This isn’t new, but it is my favorite because it was the single time I won. In the world of women versus the rest of the working world, a true win is a rarity. This was mine.
In the mid 1980s in Israel, I worked at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot with the team developing DB1, the first relational database. Those familiar with databases and their history should go “Ooh, aah.” Feel free to be awed.
I am not a developer. I’m a computer-savvy writer, but I worked extensively on Quix, the first real-English query language and documented DB-1. I was eventually put in charge of creating promotional materials to sell the project to IBM. They bought it and from this, DB2 and every other relational database ultimately emerged. Cool, right?
Technical writing was a new thing in the early 1980s. It didn’t have a proper professional name, which made me a pioneer, of sorts.
The president of the group was named Micah. He was the “money guy.” He knew less about computers than me, but wielded serious clout as his money was paying our salaries, rent, and keeping the lights on. Probably the definition of clout.
As the day approached when the team from IBM was due, it was time for me to present the materials I had created with Ruth, a graphic artist who had been my art director at the newspaper I’d managed the previous year.
Ruth was amazing with an airbrush. I’ve never seen better work.
The presentation materials were as perfect as Ruth and I could make them. I had labored over the text. She had done a brilliant job creating graphics that illustrated the product, its unique capabilities and benefits. It came time for the pre-IBM all-hands-on-deck meeting.
Micah didn’t like me. His dislike wasn’t based on anything I did or even my disputable personality. He didn’t like women in the workplace. I was undeniably female. As was Ruth. Strike one, strike two.
At the meeting, he looked at our materials and announced “We need better material. I’ve heard there’s a real hot-shot in Jerusalem. I’ve seen his work. It’s fantastic. We should hire him.” And he stared at me and sneered. Onto the table he tossed booklets as well as other promotional and presentation materials for a product being developed in Haifa at the Technion. I looked at the stuff.
“That’s my work, ” I said. “I wrote it.”
“No it isn’t,” he said firmly. “I’ve heard it was created by the best technical writer in the country.”
“Yes,” I agreed. “Me.”
He was not done with humiliating himself. He insisted a phone be brought to the table and he called his friend Moshe in Jerusalem. I’d worked for Moshe, quitting because although I liked the man, he couldn’t keep his hands to himself. It was another one of those things I didn’t need in my life right then.
Moshe gave Micah the name of The Hot Shot. It was me.
“Oh,” said Micah.
I didn’t say anything. I didn’t have to. The deadpan faces around the table were elegant examples of people trying not to laugh, though a few of them needed some tuning up in the “women working” department, too. However, Micah wasn’t a guy you laughed at, not if you wanted to keep your job.
It was a moment of triumph so sweet and rare, nothing else in my working life came close. I won that for The Team, for professional women everywhere. Eat it, Micah.