Behind her quiet unassuming delivery is a confident, resourceful woman who fashioned an information technology career with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Office for Project Services (UNOPS) during a time when data technology advances were just beginning.
At the time, it didn’t necessarily feel like technology was fast-tracking. But by the time Pat Yourdon retired 19 years later from her position as Chief of the Information Section of UNOPS, technology advances in developing world countries had become commonplace.
Her responsibility included the management of 10 employees (in the UNOPS office of 200 workers) whose job it was to oversee network installation and maintenance, systems development and training, and the hosting of a help desk for the entire UNOPS team.
Her technology career path was neither planned nor sought. Growing up in the New York metropolitan region, she had benefited from the teachings of her French stepmother. “I wasn’t too happy about having to learn (French) at the time,” she recalls. But years later, those lessons would help her land that job with the U.N, as employees were required to speak two of the official UN languages.
Initially, her stepmother’s French lessons prepped her for a formal education in linguistics. Attending Bryn Mawr College in the suburbs of Philadelphia, she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in French, and then was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to Besançon, France. Returning home a year later, Pat pursued a master’s degree in Linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania. But her career interest took an abrupt turn while working for a professor “who was doing stuff on a computer.”
By coincidence, her father was learning a new craft himself – computer programming. The year was 1969 and one day her father told her about a woman working with him who had just gotten a new job in the computer field making $13,000 – the equivalent then of over $96,500 in 2021 dollars. “That comment,” she notes, “gave me the want to move my life forward!”
Pat was briefly married following college and gave birth to a “wonderful daughter, Jennifer.” The joys of motherhood were many, and the responsibilities of a single working mother were challenging. Her first computer job was with Chase Manhattan bank. “You didn’t have to know anything about computers then,” she recalls. “Passing a ‘basic’ aptitude test opened the door. In those days, it was like a big puzzle (learning computers). No one seemed to know anything. We all learned on the job.”
A year later, Pat joined a company that had developed one of the first database management software programs. Eventually, they sold their software to UNDP and Pat became one of several contractors selected as a program developer and computer trainer. The work, she notes, was “very cool. I liked it so much that the UNDP offered me a position. I felt I was perfect for a job that required a person to be fluent in two languages. Voila!”
“It was an interesting time (in the beginning) when women were secretaries and men were the bosses,” she notes. “In those early days of office computers, a memo for a colleague was still taken in shorthand by a secretary, typed up and forwarded in the inter-office mail. It was a totally inefficient process.” Eventually, Pat would convince those bosses that office efficiency would be best served if each person handled their own electronic messaging.
Meanwhile, she and Jennifer moved from Brooklyn to the Waterside East River area of Manhattan after she started working at the UN. For Pat, the location was perfect – within walking distance to the UN and within walking distance to school for her daughter. Jennifer’s education at the UN International School, said Pat, was “the best. She was schooled with regular New York kids and with the children of ambassadors, and it afforded her an opportunity to engage in wonderful debates. She even had one classmate whose grandfather had been a cannibal!”
Pat’s role required that she travel internationally to countries such as Kenya, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Brazil. When arriving at a country’s UN office, she guided the conversion and training for their technology, communications and software from the old cumbersome teletype machines to new systems with transmission speeds many times faster than before.
Most trips were a week in length. But trips to the UN office in Geneva, Switzerland were often longer. Her father and stepmother, who lived nearby in New York, cared for Jennifer during most of those times. And as fortune would have it, Pat’s parents purchased a home in southwest France. On several occasions, Pat would take her daughter along on a trip. Those joint trips to Geneva and beyond were most enjoyable because Pat’s father and stepmother would make sure to be at their home in France, thus providing Jennifer with a place to stay and a way to enjoy life in rural France.
Mid-way through her UN career, Pat bought a home on tiny Shelter Island, located at the far end of Long Island (about a three-hour drive from New York City). It would become her full-time home in 1999, following her retirement from the UN. During her nearly 20 years on the 29 square-mile island, she dabbled in many things, serving as a trustee at the local historical society, working at a friend’s antique shop, raising oysters in the Peconic Bay waters that fronted her home.
And it would be only fitting that Pat continued her interest in computers and the internet. Unwittingly, she fashioned a second career selling collectibles on eBay. The collectibles were treasures and inherited gifts received during a period when her parents and older relatives passed. “I had always like going to garage sales and flea markets, picking up antiques and collectibles, and eBay was just getting started. I saw an opportunity to put my skills to good use,” she relates.
Pat had to do a lot of learning to become efficient and make her new career journey profitable. Three years ago, Pat sold her Shelter Island home, came to Pine Island, and eventually found her way to Cypress Cove. She volunteers at the Main Street Market and, yes, still finds time to continue her second career – selling collectibles on eBay. Her eBay career, she says, has helped provide additional monetary resources. “It’s fun, like a game, like at puzzle,” she quipped.
What would you expect from an individual who has armed herself with knowledge, used it resourcefully and created an enjoyable retirement?