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Marian Croak Headshot

Dear Young Women in Technology, Welcome From a 30-year Veteran

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It was 1960, and I can still trace the phone call like the back of my hand. It was an ordinary day; I remember something broke at home, and my mother called my father at work, instructing him to come home and help fix it. Doesn't matter what the problem was now, but at age 5 I knew I wanted to be the one she'd run to when something needed repair. I'd make sure nothing would break and, if it did, I surely would know how to make it work again. Whether I was an imagined plumber, electrician or carpenter, it didn't matter -- I envied that men could go out and work.

Thus began my journey into the field of technology. After completing graduate school in 1982, I packed my bags, made my foray into the real world and landed my first job at what was then known as AT&T Bell Laboratories. I felt somewhat unusual at first as a woman in a "man's world," but I was okay with it because I loved the work. So work I did -- the regular workday, late nights at the Labs, drafting five or six patents during "free time" on the weekends. I loved all of it, though, and I never felt I had to give up raising my family to chase my dreams. I've dedicated most of my career to the design, development and launching of integrated voice and data services for the company -- basically, putting voice communications over the Internet. And as women tend to do, I've juggled my career and kept up with my three children while managing more than 500 talented engineers and computer scientists for more than 300 programs impacting AT&T's wireline and wireless services.

The decision to enter a male-dominated field didn't cross my mind as odd because no one told me that I was different for doing so. The proverbial "they" never warned me that I was walking into a world where I didn't belong. I was lucky to grow up in a supportive environment -- my father built me my very own chemistry lab in our home -- and I attended a public New York City high school better known for bars on its windows than its academic performance. But, it was wonderful, and my teachers understood how to inspire me. There, I decided on two things: I wanted to be challenged, and I wanted to do something that would change people's lives. Oh, and I liked science.

Fast forward 30 years, and there's more conversation around females entering the STEM field than ever before. Years ago, it appeared that women in the technology field were more aware, often even paralyzed, by their gender identity. Working in a predominantly male environment used to be normal. But now, small start-ups and large corporations are barreling after talented and educated women who are driven enough to rule the world and are breaking down barriers seemingly with ease.

But why is there still a disconnect? While women are making great strides, we still see the statistics that show we make up a dramatically smaller proportion of the technology industry. There's still the notion that women face an uphill battle and that only those who exhibit traditional "male" working styles can succeed in the industry. I know I wouldn't be more than three decades into my career if that were the case.

You see, I'm not a vocal person. I'm quiet, self-reflective and introspective in my thinking; I like to invent. So essentially, I'm the opposite of that old axiom of what a woman needs to succeed in this business. While having 100 patents to my name is a nice benchmark, I don't let it define me. I want to change the world in simple, pragmatic ways, to make the world a better place and to make life easier for people. Always grounded, but always dreaming.

So what's my hope out of telling my story? As a woman working for one of the largest technology companies, I want to encourage women to keep thinking and dreaming -- because no one else can think creatively or imagine what the future of technology will look like quite like you can.

People are going to accept you, and people are going to want (and value) your contributions because you are unique and, therefore, so are your thoughts. Our society is desperate for your minds and energy.

So be yourself. Fulfill the passions and dreams that you have in the environment that works best for your growth.

Here's to young women chasing after their dreams and to all my STEM veteran counterparts out there doing their thing. The late Nora Ephron said it best: "I hope you will find some way to break the rules and make a little trouble out there. And I also hope that you will choose to make some of that trouble on behalf of women."

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