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My First Job: Margaret Holt

Retired, co-chair of SCORE Naples

I’ve loved every minute of my work life. After graduating from West Virginia University with my degree in math and physics, I didn’t care what kind of job I got—as long as I could afford an apartment and a car in a city like Washington, D.C., or New York. My first job was with NASA and Bell Labs, as part of the team dedicated to working on Apollo 1. My job was featured in the movie Hidden Figures, but that movie took place about five years before I started.

There were around 100 people on the team—90 were men, all with Ph.Ds. I was one of four female programmers. I worked on a special project to determine the best days and times of day for the astronauts to go to the moon in the Lunar Excursion Module. I had to make sure the sun wouldn’t get in their eyes. Basically, I ran and re-ran this massive computer program every day. Each time, I changed the parameters [date, time, weight, supplies] and had to plot the resulting information by hand on graph paper for my boss. I learned the importance of thinking strategically. The job gave me a sense of confidence and teamwork.

In that job, I wasn’t acutely aware of being a woman, I was acutely aware of being junior. I was a computer programmer with a bachelor’s degree and they
all had Ph.Ds. Some things regarding gender came up now and then, of course. In those days a man and a woman couldn’t share a private office, so four of us women had to share one. One time, my business trip was canceled because another woman dropped out—they couldn’t allow me to be the only woman on a trip because it looked bad. I felt very supported by my coworkers, though. There was never any competition, and I’ve taken that approach throughout my work life. This job gave me solid experience in how to work with men. Right afterwards, I became a manager in London and most of the people who worked for me were men. Now, as the co-chair of SCORE, I’m managing men again. I don’t think about it because it’s just normal to me. 

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