume that this is changing as generations adapt and adopt technology. The mix of men and women, continued racial diversity, and other demographic changes will are sure to place over the next ten years.

Women in technology exist and they continue to become a larger part of the mix. I’m excited for today’s youth to enter the engineering, computer programming, and other technology fields. People need to remember that 30 years ago Bill Cosby was promoting a “personal computer” that didn’t do what my desktop calculator does today. My smartphone is 1,000,000 times more powerful than that TI-99/4A.

Exciting times to come. That is for sure.

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