Don’t Worry – Your Daughters Will Figure it Out

Unstoppable – Clarence Clarity Remix by Sia and Clarence Clarity 🎵

The world sends confusing messages to girls – like they’re all supposed to end up on Disney or as pop stars with CSI cameos as a career. I was an awful teenager. Who we are today is heavily influenced by the exceptionally weird things we try while attempting to figure out who we are supposed to be.

The ever blending world of art and engineering will probably look even weirder now that ChatGPT exists and my hairdresser uses it for her business. We spent 3 hours today talking about how much she is able to do with ChatGPT and it’s like she just got a full army of people she could never hire. Go her. Use the crap out of it, woman! “Prompt engineering” is our future… Maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t. These days when I get asked “What can we do for young girls to get them into STEM?” My answer is simple: Maybe for this next generation we try to just get out of their way?

Compete to Learn and Learn to Compete

20 years ago I edited movies and ripped DVDs. I was trying to find a place to put videos. I filmed on a Canon GL2, my baby, and tried to get shorts into film festivals. It was all I wanted. My mom was one of 5% of women audio engineers at the time and had her own post production studio on Music Row in Nashville. She’s quoted later in NashvilleScene when asked about women’s careers in audio stating “You can blame socialization to a certain point, but my mother and father would not allow me to have an electric guitar. Now I have 17 of them. You can break the mold.” She really did collect 17 guitars. Mostly left-ies. I didn’t know if she was competing against society, her parents, or herself.

In that way, we are the same. In my senior year, I missed prom: I got into a Film Festival and on that weekend a documentary I shot was screened at Regal Cinemas 16. I’m not sure what I was trying to prove. Maybe I just didn’t want to go to prom.

The teachers at the school I went to told me to try to become the first woman director to ever win an Oscar – no woman had received one at that time. I hoped it wouldn’t take my career – that was depressing, not exciting. Ms. Girgus, my English Teacher, gave me “America on Film: Modernism, Documentary, And a Changing America” by Sam B Girgus. Her words “See you at the oscars!” I’m sorry to say, I did not get anywhere close to an Oscar. It was Kathryn Bigelow for “The Hurt Locker.” I remember seeing her win it and feeling so happy. Things did not go as planned but also went as planned according to the universe – in retrospect it all makes sense.

What Happened Was

My mom gave me side projects to learn DVD Studio Pro and Final Cut Pro. I wasn’t respectful. It took me years to realize how much support she had given me. The job opportunities she gave me. I was, to be quite honest, still finding my way.

I placed shorts on (which I no longer own) and hosted them so I could share with friends on (which no longer exists). This taught me to build websites. I found a few other teenage girls online I thought were neat people.

We were so passionate about our community that we created a competing website. The CreateBlog moderators, actual real adults, were not a fan because we would cross post straight into the forums from what was actually a legitimate website. It just happened to be built by teenagers.

They were not happy.
They were not happy like a lot of times from what I vaguely remember.

The 3 of us girls used to listen to “amp up music” whenever we knew we’d have to deal with the “CreateBlog mods.” Our community on our new shiny website used to amp us up too. “The admins” going against CreateBlog. The terms of service – Those were more like guidelines. We got really good at not breaking them creatively. We were the assholes. Meanwhile my twin brother was entering in the Unreal Competition (you know Unreal Tournament 2004 edition. In 2004 his team lost to a mod team…the team that later became Tripwire Interactive and that was the start of their business…).

While giving my brother support for his team’s weird spider mod, like any normal sister would do, me and a bunch of badass girls built with the help of leaching off his hosting. Which meant, because he had my server, I had to be nice. The infrastructure people had the power (in brother sister land) I had “subbies” (people whose subdomains I hosted) who now have PhDs (Hi Alvin!). Hitherston was a community where anyone could upload photos, videos, photoshops, website themes and ran “house” competitions (You could join Hitherwood or Ariston) – we wanted to encourage people to learn all of these amazing creative tools coming out in the Apple and Adobe ecosystem and own our own creative work as a community. I wrote a song for some guy who was older than we were but had cancer and just wanted to see us succeed. We ran “virtual lockins” where we’d stay up over the holidays and just make stuff. We gave away house points and rewarded people with avatars.

We were 16…17…then 18 spending time in phpMyAdmin, reskinning B2Evolution, and creating WordPress themes. No one called us engineers even though we managed and maintained everything and literally built the websites. When I wasn’t in school I was “wasting all my time” editing videos, learning Photoshop, learning WordPress and being an absolute worst employee for my mom because I just wanted to manage my growing collection of websites and all these people. When I “helped” it would be to copy film scripts for her clients, print DVDs, and a bunch of other random stuff that in retrospect was probably her trying to teach me to be a proper employee. Occasionally I would hate helping and she would take away the internet. Which I would then … figure out how to get back online because I HAD TO BUILD WEBSITES 🙂 . She taught me to wrap XLR cables. She taught me about microphones. And at 16 she sent me to Girls Film School so I could learn from people who really knew how to operate “big girl cameras.” I was lucky to have met Deborah Fort when I was 16 as she ran Girls Film School and one of the best people of all time. She told me to come back.

I was faced with a decision: Shut down and go to college? All 3 women were. We let it die. We chose college. CreateBlog won. The “real adults” just had to wait until…we grew up. My mom lost the world’s most annoying teenage part-time employee where discipline only recursively made me more annoying through technology.

The 2009 Recession

In college, I worked on a few films professionally – I moved to New Mexico because they had the film credits and thus as long as you were there, you could work on them at Greer Garson Studios. Garson was known for being the hub for No Country for Old Men, Wild Wild West 2, many others. I was determined to get on a feature film set. When in college, Deborah gave me the opportunity to do live audio mixing for my first ever burlesque show as she was interviewing the performers for one of her documentaries. A real check! From NotMyMom! But from another real woman! I learned just how spiky burlesque can get and how much more prepared you need to be. I called my mom often to cheat on audio engineering tasks I couldn’t figure out. To her, under the hood of those reverb settings? It was all just math. All the same concepts. When off from college in the summer, my mother, gave me the opportunity to shoot B Camera on a much nicer camera for some music videos because she now trusted me with better equipment – One of my shoots landed on Tosh.0, which, depending on your perspective is either good or bad. I’d link it but you would get second hand cringe. I did camera work for a few years. I was so sure I was going to stay in the film industry. I thought I’d land back on music row. But the doubts grew.

I worked as video assist for the feature film “Brothers” where I saw my boss drop a very expensive TV and not get fired. I remember him being so kind and so scared for him. I learned just how hard people in the film industry work and how every single minute is a dollar figure. Showing up on time? Show up for call or else. If you want to sleep tomorrow, learn to wrap fast. If you want to have kids….maybe don’t do this industry. Jim Sheridan saw how nervous I was when I stood in for Natalie Portman for like five seconds. Made a joke with Jake Gyllenhaal I didn’t get. I lost my phone. In the middle of nowhere. I rode back with him to get it. I was too nervous to talk. Later, with heating pads stuffed in all my clothes in 4 degree weather, Jim Sheridan said “What’s your name?” “Molly.” “I like Molly. We’ll call you the Unsinkable Molly.” This isn’t on my resume because I have legitimately no idea where to put it now.

On Brothers I got to see real other women who were RealCameraOperators. I also learned how truly cold it is to shoot on location. I remember feeling so cold and missing being behind a computer. How was I going to make all of these things work together? The equipment took forever to turn on. More chemical heating pads. Just started shoving them into things. Can’t the TVs just turn on today? When I wasn’t doing these things I was playing World of Warcraft. I couldn’t make the raids. Had to be on set. Had to get up. It had not clicked for me I could make video games – there wasn’t a degree. Unity wasn’t free nor taught yet (2004). There was no Stack Overflow until 2008. The iPhone came out in 2007 and was not game ready. Change was happening.

The iPhone

I remember doing this for 3 years while also getting my degree just to find out that while Greer Garson’s finances were okay, my university was not okay. In fact my University, then College of Santa Fe, was $30 million in debt. It was 2008….2009. “You need to take a teach out, or transfer.” I remember looking at my phone – I had just bought the iPhone. The recession was about to happen, but we didn’t know it. iPhones at the time were not performant enough to support games like those I was playing…but I just knew. I knew this was the future. The place where I could combine everything I loved. I chose to transfer to SCAD where half my credits didn’t count due to the systems being so different. To learn to build games in Flash, Unity, and also Unreal…and because of that I spent an additional 3 years in college learning while working. In total, I worked while going to college for 6 years. I felt like a failure for my choices. I felt like people would judge me. That none of my real, professional work counted in this new world because that paper of a degree was behind. That none of what I had done would be relevant – but that wasn’t true. In fact, my film background has kept me realistic since that, quite frankly pivot by innovation vs pivot by choice. It taught me so much about people, money, time.

It made me better. Smarter. I moved so much faster. I saw around corners. I recognized bullshit fast.

I released my first game – it was terrible, but it was real and released and on the App Store in the early days of mobile under a real company. I released my second game with Adam Green and it was on iPad 2, “Bunny Reaper.” It was a bit better, although sadistic? Adam had a business that people wanted (Daily App Dream / Free App a Day) – when their apps were featured, they saw an uptick. He later successfully sold his company and years after that, he became an advisor in my business. Adam is genuinely a real good dude.

Losing NBA Jam to my boss, James, at Thrust. Touring Turner’s NBA Set courtesy of Jesse. Getting on Tech Edge.

I then worked for Thrust Interactive and made a ton more games. Thrust was initially a “Flash” house. I met my now husband – we were “the group that knew Unity”- he was a programmer. I was a game designer who hung out with the programmers. All of them. It was a warehouse. In the winter we joked about wearing fingerless gloves. Our favorite CTO was “Good Craig” – Craig taught me that it’s okay to ask questions – to leave my box. We would bring up my workflows and stamp out the functions in them. He made me feel included. Helped me understand multiplayer. Then, my now husband Justin, made me feel even more included. He would teach me C#. NGUI. There were only a few games for which I was a game designer that landed in Flash. We spent a large part of our time doing the “company Unity pivot.” Somewhere in there we also built a game on Corona (???). Flash forward years later when I was a Principal SA for AWS where someone asked me for an AWS SDK for Lua and I immediately had a ton of suspicions. Somewhere in there we also launched a game, Words & Cards, that while it had amazing pre-launch reviews, it tanked in star ratings because of a region-wide outage during our launch day while were center-banner featured in the App Store. That one made me want to go into cloud so it could never happen again. When I started my business? The backend? We had to own it, not a third party where we can’t do the architecture ourselves.

From there on out, every story had a beginning and an end. I went from Thrust to starting my own business (and making them my client) during a really tough time for the industry. Both businesses made it. I released more games. Justin joined VMware. I closed my business in 2019 and joined AWS. I left AWS right before Amazon laid off a ton of people. I joined Zynga.

The only thing you can guarantee is change.

Everything else? Is passion.

To all my parent friends out there in games – I have no idea what your daughters will grow up to be. The line between art and technology has always been exceptionally blurry and downright wild for me tied way too much into world events, culture, and caring about people.

I don’t think engineering and art bifurcate – I think often the world has tried to bifurcate them in an effort to pay artists less, but that to live within that paradigm the only way to survive is to embrace it and find a message in the noise of what needs to get done and why. I tend to run at the worst problems involving people and technology because they are just more fun. Today that’s infrastructure because it touches a ton of problems and people. And I like that. I really really like that.

Perhaps those using ChatGPT to generate Midjourney prompts are subliminally trying to teach us a lesson.

That in this great big ironic world where we keep trying to put women in boxes, hell people in boxes, she’s gonna be just fine.