Danielle Chard: Creativity for the Common Good
You've been working in the tech field for over twenty years. What inspired you to persevere?
My parents. Everything always comes back to my parents. I've been blessed to stand on the shoulders of silent greatness. In 1983, my parents took me to see the movie WarGames and I was in love. I was nine. My family was a quintessentially blue collar/pink collar middle class 80s family - a factory worker and a secretary. But my Dad is a savvy investor, and has always been incredibly smart with his money. So I pitched to him that I needed a computer. I wrote my dad a loan proposal about what we would now call the ROI.
Because the computer was a knockoff, half the stuff I bought at Electronics Boutique didn't even work and had to be returned. I got very frustrated with the computer because it couldn't do anything. So I started writing my own games. Writing my own games was so much better! The first one was a pinpall game, that literally used the " \ /" characters as the 'flippers' the "o" as the ball. It probably took me a week to get it to work. And honestly it was much more fun to code than to play. After that I got more into writing text based games that were like the "Choose Your Own Adventure" books that I loved at that age. They were text based and gave the player (me) choices that lead to different outcomes. Since I also loved writing short stories these were very enjoyable to write and easy to code. I did a few more games like the pinball one because I liked the more difficult coding of those.
Jump ahead 10 years and I'm living 1,200 miles away from my parents. I'm a ballroom dance teacher and a Kelly Temp at this new government department starting an IT department. Worked out not only well, but it's how I got to where I am, as a representative voice to my field. I was convinced that I was destined to be a great dancer, but my parents pointed out that I had an opportunity to become someone on the cutting edge of technology.
I've also never lost that passion and awe from the first time I saw what computers could do. And sometimes, when I get a little beaten down by the industry, I go back and watch WarGames. Admittedly now, I laugh at it a lot. Like you do when you're remembering a first love.
You've mentioned that your presentation as a working woman changed from the 90s to the 00s. In what ways did it change? In what ways did that change benefit you?
I have to credit some amazing people. I was 21 in 1995 when I started in my first IT department. Back then it was mostly MIS (Management Information Systems), which ran mainframes in cold, locked rooms with guys who were very protective of their territory.
They didn't like that the IT department wanted to come in and start a PC-based operation. Technology was a man's game in the early 90s. To be taken seriously and get the job done, it wasn't so much that I needed to act like a man; It was that I needed to be louder and more assertive than some of the men around me. I say "some," because men on my team were amazing and supportive and really believed in me. I had three incredibly supportive managers, and a CTO that created a full time job for me. So to my former coworkers, with whom I spent many hours working and bonding: we've lost touch, but I have never forgotten you. I carry you with me always.
My female mentors now...
When I first went in as a receptionist, my first manager, Sharon Ardrey, was amused, but skeptical, and rightly so; I had spiky, mahogany-colored hair, bright clothes, and seemed at odds with the culture (I'd fit right in now). After two weeks, Sharon pulled me to the side and said "You understand what we do here, we're the help desk. People call to ask us questions about how their terminals (mainframe terminals that did word processing, spreadsheets, and email) work, and we help them. You were hired to answer the phone and send the calls to me and Jane. However, since you've started we've been getting less calls. What's going on?" Obviously this is paraphrased because it's been over 20 years.
I explained that the system only did three things, and after a week of poking around and playing with it, I was answering the help calls on my own. Sharon immediately started giving me additional responsibilities. She was investing time and effort into helping me become more professional. I admired her, and didn't want to let her down, so I took everything to heart. Sharon and her husband Barry never failed to stand by me and help me become a functioning adult. This probably won't make the interview edit, but Sharon is also the person that took me to the hospital when I was bitten by a brown recluse spider. I didn't think it was "that big of a deal," but she did. Sharon, while probably often exasperated with me, never failed to be there and raise me right.
Then, I met Maggie Bowles, who would become my best friend and mentor. She had worked all over the world, she was worldly, she was glamorous. She wouldn't agree to any of these descriptions. But I was mesmerized by a woman that had so much power, class, and skill! She was in her late forties when we met. She saw something in me, and she wanted to crank up the power. At the time, she wasn't even my manager, but she invited me out for a drink at the Ritz Carlton.
Maggie started me on a path of asking "What do you want to be?", "Who do you want to be?", "You're assertive, you're tough, grab that and go with it!". And eventually, she became my manager. She's still the first person I call today when I face hard decisions.
Your work took on an empathetic objectivity the longer you were involved in the tech field, involving non-profits and working with children. How did this involvement resonate with you on a personal level?
I've always been civic-minded. When I was in high school I worked at my mom's bank and saw that they were collecting old soda cans. I asked what it was for. It was to buy a color TV for the break room (I'm so old). In New York at the time you'd get a nickel a can. I asked if I could take the cans and redeem them so that I could buy supplies for the homeless. I was 15 - of course the bank said yes; they didn't want to seem like monsters. I took the cans and made up gift bags and handed them out at a shelter.
I mentioned Maggie Bowles in a previous question. When I first met her she was on all these boards and charities. She asked me to make one promise when we became friends. She said "You're going to be very successful. I only ask that you remember to give back." I have never forgotten that. Every time I get a bump, the organizations I support get a bump. Now, I work with low-opportunity children to build the STEM pipeline that tech companies blame for their lack of diversity.
I don't have any children, so it might seem strange that I'm invested in charities that benefit children. But it's not. I don't want to go all Whitney Houston, like, "the children are our future," but it's true. I'm also a supporter of Planned Parenthood, which might seem antithetical to this, but well-funded family planning leads to happier family outcomes.
There's the running joke that women become invisible when they turn 40. A few years before I turned 40, I realized that I'm more powerful than ever for two seemingly disparate reasons: I don't give a damn, and, I deeply give a damn. Let me explain. I don't give a damn about what someone thinks about my looks, my clothes, my speaking up about issues I care about. I do give a damn about my charities, my work with those charities, my career, and being a great friend, daughter, and sister. I'm fighting for what I think impacts people that have lower opportunities and smaller voices. I'm loud as hell, and I like to use my voice for the people that aren't allowed to use their own.
I stand on the shoulders of amazing men and women: my mom, Mary Chard (the original gamer and electrical engineer in my life), my dad, Fred Chard, an unwitting feminist and my proudest champion, Sharon Ardrey, Margret Bowles, Mike Berrios, and Bill Coakley. I've been blessed to stand on the shoulders of silent greatness, and because of those shoulders I can carry my sword proudly into battle.