Not surprisingly, my online nickname/handle gets brought up fairly often – especially if I have to give my email address to someone over the phone – and I regularly get asked how I ended up with it. It’s an amusing, albeit not long, story and it’s stuck with me – because it was not only the start of my online handle (that I’ve now had for about 10 years) but also the start of my career in IT.
As I said in an earlier post about how I got started in IT, my first IT job was for a university department, working on their helpdesk. This job was literally my first job in IT – prior to that I’d been a burger flipper and “free smile” giver at McDonald’s for the previous 5 years. I was lucky enough to know someone (via TAFE) who also worked at the university, who had heard of this job going and had put my name forward – with my permission.
I went for my interview (very informal), had an hour or two of “work experience” on the job and then next day I was received a phone call saying I was hired. Cue happy dancing!
I started the following week – pretty much just doing low-level helpdesk stuff until I got my feet under me – helping users with their computers, learning the imaging system, putting toner in printers. The guys I worked with were great – my team was all male, except for our female manager. So that made me somewhat the odd one out – especially to the exceedingly old, white, middle-to-upper class male academics I was primarily dealing with. Being called the IT “secretary” was common in my first few weeks. It wasn’t funny then, it still isn’t funny now.
Soon it came time for me to actually have some level of access/control over the users and the user directory – and the directory of choice for this department was Active Directory. At this point in time, I’d only ever touched AD briefly in a TAFE course, so I was a little unsure of what I was doing – something the lead sysadmin was aware of and had noted.
It wasn’t until a few weeks after my account had been initially created, and I’d learnt my way around AD a bit better, that I discovered something interesting. My account wasn’t in with the rest of the IT guys. It was in its own little OU, under the IT section, all by itself. The OU was called “girlgerms”.
I asked the lead sysadmin, and he jokingly said that he didn’t want my “girly” account affecting all the other guys in the team and giving them all “girlgerms”. Somewhat sexist and patronising but (to be honest) I wasn’t really surprised by the response – I got along well with this guy, but he wasn’t exactly known for his tact and sensitivity! However, there was an actual reason – the real reason was to put some special controls over my account so that I had an area all to myself. An area I could do testing in, without affecting the rest of the domain. While I had the ability to change the name I didn’t – because, at the time, I kind of liked it.
It took a little while, but slowly over the next few months I grew to love my little OU. And I ended up loving the name, despite its sexist undertones. And I decided I wanted to use it for more than just my OU – I wanted it for my online persona as well. So, I went about changing my accounts – a few small changes here and there, such as gaming aliases; and then to big ones, such as purchasing this domain name. Now, I don’t think I have an account online that isn’t somewhat tied to this handle in some way.
I’ve now been GirlGerms for the last ten years, and to be honest, I really love it (only quirk I’d say about my name is that, considering I’m a gamer, seeing “GG” all the time can get *very* confusing). It summed up the IT industry (at the time) to me in a nutshell – girls were far and few between (though it has become somewhat better over the last few years) – but for some reason, guys seemed dead set against the idea of women in IT.
They saw us as “different”. They saw us as bringing in new ideas and new thoughts and new mindsets. Almost like bringing in a disease – a cute cuddly disease, filled with pink sparkles and purple glitter. While this has improved since I started using this name, it isn’t where it should be – which is probably another reason why I like the name and the connotations that go with it. So I’m not planning on changing it any time soon!