A Toast for Alice

"I'm sorry, but I will have to send you a girl."

My boss was on the phone with an important client. As I heard these words, I was outraged enough to leap down his throat. Jock Hill was a tough, wiry Scotsman. But I was ready to take him on.

"Well, yes, my good man . . . " he continued. "Yes, we do have some excellent Men here. And I certainly can send you a Man. But I believe you need an Expert to solve your problems."

It was 1973, we were in a small town outside of Geneva, at the European support center for the world's leading super computer company. The compiler at the Technische Hochschule Vienna was down hard and they were desperate. I had been on the development team in Silicon Valley and knew the product intimately. They had to suck it up and listen to a 23-year-old American girl possessing a mere bachelor's degree.

Incredibly, this group of mathematics professors—Herr Doktoren Diesen and Herr Professoren Daten—eventually bonded with me to the extent that I was to be their guest at the Royal Opera Ball that honored the school—a highlight of my life. But it's the often repeated apology for my gender that flashed back into my mind, resurrected by yet one more story of how few women hold technical management positions in Silicon Valley today.

Jock Hill was not a bad guy, and I might have been well served to translate my rage into his disarming style sooner than I did. But it was rage that propelled me through those early years, a rage that I fortunately was able to channel into success.

Yesterday was Alice's birthday. I thought I should pass on some grandmotherly wisdom. In a conversation with Beth recently I jotted down the words "strength without aggressiveness." It's such an appealing concept. It definitely sounds like wisdom.


But I look around the world—at the presidential campaign and Donald Trump; at ISIS terror raging across the globe; at the ongoing challenges of being a woman in a "man's" field.

"A rage for life." That's the toast I offer you, my sweetheart. I know you have it, I've seen it in your eyes. Never lose it.

"A rage for life!"