The Modem Lisa Background

The Birth of The Modem Lisa: How a Passion for Words, Music and Electronics became a career

Words, Music and Electronics?

It’s hard to remember exactly when I fell in love with writing, but somewhere around the third grade, I know I became a bit competitive about being the student with the longest and most complex stories. Singing on the other hand was in my blood from birth, I sang along to Madonna in the backseat by the age of 2. Technology would slowly work its way into my life, around 7 or 8 years old, hooking up VCRs and CD players for our family. Or how I always had that “touch” with the antenna for the TV, before cable. I didn’t know then that my “Luck” with electronics would mean anything.

Child of 80s Tech

Part of the class of 2000, I was in elementary and middle school during the late 80s and 90s, it’s hard to imagine but personal computers (PCs) were still a rarity in the classroom. I was lucky enough to have access to PCs in the fourth grade and from there on things would grow, but at home the cost of having a PC was still a little outside of my middle-class Ohio suburb town. This meant my story writing options started with a Typewriter, which while they were at the height of their power and capabilities, were still tedious. Then the glorious Word Processor! I barely bothered with the Typewriter, wasting white out or having to retype entire works was not working for me. The Word Processor on the other hand was brilliant, my best friend for a few years. It allowed me to store and work on different titles at the same time and easily edit everything before printing, which I had to do from the school printer because I didn’t have my own at the time. By middle school I was sharing fictional tales about my group of friends with whom I shared my tales each morning. My handwriting would have limited my ability to share those stories, if I would have bothered at all.

Because I was one of the few students interested in computers, my school did allow me a lot of freedom to use the equipment, but I didn’t really understand the underlying concepts I was working with. These were DOS days and our applications at school were limited to word processing, catalogs of books, typing courses and math games.  I know all the STEM activists that want more women in the field will get angry, but I do not enjoy math. However, I LOVED playing Math Blaster, which I think was a Windows 3.1 game, where players solved math problems to move up levels and achievement, that game perked my interests in other PC games. Thanks to my friend the Word Processor, I crushed my typing class and was allowed to play Carmen Sandiego or other games as long as I agreed to help the other students if they ran into issues with the applications not working. Troubleshooting was already coming naturally though I didn’t know it.

a PC game changed my life

Around 1995, the amazing day came when my family purchased our first PC! It was a Packard Bell, in a customized corner fitting case that had a platform for the monitor to sit on the center. This beast actually ran three operating systems; Windows 95, DOS and Packard Bell Navigator which was more of a shell on top of the others allowing you access to either other OS from the Navigator menus. Along with the PC we purchased a few games and I attempted to install one called Wing Commander Academy.  Attempted but failed, to this day I’ll never know exactly what went wrong, because my PC would now only boot into the game and not Windows, DOS or Navigator. Frantically I called the phone number on the back of the game for technical support, I had just broken our expensive new family PC. On the other end of the line a team of gentleman listened to my problem and started to walk me through getting to a DOS command prompt, walking through the folder structure and locating the Windows Registry files. Another 90s reference that the little ones will never understand, about thirty minutes into the call, one of the team members stops the call and says to me “We need you to give us your number so you can hang up and we can call you back. Since we’re in Texas this is a long-distance call and we don’t want to have your parents paying a big phone bill!”. This would not be my last run in with phone bills, but that’s a different story all together. It took maybe two hours for the team to figure out how to fix the boot process and get everything back up and running without losing any data. Even though I barely knew what we were doing, this lit a spark in my mind that I could make computers do anything I wanted, and I could be in complete control of how it functioned.

Growing creative tech skills

Still, this didn’t change the primary need of having a tool to write with, and I would stay up all night writing stories and lyrics while I listened to music and played the occasional Windows 95 pinball game. Song writing slowly started to take over stories along with X-files fan fiction. Then came High School and my introduction to Apple Power Machintosh, which for some students presented a challenge in the operating system switch. From the Packard Bell introduction to a computer with three operating systems, I felt just as comfortable on a Mac, maybe even more sometimes. I felt the Macs were more creatively engaging and as we moved into the iMacs G3s of the later 90s I felt more excited about working on them than the Windows based PCs that were growing in our school labs and into more and more homes. Macs came with more built-in creative software, but the hardware cost was higher, so I couldn’t have one of my own, but I also couldn’t afford to buy the software I wanted for the PC either. This is the young bustling birth of internet popularization and I’m creating web pages on Geocities (Screw Tripod!) to share my music and stories with the world! These free services were precursors to blogging and social media alongside AOL, which at the time was the most popular service for chatting and having a “profile” people could search for. My initial interest in these platforms was starting a band and finding outlets to publish my stories, but of course I was sucked into the nature of social media and much of my time ending up being spent looking for love in all the wrong profiles on AOL. Teenage long distance love affairs aside, during this time I did manage to learn the basics of graphic and web design needed to get a web presence, audio editing, recording and the joys of burning CDs. I’m hopeful CDs are still something known to the generations that can read this article, we’ll see how long that lasts. I was learning the internet as it was evolving, and it was happening fast (seem familiar?)! The skills I picked up on my own had brought about opportunities like working for my High School during my Junior and Senior years to support their technology needs, building a website for a school counselling program and getting a high-paying after-school job to cover my long-distance bills (again another story). A hunger for understanding the technology was building, this led to building PCs, working with Linux and other peripherals, I wanted to know it all. The underlying desires to write and sing were becoming more distant as graduation loomed and a career in Technology was already blooming for me. Even my creative writing and performing arts teacher commented on my way out, “Good luck working with computers!”.

In and out of Tech

During my senior year my mom went all in on supporting this interest in technology, not only did she help me to start my own business, The Modem Lisa, in 1999, she also bought me a first run iBook G3 in Tangerine, who I named Alfred and still have to this day. While this initial run of the business would be short lived, I would come back repeatedly when I found myself in career gaps. Instead, out of High School I went to work for a private school system K-12 where some of the students in the senior class were older than I was that first year. This was a diverse role where I had to support multiple types of hardware, software and networking services and worked almost entirely on my own. That type of autonomy would prove to be a little premature at that time, but common in my career moving forward. Now that I had the job figured out, I was able to turn my personal time focus on music, once I broke up with my boyfriend. In 2001 the first Premium Bananas band was formed and within about 18 months disbanded. We wrote and performed around 12 amazing original songs at the time and a few covers, and I loved every moment! Even when I lost my tech job partly because of the band, all because I made poor decisions, but I was 19. This was a bad time to lose a tech job because the “Dot Com Bubble” had burst and without a degree it was difficult to find work.

Never limiting myself to one area of technology I ended up in a series of interesting roles in different fields ranging from the printing industry, automotive, chemical manufacturing and even a bit of finance. Over the next seven years I would support 1000s of different applications across multiple hardware platforms and continue to grow along with the internet. One of these roles started out working with imaging and uploading, but due to the nature of the business and another employee leaving, I was asked to take on a role of Title Clerk, working with automotive titling. Though outside of the realm of technology, I was still gaining valuable skills understanding the workings of legal documentation and processes. Music was still driving me after hours, keeping me working on audio editing software and learning to build systems capable of doing the audio editing I wanted.

“Sorry, I don’t know what IT Procurement is.”

In 2008 the company I had been working for decided to change locations, turning my eight-minute commute into over an hour. This prompted me into looking for a new role and I was hopeful with a few years of stable work that I might get back into technology. Strangely enough, the company I had done prepress and training work for in 2002 was hiring again for the same role, so I decided to try to go back. I would learn that going backwards is not an option for me. The hiring process was bogged down for weeks because I had been previously let go and the HR representative even forced me to allow him to speak directly with my current manager, so they knew I had no intentions of moving to the new office. Tension was high in my daily work environment and now I was unsure I’d even get hired, when out of the blue I received a phone call that would change everything! Before I applied for the prepress role, I had updated my resume on Monster.com and someone had found it. The HR rep explained to me that the role was IT Buyer/Planner and handled IT Procurement. Immediately I responded, “I’m sorry, I don’t know what IT Procurement is, and honestly I am just waiting to get the final go ahead on an offer.” She told me that the hiring manager had looked at my resume and was confident that I had all the skills needed for the role and that anything else they would work with me on, but I was still hesitant, so she talked me into a phone interview the following day. In the course of an hour the Manager of IT Procurement and Technical Support for a software development company explained to me why I was perfect for this role, how my understanding of software, hardware, networking and internet services was broad enough and being a title clerk exposed my ability to read complex documents for legal requirements which I’d need to understand enterprise licensing. Even though my prior roles had limited purchasing responsibilities, I had to know the processes. Licensing interested me simply from the desire to avoid paying for software, so I had already learned about open source licensing through my use of Linux to avoid buying Windows for a time. She made me a no brainer offer and my IT Procurement career spanning 14 years started there.

I was green, had so much to learn in the role and early on I had moments where I wanted to walk away. There was no way to know that the role would be much more than IT Buying/Planning, but IT Asset Management, Project Management and a lot of Technical Support. When the joys of iPhones and Androids came to be, I was responsible for the deployment of the companies first smart phones to replace BlackBerry devices for hundreds of users on top of negotiation and management of the billing agreement. As I would learn is common of IT roles, mine became far too broad, with more work than I felt I could ever accomplish and I was never given the proper tools and resources to do the job well. Eventually I moved onto a new software development company, but found the role to be the same and still ever evolving alongside the industry as a whole.  Music and writing kept getting pushed aside along this journey as the work became more demanding and personal life was happening as it will.

It all added up

How did I get to IT Asset Management Analyst 4, with expert experience in Software Supply Chain Management, License Negotiation and Procurement from wanting to have a tool to help me become a writer and singer songwriter? The desire to learn more about everything around me! This story is just about the technology side of how I got here, but the thirst to always know the who, what, where, when, why and how of basically everything runs throughout all of my interests. I always said I wanted to be a “Jane of all trades, Master of None”, and that kept me from falling into one focus  only. Many of my colleagues are experts in licensing for one or two manufacturers, or wouldn’t touch a Linux based system, or only worked with one coding language. Being able to solve problems comes from the ability to see the big picture but dive into the weeds to get it fixed and after all, isn’t all of technology just solving problems?

Getting back to the heart of it all

I want to create music and write and share it all with the world, earning enough to live on in the process and this was the original problem I have been waiting to use technology to solve. Knowing that my focus drifted to the tech career itself, I can refocus on the music and the writing using the quickly evolving world of AI technology as my new toolset.  And you’ll be here to watch it if you like and subscribe, just saying.

  • AI Enhancement; Requested ChatGPT 4 suggestions for headings and title, used portions of the answer but no full AI response was usable on its own.

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