When I was in middle school, there was a program that was instituted in my school district for computer programming. It was a pilot program that introduced us to data programming and processing and inter-network communications. I was selected to be a part of the program along with a few other students who had high marks. This was in the mid-80s when the dot-coms started to pop up and many did not believe they would last. The following year, the program was terminated. I enjoyed it but then I had to move on to what educational programs were available. As a teenager, I loved the arts and fashion, so I gravitated to that area of study, eventually coming to New York to study fashion design after high school graduation.
Although I love fashion design, I didn’t like the industry and the huge amount of stress that it put on me, so I left it and found myself in the Metropolitan Museum of Art where I would spend the next twenty-five years of my life, first as a gift shop salesperson and then as a security officer. In the process, I learned a lot at and about the Met. I believe I was able to get a perspective that many art students do not get in the classroom.
Twenty-five years can go by very quickly when you are in an environment where you can learn and grow. I say that because it is still weird to me that that much time had gone by so quickly. But in that long, yet seemingly short span of time I learned a lot about the different facets of the arts and even picked up a third language, Italian. I was already Spanish-English bilingual.
At some point, I started to become restless because I wasn’t learning anymore. I had already seen the entire collection, including those works of art that have been in storage for years. The glass ceiling at the museum was also practically impenetrable, no so much because of social biases but because of social connections. I was no longer stimulated and going to work became a chore and a necessary evil.
I decided to go back to school and Computer Systems was the curriculum of choice. At the time of making this decision, I had not yet considered the year in the computer programming program. My focus at that moment was that IT was a growing and evolving industry and I wanted to grow and evolve with it.
I had many naysayers try to convince me to stay with the museum since I was already vested, and I had about ten years to go to actually retire, but I also had people in my circle encouraging me to do what I wanted, and my reality told me I had nothing to lose.
My focus wasn’t simply to change careers. I recognized at that time that I was in a place in my life where I could do what I wanted to do and not what society and the elders dictated. When you’ve grown up in a time and culture that puts you in race and gender boxes it takes a lot of self-examination, time, and internal and external encouragement to begin to believe that what you want is possible, especially when it goes against the grain that you were raised in. You begin to say to yourself “Why not?” and “What is stopping me?” and “What do I have to lose?”.
It wasn’t until I was halfway through completing my degree that I remembered that year in middle school and realized that I had come full circle. There are so many things I have learned along the way from the many people that were in my life path for a season, people that have deposited nuggets of wisdom into my reservoir and helped to sharpen my rough edges, and I’m sure that has prepared me for where I am now, professionally and socially, and where I’ll be in the future.