Every hero has an origin story. They often start out thinking that the only thing they want is to be just like everybody else. In March of this year, I resigned myself to realizing that my life would never be the same, let alone “ordinary”. I may not be a hero, but I do see the potential if cosmic rays hit.
It all started when I was 8. That was when I was whisked away to the Gifted Program. Back then, you got yanked out of your 3rd grade class and placed with a bunch of kids you don’t even know in a place you are not familiar with because you tested “superior” or whatnot.
I liked the challenge, but I was surrounded by strangers who winced when I said I lived in the projects of East St. Louis. It was like I told them I crawled from under a cardboard box and stumbled into the classroom and asked them for food, drink, and some money. This was my first lesson in what would be called bourgeois.
All I wanted to do was build things from scratch. After getting my hands on my first computer, all I could do is wonder what was inside of it and how it worked. I took things apart at home. So much so, that my mother and I had to compromise on what was game to be taken apart and put back together.
Throughout life, I continued to be thrown into classes and courses where I stuck out. I continued my gifted education into middle and high school. I had been talked out of going to it in primary school because the teachers frankly didn’t want me out of their classrooms. Something about the grade average going down or some such thing.
Once I learned programming in high school, the game had changed. I wanted to make this machine do and say things that I had in my head but didn’t have down on paper. I wondered at the vision behind the Macintosh computer. I wanted to be like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates and build something gigantic… something that would change the world, and the way it works. I wanted it to be glorious, something that would redefine what smart, progressive lifestyles would be like.
But along the way, something strange happened. Something totally unexpected: people told me that I couldn’t do it because I wasn’t smart enough. That was the first time anyone told me that. As a matter of fact, it was often the opposite: you’re too smart for your own good.
I wanted to know what else I needed to know, and I wanted to know desperately. I felt like I was letting down the thing that I loved so much to do by not knowing enough about it to take care of it properly. My heart hurt and was burning. I felt like I didn’t really love it or else I would know what I needed to know already.
I found myself taking a course in college where I was sure that I would be the only girl. I didn’t care. I had been the only one in my high school’s blueprint/drafting class and one of a few that stuck around for two computer programming courses when I was refused the boy-heavy computer building one. What I didn’t anticipate was that I would be the only black person.
The societal pressure in college was unexpected. After battling with severe depression, returning home degree-less, and feeling all sorts of failure, I embarked on what would be my renewed mission and stepping stone to where I am now: Technical Help Desk.
I remembered how every superhero turns the story from being ordinary to being extraordinary: do something different in a situation where you would normally run and hide. I would not let depression get in the way nor my fear of doing something wrong. I didn’t want to look stupid, but I didn’t want to stay that way, either. I went back to school, back online, and refreshed every little piece of knowledge I had.
I built a computer, from scratch. I’m talking parts (my solder game isn’t on point, yet): case, motherboard, PCI cards, modem (this was back in the day), network cards, hard drives, CD/DVD drives, cables and wiring, power supply… the works. And I did it. All before I had an A+ certification. The computer still worked for a long time, more than most who bought their PCs the traditional store-bought way. And as a bonus, I could swap out my parts for cheap and override the repair fees. I ended up building, fixing, and maintaining computers for others.
I went to a meetup, that landed me a job squarely in the technical field after I had all but given up. I told one of the staff (who I didn’t even know was recruiting me at the time) that I had tried to get jobs in the technical field but no one wanted me, that I had the best offers in the Help Desk field because I “had a really nice voice”. It’s like the equivalent to the joke where someone telling you that the blind date they set you up with has a really awesome personality.
Fast forward to now. I’ve worked as an engineer, tacked on an applicable server engineer certification, and am taking over some duties from former coworkers. But even more so, I gave myself another shot at taking a chance to be the programmer that I once wanted to be when I left high school all those many years ago. The funny thing is back then, I thought of it as a side job until I got my computer and OS/software empire up off the ground.
I guess I’m still learning how to fly.