Sunday, January 16, 2005

On Being a Female PC Tech in...Well, You Know...

This is a bit of a departure for me, since I'm not discussing the technology, itself, but I couldn't resist discussing my experience as a female in the IT world.

I'm not an "old hand" at this, much to my dismay. I started out as a contractor in the latter half of 1998. My first assignment was working support at a rather exclusive college. I was delighted to assist with installing ethernet cable in the library, imaging and installing PCs in the dorm microlabs, even helping users clean out their email accounts. I didn't find it so delightful teaching a new employee how to use a computer...but I digress.

At this first assignment, not only did I find myself receiving undesired offers for getting to know a fellow tech much better than his wife would have desired, but I found myself being overestimated when we were faced with the task of moving computers from one part of campus to another without carts. I just wasn't moving fast enough for my co-worker, and eventually stopped moving altogether, which pleased him not at all. When the exasperated technician asked me what my problem was, I bluntly (and with more than a little embarrassment) informed him that I wasn't as strong as he was. In my defense, I'm only 63" tall and was new to the job. PCs were heavier back then, too, and it WAS our second trip. I'd like to think that I'm a good bit stronger now}; after years on the job, I can even lift laser printers (but not those Tektronix Phasers ; those things must be made from collapsed stars!); of course, laser printers did get lighter, too, but I can lift the old ones.

At my last contractor assignment, underestimation was my most current problem. I cannot count how many times I'd call up users to ask if it was a good time for me to come look at the problem, and the person (usually female) would say, "Sure, he/they can come by any time." On many occasions, if I just dropped by without calling, someone would simply blurt out that she had been expecting a guy. It's not like they were disappointed to see me; in fact, some ladies expressed pleasure at seeing a female in a position where they usually saw males--and we won't go into the many times I was told it took a woman to finally do the job right.

There's another kind of underestimation I experienced after the users got used to the concept of a female tech. Again, we're back to the heavy things. It is truly mortifying when a 50+ year-old lady offers to help me move her PC or printer, or, worse, do it for me. It is sweet, but not necessary to offer to help me push a cart loaded with computers up a hill to the next building. I don't mind if somebody holds the door while I try not to wonder who might be seeing me and getting flashbacks of the Harriet Tubman movie :). Maybe I'm being over-sensitive, but the way I see it, I'm paid to do the job of a computer support tech, and that means doing what the others do, and I'm pretty certain the guys don't let their users do their jobs for them. This doesn't mean I'm not grateful for LCDs and the small form factor PCs (when they don't overheat and burst the capacitors on the motherboards!), though.

I've known users who felt bad because I had to get on the floor under their desks to do work. Some do more than apologize; they offer to do it for me. My feelings on this are the same as for the heavy lifting: if it must be done, then I am the one to do it. Don't worry about my clothing; I buy what follows my employer's rules, and one day I'll find that job where I can wear the appropriate tech attire (jeans).

That just about does it for actual work, but I must relate something that occurred in a social situation once. As some friends, my husband and I were headed into a local restaurant, some guys who were leaving the restaurant were recognized as fellow UNIX sysadmins for the same major IT corporation. Some conversation ensued, and during introductions, one of my friends' coworkers asked my husband if he knew anything about UNIX. When my friend replied that my husband didn't, but that I did, the inquiring mind didn't even acknowledge my presence.

And the tech goes on...


Tracy said...

Hi MiniMage, it's Tracy (chaimberbell)

I saw this post and had to add ^_^. I've had my fair share of overestimation and underestimation many times and I haven't even left college yet. My "problems" (they aren't really problems but they aren't good things, so I'll call them problems) have been from the following:

-Being a female tuba player for 8 years.
-Being a petroleum engineering major
-Working at an engineering reseach center last summer
-Running the Student Tablet PC site

I was at the lab last summer with my internship, and by "lab" I mean machine shop because it was a mechanical engineering lab. Well, the Ozarka guy came to deliver water, saw me standing there next to the tool area and asked (get this) if I was visiting a relative. *sigh* "No, I work here."

Mostly I would get "underestimation" at my internship, and mostly from the tech and graphics guys. I spent probably a total of a couple hours nodding my head going "Yes...I know...Did, it works like this....tried that..." as they explained every detain of how a digital camera works, or how to check my email, or how to fix my log-on. But then magically, when I had to lift 50lb 2'x2' metal plates, all the guys would dissapear. That was the only time I wished they would help me, and only because I have a semi-bum lower back from picking up my dog wrong a couple years ago ^_^.

While playing the sousaphone in marching band, you wouldn't believe (lol or maybe you would) how many times I was asked if I needed help with moving my horn from one place to another. Like you said, I feel I was the one who signed up to be a tuba player, I'm the one who should do the job (unless I just plain can't, which happens every now and then).

Anyway ^_^, just thought I'd chime in and say I agree with your post.

The Miniature Mage said...

Tracy, thanks so much for stopping by and taking time to leave comments! Your stories made me recall a comic strip I'd encountered years ago.
Miranda joins Columbia Internet
How did I EVER get out of the habit of reading User Friendly?

I forgot to mention one other experience I had: after I'd been working at one place for several months, one of the other techs revealed that they'd all been rather bummed out, when they learned of the decision to hire me. It had nothing to do with any concern over being able to do my job, rather, they simply feared that their days of enjoying conversations about females were over, thanks to our employer's stance on harassment. He admitted that they were all surprised and pleased to know that I didn't give a flip what they said and looked at on the net, as long as they didn't make it personal. All they had to accept was that I might not always be able to refrain from laughing at them!

Neon said...

i enjoy the way you approach and phrase things, open minded. Tell it like it is :)

The Miniature Mage said...

And a very belated thank-you to you, too, neon!

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