My professional story has taken me from one extreme to the other—from an uber-left-brain career to an uber-right-brain one—and back again to center. Looking back, I see that my whole brain has been at work all along, bringing first a human emotionality to the computer world, and later a software engineer’s logic to the emotional world. I ultimately found myself in the unofficial but artful profession of “innovation advocacy,” a role I have naturally played all along.
In my story, I am accompanied by a very scrappy ally, a Princess of Good Fortune. I call her “Grace.” Grace sometimes appears in the recognizable forms of health, wealth, love and success. At other times, she comes disguised as pain, sorrow, loss and confusion. Always, she is my friend. I hope that my story tugs at yours, and reveals the presence of Grace at work in your life, too.
Scrappy Story, Full of Grace
When I was young I was a strong student of math and science, but could in no way picture myself working in a lab or a hospital. Squeamish and klutzy, I could only imagine myself in an office, “being helpful in some way.” Secretary, I guess! This limited aspiration was not cool with my advisors and teachers, or with my very scrappy mother, or even with me. But what other career was there for a klutzy science girl? Enter the new field of “computer science,” a mysterious subject one of my female cousins had taken up. Math? Check. Science? Check. Office? Check! Knowing nothing else about this emerging field, Grace gave me a decision and a future. It was 1977.
In college, at a progressive Catholic university named Clarke, I learned to program computers using punched cards. Clumsily modern, this process taught me to think carefully and get things right the first time, as the opportunity for programming experiments came at a rate of only one chance per day! (Imagine forgetting an “end-if” and having it slip your schedule by 24 hours!) Thoroughness of thought continues to be a gift, though a sometimes pesky obstacle to my more creative side. My first computer job came to me through a tried and true method—an introduction by my mother. I was frightened to begin my first serious job, but my mother insisted, “Just pretend you can, until you can.” This proved to be excellent advice! In fact, I’ve learned, it is how all creative acts are accomplished. After a series of more educational degrees and jobs, and a few lucky breaks, I found myself in the San Francisco Bay Area – Silicon Valley.
In Silicon Valley, Tandem Computers and I embraced each other, and I began my career as a technology manager. Ostensibly, I guided network software development projects and helped facilitate the development of new and improved networking standards. Actually, I was there to empathize with people through their triumphs and frustrations, help get things in line when things got out of whack, and enjoy frequent, informal opportunities to teach. I had the good fortune to work with some very creative people. A keenly perceptive and progressive manager told me I had a well-developed connection between my “left” and “right” brain. It was a new concept to me, and apparently somewhat uncommon in the computer engineering world. He appreciated my ability to bridge the technical and human sides of work.
Continuing on through a dizzying series of life experiences, lurching forward time and again with Grace, I have recently started a new business and launched several collaborative initiatives in the service of evolving innovation. This latest hero’s journey will be aided by many gifted allies who have often personified Grace to me. The journey will require me to be very scrappy, and very artful, to be sure. I can’t wait to begin!
There is no map for the Hero’s Journey—every one of us must walk their own unique path. But here are a few guidelines I’ve collected during my own adventure that I hope will light your way, and a poem to light your heart. Although the road seems at times to wind uphill all the way, it’s a journey I wouldn’t have missed!