How my mother inspired me to become an engineer

In 1996, I slid a quarter into a toy machine at the grocery store in Key West, FL. Out popped Sticky Man: an action figure with adhesive, frog-like flippers for hands. I joyously tossed the toy until he stuck to the ceiling.

My mother could have scolded me or dished out another quarter. Instead she organized a rescue mission, inspiring cashiers to grab ladders and poles. About a dozen shoppers set aside their groceries to applaud Sticky Man’s descent.

That is Kim Romano’s greatest gift: she mobilizes people to tackle problems they wouldn’t normally consider — and to laugh in the process.

If you live in the Florida Keys, you or your children have likely benefited from Kim’s contributions to healthcare. After serving as the executive director of Wesley House and the Healthy Start Coalition, she directed the healthcare center Womankind from 2010 to 2016.

Betsy Langan, the former executive director of Womankind, told me:

Kim took a small grassroots clinic and transformed it into a staple. People who otherwise couldn’t have access now have access to lifesaving healthcare.

When Kim moved to Key West in 1979, the island had a carefree spirit. A UPS worker who delivered packages routinely stripped to his underwear for a dip in a hotel pool, she said. My mom paid the rent, a whopping $75, selling homemade cakes.

One day Kim lay beside the Community Pool reading a book titled “How to Run a Nonprofit.” A passerby told her:

You look like you could run a daycare center!

Starting at the dalycare center Wesley House, Kim cared for dozens of kids. Now adults, many of them still remember her as “Miss Kim.”

After Wesley House, Kim ran the Florida Keys Healthy Start Coalition. As Executive Director during the height of the HIV/AIDs crisis, she oversaw educational programs that reduced pregnant women's risk of transmitting HIV to their children. Her initiative lowered the Keys’ infant mortality rate.

In her most recent role at Womankind, Kim successfully lobbied to bring sexual health education to Florida schools, replacing an abstinence-only curriculum. Through grants and fundraisers such as the Brazaar, a decorated bra auction, she provided breast cancer screening and primary care to thousands of Keys residents.

Cali Roberts, the current executive director of Womankind, said:

One of Kim's secret talents is to make everyone feel comfortable. She makes everyone feel like they're their own best champion.”

As a parent, Kim always encouraged me to tinker and be creative. When I became interested in programming at 11, she bought me a book on JavaScript, and I learned to code on a Windows 98 machine in her office. She patiently beta-tested my websites, some of which were “Comic Sans” monstrosities. I got my first programming job due in part to her encouragement.

Software engineering may seem anti-social, but developers spend a lot of time navigating philosophical differences in how things should be built. I try to channel my mom’s diplomacy in meetings. When she debated polarizing topics in healthcare, she didn’t resort to rhetoric or vilify people for thinking differently. She made her case using a breadcrumb trail of facts in a way that was never condescending.

I want to wish my mother, Kim Romano, a happy retirement from healthcare and best of luck in her next adventures.

She still has the original “Sticky Man,” a memento from 1996, in her office, but I’ve gotten better about throwing it at the ceiling.

Cody Romano

Cody Romano

Software engineer @Airbnb. Formerly @Amazon. This is my personal site for side projects and ramblings.

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