Kate Ertmann

My Zig-zag Path to a Techcentric Career

Source

This is the view most people have of me.

At my desk. At my computer. Looking at stuff. Online. Offline. Spreadsheets. Oh, delicious spreadsheets.

I own a 3D animation company. I’m actually going into my 15th year of running this company, which is completely insane when you think about what 3D WAS 15 years ago.

I like to say that I entered this world of 3D and animation through the side door. The whole of that story is a bit more detailed and includes things like working in the rise of the (first) dot.com era after having worked as a child actor for 10%2B years — which, incidentally, did pay tuition for an out-of-state school. If you watched Saturday morning cartoons in the late 70's and early 80's, you saw me being terribly excited (and sometimes singing about) everything from Cheerios, Duncan Hines cookies, Orange Crush, and a variety of dolls and toys that little 12 year old girls were supposed to be fascinated by.

I was in the thick of media and entertainment from the ages of about 7 to 16. I was on set and saw not just how a commercial came together but how the adults on set from production and the clients and agencies — which were 90% male, unless it was a script supervisor or craft services or stylist — work together on set. It was gruff. There were jokes that weren’t hidden from us kids. By nature of the business, there was a lot of rejection and drama, both on and off camera, that I witnessed.

(And before there is any question of “Where were your parents during this?” I can happily say that my mom said from the start, and I quote, “When this isnt fun anymore, we’ll stop doing this.” Which is exactly what I did tell her when I was about 16 and wanted to hang out with my friends and be a stupid and irresponsible teenager. When on set, my mom was always there, keeping to herself, doing a ton of crosswords and staying away from the drama of the stage-moms, but keeping an eye at all times on what I was being asked to do.)

Being in this world for my formative years informed me that I was to be looked at and that if I performed correctly and made people around me happy, that I could make money as well as make money for the people around me.

In the beginning of my years on set, though, I was intensely curious about how the machines — the camera, the microphones — worked. I asked questions on if it was a film camera or one of those BetaCams. I’d ask the audio guy if he could show me what was under that big fuzzy boom mic and how it worked; invariably, he’d say something like “Why do you want to know that?” and shush me away. And also, invariably, I’d see one of the boy child actors being given that same boom mic and being coaxed by the adults to stick it into the make-up room or sometimes the girl’s bathroom.

It wasn’t until I was a grown adult in my 20's that I realized that I should have been an engineer. I’ve wondered a gazillion times why I didnt pursue that career path. I loved math. I was really good at math. And it was in my 20s when I ‘discovered’ NASCAR. A co-worker of mine told me I’d love it because I loved math, and I thought he was crazy so I agreed to watch a race with him and holy crap it’s math at 200 miles an hour; the equations that need to be used to gain an advantage when figuring out the tire pressure and fuel mileage and weather and temperature in different corners of the track.

You see, my nerd story is a really zig-zag’d path. Though I landed in a fantastic techcentric career, I believe I subconsciously got myself here out of my need as I grew into my confidence as an adult to be true to my interests and strengths. Though I was in a business environment at a really young age I was completely discouraged — that brief boom mic story above is just one of Many stories I could tell — and I was dismissed about even having the interest of How Things Work. I can completely relate to the character of Cady in Mean Girls:

Damian_: [reading Cady’s class schedule] Health, Spanish… you’re taking 12th Grade Calculus?_

Cady_: Yeah, I like math._

Damian_: Eww. Why?_

Cady_: Because it’s the same in every country._

Early on I could see that math was the root of Everything. Seeing an equation makes me happy and it calms me. I have a fricking tattoo of morphisms on my arm. But, like Cady, I dumbed it down in school. When you’re an adolescent girl in math class and you just want to belong, and you’re made fun of for getting A’s, you start getting B’s and C’s, on purpose, so you can belong. There wasnt encouragement from other girls nor from the teachers.

I obviously got my footing later on. Much later on. What I do now is great. But I‘ve certainly imagined if I had been encouraged, mentored, guided to develop my love for math — would I be that fuel mileage wrangler on a NASCAR team?

Archive Tweet

Other posts tagged English

Getting Women Hooked into Open Source | Anita's Quilt

Lukas Blakk :: Release Manager for Mozilla Firefox

Ham Radio, Atari, and UNIX

Dawn Foster :: Open source community manager for Puppet, formerly of Intel

My Zig-zag Path to a Techcentric Career

Kate Ertmann :: Owner of ADi, a 3d animation company

It Ran In The Family, But Wasn’t Inevitable

Selena Deckelmann :: Postgresql wrangler of petabytes of Firefox crash data