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Nancy Deschenes
Nancy Deschenes

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Nancy Coded And Coded And Coded Some More

I have been meaning to post my introduction for some time now, and what better time to do it than today, March 8, 2018.

Once upon a time...

It all started a long time ago. I as always curious. I liked to build things with my blocks and bricks. I liked to solve codes, and read mystery books (Famous Five anyone?). I was quiet and shy, and never too far from a book. My first introduction to computers was when I went to my dad's work, where they had terminals connected to a powerful computer. He showed me how to direct a turtle across a screen to make it draw shapes. Well, it wasn't so much a turtle as an arrow, but sure, let's pretend it was turtle. Later, when my dad bought a computer for the family, I got to try even more things. Sometimes, he would suggest a particular exercise for me ("write a program that that can calculate the right number of quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies to represent an amount") and sometimes, I just wanted to know, "what would happen if I ..."

During those years, most of my time was spent with girls. I had sisters, went to al all-girl school, figure skated, and attended Girl Guides. I don't remember anyone telling me that math was for boys. I could see for myself that I did well in the topic, so if someone did mention it, I didn't pay attention. I read my books, played on the computer, and kept learning whatever I got my hands on.

In a university far from home...

At first, I didn't think I would program for a living. The university I wanted to attend only had a Computer Engineering degree, and I didn't have the grades to get into the Engineering school. I was accepted in the BSc program, but I didn't know which major I was interested in. Physics? Chemistry? Biochem? I started with Math. I could always change later, when I had a better idea. Maybe even transfer to Engineering. "Why don't you do a BSc in Computer Science?" suggested my advisor. How could I have missed that option? It was the first year the program was given, and overall, it was a bit confusing; some courses were given by the Faculty of Science, others by Engineering. That's when I discovered the Internet, chat programs, Usenet, email, modems! They even had a lab full of NeXT machines! Those were such sleek machines, and so much fun to program! The Interface Builder let you position ui components on application windows, hook up events to the controls by dragging a line between the two, it was so much fun! Whenever I design a UI, even today, I wish for the ease and simplicity of the NeXTSTEP Interface Builder. Okay, I might be a little nostalgic, and I may be remembering those years though pink colored lenses, but who can tell, it was a long long time ago! I can't say I noticed much in terms of sexism then. Sure, we were significantly outnumbered, but I didn't pay attention to it much.

There was onc incident when another student, someone I hadn't noticed around much before, asked that I give him my assignment so he could copy it. I refused, and he got upset. That answer didn't suit him, and he said, "If you're ever disrespectful of me ever again, I will break every bone in your body." Others students nearby escorted him out of the student lounge unceremoniously. That was the last I saw him, but other female students reported similar encounters. I was a little shaken, but at the same time, I saw how others stepped in to help. He clearly had issues...

I got a job

Out of school, it's time for a job. I was fortunate that I knew of an opening in another university. I was hired. I learned COBOL and SQL quickly to get up to speed. In my spare time, I worked on a chat program, so I wouldn't forget how to write in C. Then, for fun, I learned HTML. I discovered CGI programming in PERL, and in C, and got busy making things. With a friend, we wrote one of the earliest content management system in PERL and db (Berkeley DB, a key-value database). I became a systems administrator for about a year. Now I know that's not for me; I spent most of my time programming!

That's when I took the jump to full-time consulting. I worked from home, made my hours. I could go skating every friday afternoon, but I did work late into the night too. I worked with the same friend on improving the content management system, developed various Java applet games, worked on an applet that could tell when a user was logged into the site, wrote an in-browser chat system, worked on large database, small databases, in PERL, then in Java.

I kept on learning and coding. And developing and architecting systems and finding news ways of doing old things, just better.

And now...

I am still learning. I am the Technical Co-Founder for, a platform for lending libraries, rental, and asset tracking. I still work from home. Every morning, I get my three kids up for school, make lunches, push them so the two that can take the bus don't miss it, oh, wait, too late, drive them, and the third one to school, and get working! Or maybe I'll go to my other office, at Starbucks, or my other office, the breakfast restaurant that doesn't mind if I stay there for a few hours, or...

I love the flexibility, the challenge, the constant need to do better, for our customers, and for our customer's customers. I love playing with new technologies, stretching my mind on new concepts and then finding how these concepts can be applied to improve the quality of my work. I am as curious as ever, and I try to read as much as I can, fiction, non fiction, technical... I eat it all up. When I find the time.

And I still skate. And I am now a scout leader (for boys and girls). I guess some things don't change.

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