I come from a family of Engineers. My grandfather is a Mechanical Engineer, my dad is an Electrical Engineer, and my mom is an Industrial Engineer. We even have an interesting piece of Canadian history to go along with this group of Engineers and family of STEM! My grandfather was the first dad to present his daughter with an iron ring in Canada (or so the story is told within my family). Even with these influences, I decided to go completely against the grain and was accepted into the School of the Arts program in high school for music.
Music was my passion as a teenager. I had an hour and a half of it every day in class and came home to practice and teach piano. But it didn’t take me long to realize that music was going to be a lifelong hobby, not a career. In a high school that focuses on arts, there’s not a lot of room to figure out where you should focus your university efforts to match a possible career path other than arts. So, while I had all the standard science and math classes, I only took one computer class in high school. It’s safe to say that my desire to pursue technology as a career did not come from school but instead from home and three generations of Engineers.
My dad was a software consultant and my mom made the decision to stop her STEM career when I was born to stay at home with me. Education was always incredibly important to them, both being Engineers and having MBAs. I knew the grades I was expected to maintain but also knew that support was available to me if I struggled. When I came home with math homework that I didn’t understand, my parents were always willing to sit down with me and help me through it. Believe me, this was as unexciting for me as it was for them when I would get frustrated with them even though they were just trying to help. Many of my friends didn’t have the luxury of a family member with enough math knowledge to assist with this, but these days there’s so many resources available to parents to help with this.
My parents were also early adopters of the Internet. We had a dial-up line with 60 hours/month and this really is what fostered my interest in technology. Trying to explain to people now what it was like first experiencing the Internet in the 90s is hard but I felt like the entire world was at my fingertips. I met new people from all over the world (including my future husband), put together a simple webpage, got kicked off the Internet when phone calls came in, and enjoyed the early instant messenger services. The enjoyment of this new media made me wonder how it would grow in the future and how I could be involved in its growth.
For toys, I enjoyed everything from Barbies to microscopes but video games were my favourite. My mom was a gamer and that spark passed down to me. I started with the educational games such as Reader Rabbit and Math Blaster then graduated to the less educational but wildly entertaining titles of King’s Quest, Doom, and Lemmings. I’m still an avid gamer to this day and I’m not alone. Computers of Human Behavior journal recently released a study that found 100% of girls in the study in a STEM field identified as a gamer and girls 13-14 that classified as ‘heavy gamers’ (more than 9 hours a week) were 3 times more likely to pursue a degree in STEM compared to girls who were non-gamers1.
In the end, my interest in the world wide web won out. I decided to break tradition and not pursue an Engineering degree. Instead I opted to study computer science, getting a BMath. Without my family encouraging the use of new technologies or giving me the freedom to express interest in them, I’m not sure where I could have ended up. Thanks mom and dad!