Ada Lovelace Day

I’ve had this pledge in the back of my head for a while now, and been hopelessly indecisive about how to handle it.

Do I write about an early influence: Mom, who went back to school to learn laser technology or the teacher of my 7th grade “computer” class? (TRS-80 programming FTW!)

Someone famous? Everybody and their cousin is likely to write about Grace Hopper, Ada Lovelace, Heddy Lamar, etc.

One of the blogger women who I admire so? I stand in awe of the fierce voices of Dorothea Salo, Shelley Powers, and Dori Smith in particular…and these three women have also been wonderful internet friends.

But I find myself gravitating towards someone who taught me probably the most important lessons I ever learned about computers — and who I wouldn’t mind finding again, should she ever happen to Google her name: Mona Janson.

My first full-time job was at the Children’s Museum of Tacoma. I started as a work-study, and then stayed on full time for about a year after graduation. It was the first place where I ever worked with computers, and working there taught me two important things: don’t be afraid, and always be learning.

One of my co-workers was a middle-aged woman who’d been at the museum I think since it was founded or shortly thereafter. Mona had a high school education, three teenage sons, and an amazing artistic gift. No, she was not a technologist, but she was always learning, and she was pretty damn fearless about it.

I learned Access one summer, just by sitting and reading the manual, because she wanted to try replacing her paper class reservation booking system. It didn’t quite work out the way either of us wanted, but she was game to try it out, and to tell me what might work better.

We both taught ourselves Publisher at about the same time, to make little fliers and mailers; I ended up working on the museum’s newsletter, which was my first big foray into graphic design. (Why yes, I was that secretary with Publisher who thought she could design. It was the start of a fantastic learning journey.) I think Mona helped teach me Dorothea’s “beat it with rocks” philosophy: just keep trying stuff until something works.

And she was part of one of my early horrific computer disasters, which was its own excellent learning experience.

The museum was moving to a new location: right next door, as it happened. We all worked like crazy, until we were pretty much wiped out. Mona and I were setting up the office computers — we’d gone from one old box with Windows 3.11 to two or three computers, including IIRC one with the OMG new! Windows 95 — and we were getting the last one in at the reception desk in the basement office. The desk had one of those holes for routing the power cables, and it was not quite big enough. So Mona went to get the drill, and I fired it up, and both of us had forgotten that the machine was still hooked up to the power.

Yeah. Smoke, sparks, and the computer didn’t start again. I was mortified. After all, it’s not like the museum had a lot of money or computers. (This also followed the great ampersand disaster, in which I learned my lesson about replace all.) But Mona, along with everybody else, had a great sense of humor about it, and the dead computer went off with the nickname “Sparky.”

(Years later, I learned that C had ended up with the computer, via a friend who worked with me, and it wasn’t as much of a lost case as we’d thought. He said it was a sturdy little 486.)

Mona & I stayed friends for a while after I left the museum; for a few years, she played D&D with me, C, 2 of her kids, and one of their friends. It was great fun, especially the nights when we played in the museum after hours. She left the museum eventually too, and moved to Canada, and I haven’t heard from her in years. But I still feel inspired by her curiosity, energy and perseverance.