#mynerdstory—Daria Ganina, Mood Manager

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In our eighth post inspired by Crystal Beasley’s nerd story, Daria, our Mood Manager in Prezi’s Budapest office, explains how her love for gaming helped equip her with some of the skills that have helped her feel at home working in the tech world. Over the past several weeks, we have been giving space for some of the amazing women who work at Prezi to share the journeys that brought them here—we hope that by sharing our stories, we can increase the number of female role models in tech and inspire women to follow their passion wherever it may lead.

Dolls, so many dolls everywhere. I’m sure this is what most people imagine covers the floor of the average little girl’s room.

Well, I never spent much time with dolls. From what I can remember, after I undressed poor Barbie and tore her head off to see how that might affect her vital activities, I completely lost interest and began searching for more challenging toys to play with.

If the words “ZX Spectrum” touch your heart the way they touch mine, I would like to shake your brave hand. Those of us who have struggled to connect this monster computer first to a TV and then to a reel tape recorder to produce a basic game environment share a special bond. As a young girl, my curiosity and drive for new challenges were insatiable. I was six years old, English was not my mother tongue, and there was no Google (or, for that matter, any source of information other than my mom, my friends, and that funny bearded guy at the computer store). I have no idea how I was able to learn and memorize the 10-15 lines of code in English needed to launch a game from the audio cassette, but I was too stubborn to be deterred. I still clearly remember that inexpressible delight when I saw the technicolor ZX world for the first time on my TV screen.

The infamous ZX Spectrum game environment.

As time passed and computers became more advanced, so did the games that came along with them. My first Dendy was ready to use out of the box, but I maintained the hacking spirit that had helped me first discover gaming—I began to realize that every game had bugs which could be exploited to make it more fun (like getting more lives in Contra). Soon, I could beat all my neighbors (mostly boys) in each of the 999 games for my Dendy. I’m still proud of this unusual childhood that my parents allowed me to have, despite growing up in the extremely patriarchal and prejudiced society of Soviet Russia.

The gaming world and I grew up together—as I got older, games became more creative, more visual, and more complicated. By the time I got my first personal computer, the first version of Counter-Strike was already taking over the online gaming world, but I was without any kind of Internet connection in St. Petersburg. Instead, I developed my strategic skills with offline games like Heroes of Might & Magic, and Dungeon Keeper; my reaction speed and peripheral vision with Doom and Quake; my entrepreneurial skills with SimCity 2000 and Railroad Tycoon.

If anyone thinks that it’s impossible to lead a “normal life” (as some people sarcastically put it) as a hardcore gamer, let me serve as a counterexample. While I loved gaming, I also loved to study, and I graduated from two universities, one in Russia and the other in Hungary. In fact, I think games helped me get to where I am today, working at Prezi—some of my favorite games taught me important skills, like strategic thinking and long-term planning.

During my PhD studies, I became quite addicted to Counter-Strike. I could pull an all-nighter playing the game without thinking twice. I rose through the ranks of the game and was eventually promoted to admin level on several gaming servers, some of them Romanian. None of my fellow gamers believed that I was a woman, and I never bothered to prove it to them—instead, I quietly pwned one opponent after another. Only later did I discover that there are ladies who speak up for the female gaming community, organize women’s championships, and actively promote gaming to girls.

Now I’m 27, I have my dream job and my life outside of work, my cozy apartment—and I’m still a devoted gamer. At the moment, as a tribute to gaming’s humble beginnings, my passion belongs to Nethack, a rogue-like strategic game with ASCII graphics and an incredibly complicated interface. This game is a huge challenge from the very start, and that’s why I love it—I enjoy proving to myself and others that I can play Nethack, as a woman without a technical education. I’m always happy to challenge people’s assumptions about me.

The ASCII-based interface of Nethack—not so easy to navigate!

In good games, there are no boundaries—you are limited only by your creativity, imagination, persistence, and patience. Gaming has given me opportunities to challenge and overcome my own weaknesses, and it has pushed me to reach new heights that I did not know I could reach. I’m so happy to have been able to discover and pursue my love for games, even when it meant ignoring what everyone else said about it. Be nerdy, be passionate about what you do, and embrace gaming, programming, & hacking—because you can, no matter what the rest of the world thinks.

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