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Noah Paessel

I recently tweated:

Bananas: I just found out my mom wrote her programs in hexadecimal on paper, and would hand it off to her secretary for data entry.

I thought I would fill in some of the back story.

I remember going to school with my mom. Her chemistry professor performed a magic show in the middle of his lecture for me. I spent blissful hours at the University of Massachusetts' Graduate Research Center where my mom was studying Computer and Information Science (COINS). They had rooms full of tape, time-sharing machines, and noisy DECwriter II tractor feed TTYs. I still remember the lovely sounds these machines made. For some of her classes my mom had to write her programs on punch cards and feed them into a giant machine that looked just like the Bat Computer. It was freakishly awesome.

She was a single mother putting herself through school. She was studying women's studies and computer science. I was probably ten years old. We were poor living on food stamps, subsidized housing, and student loans. But I had no idea; my life was rich. On the weekends—if I got kicked off the TTY terminals—I would go fishing in the duck pond or play D&D with the students in the basement of the student center while my mom was completing her assignments.

Right out of school my mom was offered a six-fugure job at a defense contractor. But my mom was peace activist—she took me to NYC where we marched with thousands of other people and giant puppets against nuclear proliferation!—so instead she got a job programming video games at Milton Bradley. She worked on games for Vectrex and another console MB never released but that had voice control (back in 1984)!

The research and development team she was working with to build the new consoles was roughly half women.

The night that my mom told me about how she wrote many of her programs in hexadecimal on paper, it was just one part of her career story, where each successive job was less satisfying. By then end of her story she was the only female engineer working in a toxic environment.

We made a very wrong turn somewhere in our programming culture. I can't put my finger on what happened, but it makes me nostalgic. Our awesome future has been compromised. We are missing many smart people like my mom. We can't hire her though, she has retired and enjoys painting more these days.