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How a dead-end summer job launched this woman’s career at NASA, Microsoft

Courtesy of Cindy Healy
Cindy Healy at her college graduation from San Diego State University.


Growing up in Southern California, Cindy Healy wasn’t thinking much about her career. 


“The expectations for me, a girl growing up in the 1970s, they were really low,” she said. “The career advice I got was you’d better get in that kitchen and learn how to cook, 'cause you’re going to be someone’s wife someday.” 


The summer after she graduated high school, she did what a lot of Orange County teens did: she got a summer job at a theme park. In this case, Knott’s Berry Farm. 


“I didn’t really think I was Disneyland material,” she said. 


Cindy was deployed to the Buffalo Nickel arcade, which at that time featured such cutting-edge gaming experiences as Pac-Man and Space Invaders. And within the arcade, Cindy began to draw a plum assignment: manning the change booth. 


“That was the primo shift to pull down, because you got to sit down all day, got to make announcements over the loudspeaker. It was kind of like a queen-bee type situation,” she said.  


One day during her shift, Cindy got a visit from her supervisor, a college student named Helen. As they chatted, Helen confided to Cindy the reason she so often landed the change booth gig: because her change counts were always impeccably accurate. 

Credit Courtesy of Cindy Healy
These days, Cindy Healy is Director of Employee Learning Experiences at Microsoft.

“Are you good at math?” she asked Cindy. Sure, Cindy replied. 


“You should enroll in a university, and you should major in computer science. It’s a growing field, they need women, and starting salaries are $25,000!”


That chance conversation would prove to be a pivotal moment for Cindy Healy. She did indeed go on to major in computer science, which in turn led to jobs working on the space shuttle and a Mars rover, as well as stints working for Disney and, now, as director of employee learning experiences at Microsoft. 


Click “listen” above to hear her tell the tale, and talk about how she now goes out of her way to spot hidden talents in others.  


Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.