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Technology-LiveI am Dona Bailey, former Atari programmer of arcade Centipede, Unix programmer, Linux teacher, Adobe CS teacher, Rhetoric and Writing university professor, lifelong learner, big reader. I'm here to answer any questions. AMA!

Feb 16th 2017 by dcbailey • 17 Questions • 163 Points

Recently retired NFL cheerleader here! Aside from all home games, I was lucky enough to cheer in 2 Super Bowls as well. Now, I work as an engineer.

Disclaimer: I won't disclose the organization I worked for in order to provide the most authentic responses to your questions.

EDIT: Thank you to everyone for your questions and comments! You all have been amazing! Cheers :)

Q:

Welcome! Of of the cool things I love to read about with early programming, especially on the Atari, is the clever "hacks" that had to be done to get around issues of limited memory, cpu cycles, etc.

What's the hack/workaround that you're most proud of? Do you think these creative solutions are a lost art now?

A:

That was really insightful! Followup question, whats the biggest single "OMG, this feels like a wild dream" moment you experienced while working in the role of cheerleader or ambassador for the team?


Q:

Hi! I worked in the coin-op part of Atari from 1980 to 1982, so my experience was in arcade games. I needed a ton of help from programmers around me who had much more experience and training than I had, in order for me to be able to program Centipede and make it look different from other video games at the time. I had to be taught every hack and workaround that was used in Centipede. The problems were the ones you listed--limited memory, limited cycle time, and so on. It took determination on my part to learn to work with Atari's great custom hardware and with the 6502 microprocessor in order to realize the visual effects I wanted for Centipede.

Maybe I'm most proud of what I call "happy accidents." One of those happy accidents was needing a trackball for a control since I was terrible with buttons, which had been used in the past. A second thing that was an accident, but turned out well, was the discovery of a differently tweaked color palette, which I think gave the game an edge in the long run.

I don't know if creative solutions in video games these days are accidents! Have you heard anyone talk about accidental discoveries that make a current game better? Interesting question...

A:

There are so many moments! One that really stands out is a championship game I cheered at. It was the last few minutes of the game and we knew we were going to win and go to the super bowl. The entire crowd started chanting "SUPER BOWL". You hear so much about all the negative things in this world it's refreshing and surreal to see an entire community of people pull together and rejoice!


Q:

How was it like working in the video game industry as it was still developing? What do you think of the video game industry today?

A:

There was a popular post on reddit a few weeks ago about how NFL cheerleaders make less than minimum wage. I'm sure it was just propaganda but could you elaborate?


Q:

It takes hard work and a lot of concentration and focus to embark on and then complete any creative project, and it was the same back then at Atari. All creative projects demand specialized knowledge and skills, too, as well as daydreaming, inspiration, accidental discoveries, and luck.

All those things were true at Atari in the early days of making video games. Perhaps the one thing that was most different at Atari in those days, that I've never encountered anywhere else in my work, was the feeling of being on a frontier where there is no road map to look to as an example.

Because the video game industry was new, we weren't repeating past successes, we were forging new ground each day. That can be unnerving and lead to feeling lost sometimes, but it is also exciting and innervating at the same time. I remember wanting to have time and energy to dream more and dream bigger. I wanted to find new ways to use games to make people happy and to teach them ideas and concepts at the same time. I think I've continued through the years to want to use digital tools in those same ways.

A:

Do you have the link?

As a result of all the law suits I don't think you'd find a squad that pays less than minimum wage at this point.

While I felt we were always compensated fairly. We actually moved to a new pay structure so that it was very clear that we were being paid for every hour worked.

Since everyone has been so polite and not asked yet (but I know you're dying to know), here are the numbers: Practices: ~$9/hr Games: $20+/hr (depending on the number of years you were on the squad) Appearances: $100/hr

Note: this is not representative of all organizations across the board. Some teams make less and some teams might make more.

Edit: We also had hair, tan, and gym sponsorships. You also make money from selling calendars. You were also reimbursed for drive time if the appearance was outside a certain radius.


Q:

Have you read the Discworld Series by Terry Pratchett?

A:

What do you think of the Jets Cheerleaders lawsuit?


Q:

No, do you recommend it for me? Is it a favorite of yours?

A:

While I always worked for an organization, that I believe compensated us adequately, I think it's a step in the right direction for squads that may have been misappropriating funds. Most (if not all) cheerleading teams are separate companies contracted out by the parent organization. Some parent organizations own the company under which the cheerleading squad operates, but others do not. It's the separate privately owned entities that I think have the most disputes, since the leaderships goal is to maximizes their own profit. However, without more research I'm purely speculating at this point...


Q:

Who are the most significant pioneers in gaming that aren't necessarily recorded or recognized? Any one you could shed light on?

A:

What will you do now?


Q:

In interviews, I'm asked often about Carol Shaw, who was leaving Atari in the same month I started working there, which was in June 1980. I never met Carol due to this timing, and I would like to know more about her day to day experiences at Atari, as well as the rest of her professional career, too.

I'm always interested in learning about each individual's life/work balance, and I like learning what people did in the years following their twenties, since so many of us were in our twenties when we worked in the video game industry. In this vein, I'd like to know more about Roberta Williams and Brenda Romero, too.

A:

While I maintained a full time job as an engineer throughout my time as a cheerleader, I ultimately retired to pursue new career opportunities. I moved into R&D, which requires a lot of travel. It simply would not have worked with the demanding cheer schedule.


Q:

What motivated you to return to school for writing?

A:

What kind of Engineering?

I was recently in a town hall with our division president and one of our young female engineers asked a question about diversity. She is one of two female engineers in the 24-25 Engineers in my group. I don't know how to encourage more women to pursue engineering, but it is always heartening to see more female engineers. I have an 8 yo daughter and I secretly hope she follows in my footsteps.

Anyways, Good luck in R&D, I am staying on the less stressful Operations side of things.


Q:

I entered into my first master's program because I was teaching at a two year college that was transforming into a four year college, and everyone on the teaching staff needed a master's degree for accreditation. My first master's was an M.Ed. in instructional design, which was perfect for my teaching work at the time. That master's degree was earned because I needed it.

My second master's degree was earned out of my love for reading and writing. I have always been a big reader, and I love writing, too. I adored learning how to motivate students to write better and to write with more confidence and less anxiety. Along the way, I hope I encouraged my students to be better readers, too.

A:

My degree is in chemical engineering but I've mostly worked in mechanical.

I'm the only female engineer on my team, so the lack of diversity is something we struggle with as well.

The great part about being a cheerleader and engineer was that I was able to introduce young girls to engineering. Through our junior cheer program, I coached 6-8 year olds. Most had never heard of engineering. At the beginning of each new season I would ask, "what do you want to be when you grow up?" You get the typical responses: teacher, cheerleader, mommy, veterinarian. By the end of the season, I would ask the question again and at least one of the girls would say "engineer"! One girl even told me she had signed up for engineering camp that summer because she wanted to be an engineer just like me. I feel like the key is to introduce young kids to the possibility of STEM at an early age. Young kids think they can do anything, by the time they get to middle school or high school it's too late. They've already set boundaries on what they think they're good at and is hard to break down those walls later on. That's one theory, for what it's worth...

Continue to encourage your daughter to pursue engineering, I think it will pay off! My dad is an engineer too :)


Q:

You are an inspiration! After reading what you've read, I can see you as a definite role model.

Do you feel as if you've accomplished a lot within your life- especially as a woman involved in technology since its earlier days?

A:

You seem so genuinely humble /down-to-earth. It comes through very naturally. I think it would be wonderful if you were to do some type of live Q & A with teenagers in your area. I think if they were to hear you talk, you'd be indirectly be able to show them that it is possible to be beautiful (I'm assuming you are), have a job in the spotlight AND still remain humble. If you could affect just ONE teen-girls decision making (in a positive way), I'm sure you're someone she'd never forget.


Q:

Since I'm so used to myself, I tend to see my shortcomings more than my accomplishments. I'm so grateful to have enjoyed technology so much since my first exposure in 1973. I know I did my best at all times, but I wish I had been better at extending myself and inserting myself into situations where I thought I had something to contribute. I guess we call that networking these days, and I was terrible at it when I was young. I'm not really good at it now, but I'm better, plus I'm lucky that people are still interested in me due to my work in the old days.

My advice, looking back, is if you want to work in a field, find an angle for entry and then push as hard as you can to get in. Try to find like-minded people to work with because it will be easier than hitting a wall every day. Never be afraid to tell people what you want. Ask for what you want as many times as necessary.

A:

Thank you for your comment. It means a lot! I would love to get involved more in my community, I recently moved so it's been a slow process. I was the "female engineer" on a panel at a STEM event for high schoolers about a year ago. It was great to see so many teenage girls in the room. I would love to do more in the future so I'm hoping I'll have opportunities to do so.


Q:

Hi, Dona! First of all, thank you for doing this AMA!

I think it is inspiring that you changed directions in terms of career in a "nontraditional" form.

What type of advice would you give to others that are seeking to change up their current career path?

A:

Pics?


Q:

I think you're never too old to reinvent yourself. Try to get experience in the new field you're interested in before making a commitment to a change you're considering. For example, I taught faculty members in the Cal State system for a long time while I was working in Academic Computing at Cal State LA. I was certain I would enjoy teaching as a faculty member in a university setting due to that experience. After you commit to a change, be sure to get the proper training and education for your new field. It's never too late in life to be a good student.

A:

Sorry, no can do. Maybe after I finalize my retirement . Don't want to get blacklisted from the league for exposing their secrets.


Q:

As a woman in the early video game industry, did you feel that your experience was different from your male colleagues?

A:

How did you get into cheerleading and in the team? Like the audition process?


Q:

Yes, my background was really different from that of my male colleagues and my goals were informed by my background. My primary goal was to make a game that would be visually appealing to me. I wanted to make a game that was beautiful. My male colleagues were much more capable of programming good games, but I was more able to create something visually and topically different.

A:

I grew up dancing. I went to college with several of the girls who moved on and became cheerleaders. I didn't know them personally, at the time, but I thought it sounded so cool. So that's when I started looking on the teams website for info.

Most teams will start advertising open auditions and prep classes this time of year. I went to the prep classes to find out more about the team and learn the dance style. Then, on the day of auditions you just show up with a photo of yourself and fill out an application. ANYONE can audition as long as you are older than the minimum age requirement. The audition process varies from team to team, you would need to check each teams website for details. Typically you learn the choreography, they break you up into smaller groups, and you perform the routine for the judges. They'll make cuts along the way and eventually move into a finals or boot camp round. During this stage you're interviewed by various staff members from the organization, tested on your football knowledge, judged on your technique and eventually the team is announced.

For me, it was a one week process. Starting with prelims and finishing with a finalists showcase, which the public is allowed to come see. It's stressful but very rewarding.


Q:

Have you traveled overseas as a team ambassador and if so, what was your favorite place to visit?

A:

Yes, I was lucky enough to travel to Asia! My favorite place was Singapore. It's a beautiful country. There's so much more to see, I definitely want to plan another trip soon. I think Japan will be next!


Q:

Are you really Lebanese?

A:

No but its a great Thievery Corporation song!


Q:

Did you sleep with any players?

Who is the hottest NFL player currently ?

A:

I personally, did not.

Hottest NFL player currently? Definitely not Tom Brady. Sorry ^


Q:

[deleted]

A:

Who says I'm not a Pats fan?


Q:

How long were you a cheerleader for? Has a player ever run you over on the sideline? Also I'm gonna take a guess and say you were either a cheerleader for Denver, Seattle, New York Giants, Pittsburgh or New England?

A:

I'm still worried about getting blacklisted from the NFL so I'll say 2-10 years. Lol

I'm pretty stealthy, so no, haven't been run over. I had a teammate that got taken out twice actually. She's fine. :)

Giants, Steelers, Bears, Bills, Packers*, and Browns don't have cheerleaders. *Packers utilize collegiate cheerleaders at their games


Q:

As far as I can think, no other sports have it (feel free to correct me here). As someone who isn't American, could you explain it to me? Genuinely seems a bit weird. Honestly can't imagine us Brits doing it.

A:

Really great question, this one is going to be fun!

Cheerleading/Dance Teams are actually very common across a wide range of sports teams in the US: Football, basketball, hockey, lacrosse, soccer, baseball.

Bottom line: it's all about money.

A sports team is a business. Now, imagine you own that business. If there's opportunity to get relatively cheap marketing by paying (usually minimum wage) a pretty girl to wear your teams apparel, it's a strategic move on the teams part. The fans want to be involved with the team and the team wants them obsessed, but you can't send the players out to every event. First, they're too busy and second, they're too expensive. So, you appoint a second team to do community outreach. A group of beautiful women. You announce that they are part of the team and for fans, this is the next best thing. So you deploy women all over the city to go to openings of the local super market, zoo, and library, as well as, school events, corporate events, and charities. You charge top dollar to have your team represented at their event. Aside from events, you're also looking at swimsuit calendars, merchandise, and junior cheer programs.

For the most popular teams, this translates into hundreds of thousands of dollars a year (potentially more, I'm not privy to this information). If marketed correctly, you're making a lot of money for relatively little investment. From a business standpoint, you're missing out on a lot of money if you don't have a cheer team.

THAT, my friend, is why sports teams have cheerleaders. However, I'm open to alternative opinions should anyone care to discuss further. :)


Q:

I'd figured the first part out, I just though there might be some traditional thing for it. I imagine it started out as a burlesque show, because it seems very similar.

Sounds like an awful lot of 'corporate cock sucking'. the real wonder is, does it not degrade the sport itself? especially if there is so much of it: I mean advertisements to help pay the wages etc, but half time shows, cheerleaders and celebrity endorsements? its a bit garish really, innit.

Glad you enjoy it though thats the main thing. Didn't know you did all the rest though, so thats informative.

A:

I'm no history expert but it appears cheerleading was invented by the Brits! All that chanting done at soccer games inspired Americans to put men on the sidelines to lead the cheers. Women weren't allowed to participate until much later on.

So based on a little research and a bit of speculation, this is my theory. It was probably introduced to the NFL because the game moves so slowly. So how do you keep a crowd entertained? Cheerleaders! Who was the primary audience of football games in the 1950s? Men! So, who do you hire? Attractive women to perform dance routines when the game is moving at a painfully slow pace.

The 1950s was a rather prudish time period in America so I imagine seeing young women in revealing clothing(for the time period) dancing on the sidelines was exciting but still wholesome because SPORTS! Once the team started seeing revenue, I imagine the corporate machine took over. After all, America is the land of opportunity. I'm not sure when celebrities and halftime shows were introduced, but at a certain point it wouldn't have been as exciting to go to a game to see the cheering girls. So you start having celebrity appearances and huge halftime show extravaganzas. Everything to keep the crowd coming back and spending more.

I think the number of people that watch the super bowl compared to the amount of viewers that watch a football game on any given Sunday is proof that people aren't really watching it for the game. They're watching it for the spectacle. Not to say people don't enjoy watching the game, I'm sure the audience would just be smaller without the commercials and the halftime show.

Whether or not it diminishes the game itself... what came first? The chicken or the egg? Was football always slow paced and lackluster? Or did the addition of all these other distractions make it that?

Certainly thought provoking! Thank you for your questions and comments!


Q:

I worked on a documentary about NFL cheerleaders once, back when we interviewed them they weren't allowed to even talk with the players, fraternizing was heavily frowned upon.

A:

What is the documentary called? I'd love to check it out.

The thing I learned is, perception is reality. Organizations that prohibit fraternization are likely trying to avoid the "jersey chaser" stigma. You don't want to spend the entire Christmas party chatting with players. It sends the wrong message.


Q:

It was the docu series "World of Jenks" back in 2010. http://www.titansonline.com/news/article-1/Titans-Cheerleader-Featured-On-MTV-Show/8d77d9f2-f165-4569-b996-8d01a2536712

I read above that you're now covered for hair, gym, etc.. Which is great, when we filmed back then she was responsible for all her own things. It always amazed me the different in pay for what the cheerleaders went through as a sport.

A:

Wait, I remember that show! I definitely watched this one. I'll have to watch it again now that I'm on the other side to see how things have changed! Thanks for sharing!