Alum Spotlight: Keeping up CS skills while on the Òmommy trackÓ

Submitted by Kiersten Kariya on Wed, 11/08/2006 - 11:17am

I graduated from BYU Computer Science department in 1971 with a split personality. I wanted to use the education I had worked so hard to get, but I also wanted to stay home and raise my children. I can now look back 35 years later and say that IÕve been able to do both. After 5 years working on Univac COBOL compilers and early key-to-disk microcomputer systems, daughter number one came along and my official programming career went on hold. Four children and various foster children took a lot of time, but I also wanted to keep up my computer skills. How? Volunteer! There are lots of organizations, schools, non-profits, associations, etc. that need tech-savvy people to help part-time. Although I didnÕt ÒworkÓ for 23 years, I participated in some amazing projects that taught me new skills, gave me access to state-of-the-art equipment, and allowed me to benefit others. For example:

-I programmed a Z80mini-computer to keep the books for my fatherÕs business. This was still the days of 80 character screens and daisy-wheel printers, and before home PCs. I appreciated access to a business computer--but on my stay-home-mommy schedule.

-I helped write the first electronic database membership system for our stake. We named it TASC--The Automated Saints Correlator. (But the in-crowd knew TASC really stood for authors Thompson, Allen, Stenger and Christensen.) I was able to learn RPG and the CP/M operating system without buying any equipment or software. And we laughed that I was probably the only woman in the church with a key to the stake clerkÕs office.

-After the frustrations of doing monthly financial reports by hand from a paper ledger for the local PTA, I learned Lotus 1-2-3. By now I had my first home PC. Soon after I was one of the early adopters of Quicken. Because of my computer skills, IÕve been the treasurer for various PTAs, school-board candidates, and the database manager for school bond elections. IÕve had the opportunity to work with wonderful people in my community, and on a database the size of all the voters in our city.

-I assisted in the computer lab at my childrenÕs school and learned about Macs when we had PCs at home. In fact, weÕve seldom had new equipment at home. (IÕm writing this on my old Dell, running Windows 98 and WordPerfect 6.1!)

-Ten years ago it was time for another Òcareer changeÓ for me-the-Mom. With my youngest children in high school, I had lots of free mornings. I found a school in a nearby low-income district where they had no Internet access and about 20 PCs running for a school of 800 students. IÕve participated in the transformation of that school and its district to a Windows 2000 domain with 500 desktop and laptop computers on our campus, a wireless LAN, and 50 servers district-wide. IÕve become a part-time employee there, and my recent change of status to empty-nester has been relatively painless.

All through the long years of my non-career, the foundation of knowledge I learned at BYU has benefited me in these varied activities. My one formal educational experience was a Windows 2000 Server class at the local junior college 3 years ago. I was amazed at how much easier the class was for me than for most of my 20-something classmates. My strong understanding of computing basics, including Assembly Language programming, still stands me in good stead today, even though the computers have shrunk and the operating systems have grown


By Susan Allen: wife of Ken Allen (EE 1971), mom, foster-mom, and grandma. Sue was Technology Coordinator at Belle Haven School in the Ravenswood City School District in East Palo Alto and Menlo Park, California. She has taken a leave from that district and recently returned from serving a mission with her husband in Hamburg, Germany

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