I am a nerd. I was born in the early 80s and raised on Atari and National Geographic’s World magazine. I am the bridge between Generation X and the Millennials, not quite fitting in both sharing characteristics of both. I was brought into a world at war with drugs, the Russians and the Middle East; a world also full of Space Shuttles and technological wonders. A third generation college grad! (Except for my maternal grandmother all family members have higher education degrees, including a couple of Masters.)
My best friends were my books and my video games. I spent countless hours trying to figure out how to play The Legend of Zelda back when the only guide you could count on was the monthly Nintendo Power which we had to drive to the store to purchase. The Transformers G1, GI Joe, Jem and Fraggle Rock taught me everything I needed to know about friendship, sacrifice and the real world. Koji, my imaginary friend and famous pilot of the Mazinger Z, made sure that I explored every corner of my house and backyard without fear of being alone until that fateful day I blamed him for one of my wrong doings and my mom kicked him out of the house. That was how I learned to never betray a friend.
I grew up in a world where you either won first place or you were considered a loser. If you lost, you had another whole year to train. My parents would hire a tutor or buy an additional tome for my Encyclopaedia Britannica so I could make myself better for the next challenge. Because of their support, I had a trophy and medal case full of awards ranging from sports to dance. Every science fair and subject matter competition taught me to be humble when defeated and kind when on top. Participation ribbons where seen as an insult. You either won or went back home to train harder.
My mother made sure I lived in an environment without limitations. Clothes and toys were not gender specific and the slew of Legos, dolls and remote control cars I owned were proof I could become whomever I wanted to be. She wanted us to grow up with the ultimate privilege, never knowing how to hate or discriminate based on gender, creed or race. It wasn’t until I went to school that I realized how lucky I was to be her daughter. Her encouragement gave me the impulse to pursue anything I could think of achieving, seeing failure as an opportunity to grow and persevere.
Because of this I felt invincible! By the end of the 80s I had my own Tandy 286 in which I learned to program in DOS. Soon after, my mom bought a 486 PC and I was playing hangman on Windows 3.1 and learning to upgrade open slots in the mother board to a modem card and a CD-ROM! That was one of my first DIY projects and I have to thank my uncle, the chemical engineering nerd, for letting me do it. (I wish I had scanned my DOT matrix masterpieces for show and tell.)
Yes, I was very privileged but it was because I was taught to earn things. Every good grade on my report card, every 4.0 or A+ was part of the barter system that put all the tools I needed to succeed at my reach. My mother made sure no expense was spared as the technologies changed and became more common. I had a PC, access to a laser printer, a Super Nintendo, a Kodak 35 mm camera and AOL internet. Sometimes my teaches accused me of copying or plagiarizing magazines because the quality of my MS Publisher and laser printed work was ahead of its time. My best friend (who was also raised by nerds and shared the same fate) and I had to make a demonstration at school and get signed letters from our parents to prove the work was original. The age of the computer had come to middle school and was here to stay.
I remember my first online dates via ICQ and Messenger IM, back when you didn’t have to worry about talking to a stranger online. One of my best friends was from Portugal and we kept in contact all the way through high school. All I have from those times are the transcripts of the conversations and a very low resolution photograph. Back then profiles didn’t have pictures and we didn’t own webcams. The dial up modem bit rate didn’t allow for it. He used to call me Maia after one of the stars in the Pleiades. I had used Maya as a screen name once but it had been in honor of Maya the Bee. (PBS introduced me to a lot of European and Japanese cartoons. I miss those days passionately.)
Which reminds me, I was the valedictorian of my graduation class! I’m sure that at this time in your reading it doesn’t surprise you that I knew every answer and where to find it before Google was invented. I was the captain of every sports team I was ever in: basketball, ping-pong, volleyball, bowling, track and field. I was a new breed of nerd, the perfect evolution of the species, blessed with public speaking skills, hand-eye coordination, eloquence and grace. At introvert at heart, I can be shy and get overwhelmed in certain situations but for the most of my teenage years I was respected and loved for breaking the stereotype. My crew and I didn’t use the internet nor our free time to tear down people, we used it to enhance our knowledge and build stronger connections to one another. To this day we stay connected through the distance sharing our wonderful memories of the past and the happenings of our present. Our hope is that someday our children have friends like us that don’t use social media to destroy but rather to construct better people and create an environment of trust and dignity.
At the change of the millennium I was on my way to college. There was no Wi-Fi, no smart cell phones. I was one of the lucky few that had a cell phone and in a world full of pagers, giving your date a cell phone number was suspect. The irony is I still have the same phone number as I did when I was 16. My mom had gotten me the device to make sure I wasn’t stuck in a back road somewhere alone and changing a tire. (It had a maximum of 30 minutes of usage. I bet the young ones shudder at the thought.)
I remember the happy day when we registered our external Wi-Fi cards with the University to get a password and connect to the network. There was no facebook, Snapchat or Tinder. Life was so much easier, except you had to carry a 10 lb laptop around. Laptops were so unheard of that my Toshiba Satellite would get screened multiple times at the airport post 9/11 because “portable computers didn’t exist”.
Speaking of laptops, Mr. Enginerds first one was a Dell Inspiron. He ordered it online from the DELL website after completing his first internship. For 2k you would get 10GB of hard drive memory and the RAM was in mega bites. We fire it up from time to time to remember how we upgraded it from Windows ME to XP. That piece of equipment is 15 years old!!
When I started to work people would compliment me on my mad Power Point skills. I would get angry calls after firing emails and IMs because people thought I wanted formal documentation of what they told me to use it against them later. They didn’t realize that was my way of politely interrupting their work day and that all I expected was a reply at their earliest convenience. Everyone had a desktop except the leadership team, and most of them didn’t even know how to hook up a computer to an overhead projector much less to virtual networks and clouds.
I got married before facebook started to ruin “first looks”. Before people would bitch it out and complain about everything anonymously. I never took a selfie with my friends or got 100 likes on my wedding pictures. The invitations didn’t have a wedding site URL. I never saw half of the pictures that were taken on that day and that was about 7 years ago. All I know is there is no blog that self promotes with the stills of that day and aside from a few I loaded to facebook, there is no virtual trail that proves I am married. Mr. Enginerd doesn’t have social media accounts! Not even MySpace…
In all fairness, I was born at the right time to see all the technological changes. We went from rotary phones, to personal data organizers, to cell phones and later to smart phones.
I had a CD player, a VHS, a non-flat screen TV, a Sony Walkman, a Gameboy, a video game console and an air conditioner when most people didn’t even know what these were. At 4 years of age I already knew I wanted to be responsible for these marvels as solving problems with math and science came naturally to me. An engineer at heart, I spent my entire life preparing for the moment I would become the designer of the future. And after 10 years of service and a layoff I am applying to get back into the same aerospace company that let me go. I know they need me and that loyalty is always rewarded. However, if the happy reunion doesn’t happen soon I am sure SpaceX won’t mind hiring me. 😉
I am a new breed of nerd, the kind hearted, loyal, mentally tough, good with words, great with people, works with technology geek that saw the future as a bright opportunity to innovate and inspire. I am the Star Trek and Star Wars loving fan that hopes to discover new planets and cultures while wielding a functioning lightsaber. I am the Disney Princess that promoted herself to Queen. (FYI: Sleeping Beauty’s dress is blue not pink people!) I am the Xena Warrior Princess that grew up loving like Wonder Woman and building a library worthy of Belle. I am the curator of the global transformation that yielded recycling, green thinking and worldwide inter-connectivity. I am the link between the past and the future. A woman, redefined and reborn. I don’t take this responsibility lightly and neither should you.
P.S. I had to re-write this post because my 7 year old laptop crashed halfway and somehow erased the original from the memory. I had references to Top Gun and Legend, but I will save those for later.