The timer had started running 30 minutes ago. I was sweating from the exertion of rigging up a 500-pound tool string with my crew and the nervousness of being responsible of running a $2 million exploration job in an offshore oil platform in Africa. I was multitasking -- looking at one of the many monitors in our unit controlling the speed of the tool string, looking at the data that was being collected and displayed in another monitor, and trying to keep an eye on my crew and give them instructions on what to do next.
I was only 22 and it was one of the most satisfying moments of my life. I was the second engineer of a deepwater exploration project for British Petroleum in offshore Angola.
It was just a year after I joined one of the biggest oilfield services companies in the world as a field engineer. It took a lot of hard work to prove myself and earn the respect of my crew, tutor and colleagues. I was where I wanted to be. I remember my tutor's first words, "Never panic, cry or show any emotions in front of a client. I know it is hard for you girls to do that." His comment made me angry and defensive, but sitting there and weighing how much it had cost me to be running that operation, made his words sank into me.
It cost me. There were many moments where I was biting my tongue, running to hide my tears and clenching my hands to avoid angry outbursts. I don't think it had cost me more than any other engineer, women or men. The perception that women are more emotional than men just made the whole thing harder. I was expected to act differently.
When I took the offer for this job, I only saw an opportunity to do something not many people would do -- to go somewhere I may never go under other circumstance.
The ultimate thing was that it would be a challenge. I didn't stop to do a pros and cons analysis, I didn't even take the time to look up Angola on a map. I told my mother I was going to Asia because I thought Angola was on that continent. She, of course, rolled her eyes at my lack of geographical knowledge.
Sometimes people ask me what do I think about women in tech and I remember my tutor's words. I don't know why being a women in tech is a rare phenomenon or why it is so impressive. My journey started as an adventure, never fearing what would come and never thinking of myself at a disadvantage because I am a woman. People's prejudice can only make things harder if we accept it.
Almost four years and several start-ups later, I see how my experience was life changing. Despite the cliché "I wouldn't change a thing," I would give my younger self some advice. I would tell her to be fearless, but humble. She should listen to people and understand them, but not change how she thinks or who she is.
I would tell her not to let the woman-in-tech thing make her feel either like a superhero or disadvantaged. The first can make her too proud to look for help when she needs it, and the second to lead her to miss opportunities she earned.
About the writer: Griselda Cuevas is currently a product manager at Liquid Elephant, a web performance dev shop. She has previously worked as project and community manager for several startups in Mexico and the Silicon Valley, ranging from her own energy efficiency company to technology companies like IndexTank and LinkedIn. She enjoys working in user acquisition strategies, community management and product development, and has a passion for sustainability, social entrepreneurship, startups and yoga. Griselda holds a B.S. in Industrial Engineering from Tec de Monterrey (Mexico's MIT) and a specialty as Oil Reservoir Evaluation Engineer in Deep Water Operations. In 2005, she published a poetry collection as winner of a national literature contest and received the national youth prize for best social entrepreneurship project that same year.