Some people know what they want to do from the moment they’re asked the question “who do you want to be when you grow up?” Other people fall into it. A select few, like Deborah, will march into unknown territory like they own the place. They rely on their knowledge and wherewithal to get them to their destination, whatever that may be.
Deborah Lane-Olson, better known as Hypercat on Experts Exchange, didn’t always know she would be in technology. As a music student with a knack for mathematics, she took part-time jobs in offices where she was introduced to the beginnings of modern computer technology. In the late 60s, programming was still very much in its infancy. Offices were just starting to get word processing and networking systems installed. When she graduated, she got hired at a big law firm in Hartford because of her knowledge of these systems.
Back then, it was also rare for women to be heavily involved in technology. It was just not a career field that women were encouraged to join. In a field dominated by men, Deborah stood out as a true equal among her peers. Although she never really got fully immersed in the programming side of things, she learned how to read COBOL so that she could understand the programs written with it.
What interested her more was the technical aspects of hardware—how it all worked and how it could better people’s lives. Her attention to detail meant she could pick up and learn these complex ideas and translate them for the average business. That skill became invaluable in her career in the ‘80s when she started working for companies that sold accounting software to law firms.
Eventually, she took this enterprising spirit to the next level by starting her own technology consulting firm, specializing in providing hardware, software, and networking support for law firms. As a pioneer of women in technology, I find her story incredibly inspiring, especially considering that even after 40 years, women are still vastly under-represented in IT.
She had to really learn as she went, and she recalls a specific instance when she first started her business. A local insurance company had a computer that wasn’t working, so she took it home. Her parents were visiting her at the time, and when her mother saw the computer splayed open on the table, she was alarmed, thinking that Deborah might have broken something.
“Oh no,” she said. “It was just a failed power supply.”
Her Experts Exchange story starts back in 2003. By then, she had also accumulated a lot
of experience on Windows Networks, moving into that after having worked in Novell Networks during its heyday. One of her office mates introduced her to the site and she quickly became involved in trying to help members who had questions. She enjoys the challenge of figuring out a solution to something she may not have as much knowledge in, and it offers her a mini escape while she waits for a process to run in the background at work.
“The most rewarding part is feeling like you’ve helped someone,” she explains. “The points are nice, but what it really boils down to is what the points actually mean. They represent that you’ve helped someone solve something they couldn’t have figured out on their own. You’re helping them to learn something they couldn’t have learned on their own.”
When asked about how many points she has, she just laughs.
“I probably have about 50 t-shirts I’ve never claimed. There should be a way for me to give them away.”
She’s humble, but you can just go to her profile to see how many points, or rather, how many people she’s helped, and let those numbers speak for themselves. Her strongest areas are server technologies, server software technologies, Windows server, exchange, and virtualization.
Deborah certainly finds ways to stay busy and active on her own time as well. Music is still her hobby, and she’s also an avid curling player. For those in the dark, curling is an Olympic winter sport that involves sweeping the ice around polished granite stones towards a target that is segmented into four concentric circles. It can look silly to the average person, but it actually takes a tremendous amount of skill to play.
She loves cooking, and her favorite dish to cook is a complicated Indian dish called biryani. She also loves to travel, and her favorite place is Florence, Italy, because of how much history is compacted into such a small place.
“You can walk to whatever it is you want to see. I love both art and history, and Florence is a real microcosm of that period.”
Today, Deborah still has a big desire to learn and be current with technology. At times, she wishes that she had worked with more large corporate companies so that she could have more experience in virtualization and setting up virtual data centers. At the same time, she is a bit concerned with how everything seems to be moving to the cloud because she loves to be hands-on when it comes to infrastructure.
“It just means you’re managing something that’s so remote. You’re not able to get your hands into what’s going on there, and it’s just not the same challenge.”
After talking with Deborah myself, I have no doubt that whatever new challenges head her way, she’s more than capable of taking them on.