International Women’s Day Spotlight: Carla Schroder
On March 8th women around the world will be honored for International Women’s Day…but instead of a day, we’ve decided to highlight our women in tech all week long. Tune in each day to learn more about the SUSE women behind the magic!
Name: Carla Schroder
City: Spokane, WA, USA
Occupation: ace technical writer on the splendid SUSE Documentation Team
Q: Tell us a little about you.
A: I am curious and interested in almost everything, and wish I had ten lifetimes to do everything I want to do. I need challenges and new things to learn. I am a writer of both non-fiction and fiction, teacher, photographer, mechanic, carpenter and handymam, farmer, musician, astronomer…I love to create and build things, and make fixes and improvements. Every house I ever owned has suffered through my learning curve, and now I’m pretty good at turning my visions into a respectable competent reality. I have a nice little 40-acre ranch that is part forest and part meadow. I have a ton of ideas about micro-farming (read Jean-Martin Fortier about making a living with organic growing on 2 acres) that I want to try out, including using Arduino to automate planting, watering, and weeding.
Q: Who is your biggest influence?
A: My parents. They told me I shouldn’t do what I wanted to do, I shouldn’t be a mechanic and woodworker and farmer, and should be a proper lady instead, and marry a man and be the opposite of what I was, and do the opposite of what I dreamed of doing. That made me more determined to follow my own path. As a child I was nuts about the space program and wanted to be an astronaut and scientist, but was discouraged by my parents and teachers, who tried to steer me into being a generic heterosexual married woman, working as a teacher or a secretary when I wasn’t raising babies and putting dinner on the table for my husband.
Q: Who are your ideal female icons?
A: There are many. Lily Tomlin, Gloria Steinem, Angela Davis, Joni Mitchell, Rachel Carson, Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, Margaret Cho, Maya Angelou, Ursula LeGuin, Linda Hamilton, Shirley Chisholm, Hillary Clinton, Kate Chopin, Virginia Woolf, Sojourner Truth, Mary Shelley, all the amazing women athletes… I like strong women who do their own thing and tell it like it is. It is courageous to tell it like it is, because there are often repercussions and punishments.
Q: How you define women empowerment?
A: Recognize that we’re people, not property. Support each other, take us at face value, and stop with the infinite small and large discouragements that plague girls from birth. Be bold. Grow rhino hide because you need it, and build a strong support network. We don’t have to agree on everything to support each other.
Q: Do you think it’s important to have an International Women’s Day?
A: Yes. Recognition, role models, visibility are all vital. I remember Oprah saying how seeing The Supremes on TV changed her life, showing her that black women could be famous and accomplished. You never know what will inspire someone and expand their horizons.
Q: What did you want to be growing up?
A: Everything! I have so many interests it is hard to prioritize. My original dream was being an astronaut and scientist. Now I think of myself as a writer with a skillion interests that I want to share and inspire other people, especially in the trades and manual skills. Computing and tech are about much more than code– the Achilles heel of open source is hardware, as so much of it is closed. Everyone in tech, and I mean everyone, should know how to solder on a circuit board, understand the components, and know how to read a basic schematic. Ideally also have some experience probing and reverse-engineering the nasty closed hardware we are forced to use. I think if more emphasis in FOSS was on hardware we would see more open hardware, and fewer hardware functions incompetently wedged into software. Exhibit A: on-off switches. On or off, is that so hard? Why yes it is, in the bold new tech world, where you have to wade through nag screens, or hold a button the precisely correct length of time.
Q: What advice would you give your younger self?
A: Be bold. Seek out people who are doing what you want to do and ask them for advice, help, and mentoring. Be a mentor– if you know only one thing, share it. Never give up. I was so isolated as a child it was almost crippling– my schools didn’t even want girls in shop or science classes, though they couldn’t keep us out. Dream big. Hang out in all the libraries that will let you, including college libraries, historical societies, and private libraries. Befriend librarians and ask open-ended questions like “What do I want to do with my life?” Read everything. When you fill your life with positive supportive people and resources, and shun the naysayers, your world opens up as wide as you want it to, and everything is possible.
Q: Why do you feel it’s important for young girls to consider roles in STEM?
A: I’m not sure it is. It is still an unfriendly and even hostile realm for women. The work is challenging and rewarding and fun, but the personal cost is too damned high. But that is true of almost everything, so if that’s where your interests lie then go for it. The important thing about science and techology is this quotation from Dr. Anissa Ramirez: “Technology is a faster mover than legislation. If you want to change the culture, if you want to steer how people behave, legislation can certainly do that. But if you really want to do that quickly, just do that with code.”
Q: What would you say are the main challenges facing women in IT presently and how do we overcome them?
A: Challenges are discouragements starting from childhood, not enough role models and mentors, not enough support from parents, teachers, and potential employers. Overcoming them needs many times more encouragement and support, better career paths, more learning the skills to run a business, computer science starting in grade school (which is not learning Microsoft software), and learning philosophy, humanities, and ethics as part of any tech curriculum. Learn manual skills. Learn to play a musical instrument, how to draw and paint, how to build things, how to play sports; body and mind work together, and the more you can do with your body the more your brain can do.
Q: How do you relax after a stressful day?
A: Read, play piano, build something, hang out with the critters, grow something, peck away at the endless chore list that comes with any piece of property. Sitting all day is unhealthy, so I work in physical activities as much as possible.
Q: What do you enjoy most about your role and working at SUSE? \
A: I love my team. They are fabulous. Supportive, encouraging, helpful, and very accomplished. Smart cool people who are a pleasure to work with.
Q: What advice would you give someone looking to start working in your sector?
A: Learn everything you can. It is impossible to write good documentation without being skilled in using whatever you are documenting. You must have the hands-on experience. In fact we are egregiously underpaid, because software developers typically work on a limited subset of a product, but we have to know EVERYTHING about the product.