Linda Rising – At Age 50, She Studied Computers. At Age 77, She Speaks Around The World.

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This is based on an interview that I took of an amazing woman. Whoever thinks it’s too late to start something must read her story

“We are older at any point than we have ever been. We can never change that. But we can change our mindset. It’s all in the mind – whether we think it’s too late or not too late to start something.”

Missouri. Mid-1970s. A single mother, about 35 years of age, who got herself enrolled into graduate school, found herself in an emotionally challenging position. As she was walking against the cold winter wind gushing against her face, her mind was stuck on the cash that she was carrying. A few minutes before, she was faced with the harsh situation of not having any money to buy groceries. With a heavy heart, she asked her 7-year old daughter if she could borrow the latter’s money that got collected on her birthday. Her daughter felt important, felt that mother and daughter were one team and happily lent out the money.

For the next few years, this woman sacrificed every bit of personal luxury to bring up her only child, study mathematics and earn some money by being a Teaching Assistant. She delayed all kinds of gratification like travelling and holidays.

And today she travels all around the world as an international speaker and consultant in change management and agile software development! That also at the age of 77!

Linda Rising is one of the most inspiring, motivated and enthusiastic persons I have ever met. She is also one of the firsts in the world who studied and applied agile and scrum methodologies in software development which today have been embraced by both successful start-ups and established organisations.

Are you crazy Linda? You are going to start everything from the scratch again?

Linda started her career as a biochemist. However, she dropped out after a year as the task of killing animals in the lab repulsed her. For the next few years, she focussed on her family life and had put her career aspirations on hold. Her first marriage fell apart and this allowed her to again resume on her career goals. She completed her MA in mathematics and went onto do her PhD in the subject.

Although she loved mathematics, she discovered that in mathematics there were not too many jobs that could have given her satisfaction. After spending so many years on a particular field, she suddenly found herself almost back to square one. Many of us would have absolutely cracked under this situation. Linda had the quality of carrying on and grabbing knocking opportunities. Some people told her about computer science. Computer science was at its nascency those days. It was almost brand-new and that excited Linda. She saw the opportunity that it could be an ever-growing field and that led her to do a master’s in computer science. By then, she was already in her early 40s.

Her friends thought it was crazy for her to start everything from the scratch again. It’s actually quite scary when I think about it.

Her career was still floating around without any solid definition to it. Was she a biochemist? Or a mathematician? She had not built a proper career on either of these two fields. And then she dived into this new world of computers which she did not have any inkling about. Linda toiled. Like nobody’s business. Along with her master’s classes she also had to study the undergraduate course so that she could make some heads and tails of what was going on in her master’s classes. Plus, she had to again take up a Teaching Assistant role to meet her financial needs. Remember, she had her daughter who she was raising at the same time. It finally took her an additional year to complete her masters.

After working for a few years in the corporate world as a software developer, Linda went on to do her PhD in computer science and completed it at age 50. All her professors, except two, were younger than her!

PhD and a well-paid job were not enough to satiate her enthusiasm. When she moved to Denmark, in the early 2000s, with her second husband owing to the latter’s job, Linda started speaking in events about software development (she was almost 60 by then). She never looked back. For last many years Linda has been speaking and consulting with companies all over the globe and is one of the most loved and respected figures in the world of software, digital transformation and agile.

How did she make it? What about all the pressure with a child to raise?

“I had support. In fact, I had both internal determination and external support. It’s very difficult to achieve your dreams without any support.” – Linda Rising

Linda feels lucky that she had the support of family, professors and peers, especially her second husband, Karl Rehmer, who supported and motivated her to go after her dreams. The wonderful man agreed to be the primary bread earner for 3 years so that Linda could complete her PhD. He still supports her in various ways so that Linda can continue doing what she loves.

Was she not scared of failures in a fast changing younger world?

She was. And she still gets the butterflies before a new talk. And things still go haywire sometimes. But the choice is simple. If you want to grow, you got to face failures, bang past them and come out a winner or a learner on the other side.

“You have to have beginnings. If you do not have beginnings, that means you are only going to do the same thing over and over again.” – Linda Rising

So, what motivates Linda to carry on even at this age?

Linda does her exercise regularly, takes care of household chores and gets 8 hours of good sleep every day. And then she does this at her age.

Last year, she travelled for talks to Athens (Greece), Bangalore (India), Budapest (Hungary), Charlotte, Edinburgh & Glasgow (Scotland), Krakow (Poland), London, Madrid (Spain), Minneapolis (twice), Phoenix, Prague (Czech Republic), San Diego, San Francisco and Washington D.C. 

In addition to this, Linda and her husband Karl, directs two performing groups of recorder orchestra (picture below – first from left in red). They have taught all the group members to play the recorder and usually gives about 12 performances in a year.

So, what is it that motivates her apart from her natural curiosity and enthusiasm ?

It’s PURPOSE.

And it has nothing to do with software or computers.

Linda’s purpose today is to send out two key messages to the world.

Her primary message is to live with purpose. This is especially targeted towards retired people.

Living in a retirement community in Nashville to be closer to her daughter, Linda has observed many retired people, including previously highly successful people, feeling valueless in the society. They feel they are no more important. They feel they do not have much say in anything. Their confidence goes down and so does their cognitive abilities. For many, this leads to early death. Linda believes that, excluding absolute physical and mental limitations, this is not how one should live their old age. They should do some work, not necessarily for lots of money, but for some purpose; for something that they care for which can make them feel important and a valuable member of the society. Linda hopes that her active life will influence people to do the same.

“I will never retire. Till my body allows, I will never retire”. – Linda Rising.

Her second message is mainly for women. Although it has rubbed on to man like me as well.

 “I am not from Harvard or Stanford. I am not a genius. I graduated from standard universities. I am very ordinary. So, if I can, you definitely can”. – Linda Rising.

Remember, this is coming from someone who became a “women in tech” long before this term found it’s way to the present times’ pages of the media.

Finishing it off.

Linda mentioned something that has remained stuck in my head. She said that she absolutely loves engaging with young people and being valuable to them. I observed this trait when I first saw her in an event. Coupled with this, the prompt replies with smileys that she gives to my emails, the absolutely friendly way she talked with me, and the way she bade me goodbye by giving me thumbs ups with both her hands at the end of our Skype interview left me thinking.

And at that point, there is something else I figured out that day which also probably helps her keep going.

Linda Rising is inspiringly and refreshingly still very young at heart.

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Note: I have written this article on Linda so that people at age 30s, 40s or 50s don’t think that time has run out to go after their dreams. And so that people like my Dad, who is now 81 and has always been active, still feels that they can do something valuable to keep themselves busy and well.

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Linda Rising – At A…

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