I found this book really helpful for seeing patterns over time in various tech industries, and for making work that had previously been invisible to me (and admittedly also thus devalued) visible and vital. Some of the attempts at levity fall a little flat, but they were easy for me to ignore because I was busy drawing connections between the chapters. Women were pushed out of profession after profession as part of exactly the same progression of events and attitude changes, and Evans is adept at demonstrating that pattern in several fields, while letting the reader see it for themselves. (Anyone else remember those 3D posters that were so popular in the 90s? This is a prose version of that.) Women were encouraged for years to do the “menial” work, the endless calculations, the one-at-a-time feeding of punchcards, the careful manipulation of countless levers and buttons to prep a computer to run, the design and trial-and-error and studying required to learn how to do that prep. But once that labor came with power, once it was visible, once others (men) noticed that the women knew something the men didn’t, everything would change. Evans shows it happening with computing, with coding, with managing the infrastructure of the internet. The pattern is undeniable.
The other real joy of this book for me was how it elevated “behind the scenes,” work to its rightful status of “vital.” I had to notice that I have been guilty of devaluing work that isn’t all that flashy, or isn’t getting as much attention (from whom?), as if the real work is only the big stuff, the invention, the moment of brilliance, the breakthrough. This book shows the structural work that had to happen for any of the tech we have today to exist, the day-to-day organizing of minutiae that could only have been done by a sharp and dynamic mind. When the internet was just two nodes, then 4, then 10, then 100, then 1000, then 10,000, someone had to organize those addresses. They had to come up with a system for organizing something that had never existed before, and they had to have the foresight to understand that that 10,000 nodes was still miniscule compared to what it was going to be. Woah. Evans documents the invention of and the subsequent innovations to the systems and strategies that made possible flashier leaps in technology. Women laid the roads and driveways, and built some of the castles at the ends of those driveways, but the castles were named for men, men were invited to move into them, and when they made sparkling crystal sculptures and put them on the front lawn, the world forgot about the castle and roads and focused on that shiny, shiny sparkle of crystal. (Also, admittedly, that metaphor was about as labored as a few sections of this book.) At any rate, I learned a lot from this read, it was stimulating without being dense, and I’d recommend it.