An interview with Ale Thomas

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This International Women’s Day, develop want to celebrate Women in the Tech community.

The gender gap in technology starts at school and carries on through every stage of girls’ and women’s lives. More worryingly, women are driven out of the tech sector due to burnout, gendered biases, toxic aspects of “bro-culture” and a lack of work-life balance. Therefore, it is important to address these issues by listening to the voices of current women in the community. Afterall, evidence show that women thrive in tech under the right conditions…

We spoke to Ale Thomas (@pokecoder on Twitter), a self-taught Software Engineer who loves Java, JavaScript, and CSS. Here’s what she had to say about being a woman in the tech industry.

What first sparked your interest in technology? And what made you want to pursue a career in the tech industry?

I’ve always been pretty techie. I started playing with computers at around 10, using my mom’s work PC. Even when I had no internet access, I would spend hours creating things on Microsoft Paint, PowerPoint, and Movie Maker. When I was 13 I got my first personal computer, and I spent most of the day glued to it, although my first interaction with programming wasn’t until I was around 16, during a high-school Java course. It was something that instantly clicked for me and that I found fascinating. Back then, I had no idea I could pursue a career in tech, so I went to college for Industrial Engineering. During my course I had a couple of programming classes and those encouraged me to pursue software development on the side.

Why do you think it’s important for more women to join the tech industry?

Having gender diversity in tech (and every industry) is critical. It leads to diversity in thought, problem-solving, better organizational culture, increased revenue, and innovation - to name a few. On top of that, the industry is already in need of more talent, with demand only growing as time goes by. There’s a ton of female tech talent for this. No matter how you look at it, diversity benefits a business in every possible way. 

Have you seen an increase in the number of women working in the industry?

I have, but it’s definitely still a work in progress. It’s pretty saddening how as women we’re made to believe we don’t belong in the tech industry. There’s plenty of hurdles, lack of an inclusive culture, and not enough opportunities. At my last job I was 1 of 3 women, in a department of 20 Developers. My department had the highest number of women Developers in the entire company.

Do you think enough is done to encourage women to get into the tech industry from a young age? 

I’ve seen more and more organizations, events, and efforts directed towards teaching young girls about tech, but this is unfortunately very segmented still. I see this being a thing in America and Asian countries, like China; but less developed countries are still somewhat behind in teaching kids how to code or about the possibility of pursuing a career in tech. We need more representation, in companies and the media, and we need to change our approach towards getting girls involved by showing them that tech is a means to an end and can be applied to solving issues they relate to and care about.

Do you feel you’ve had to work harder than male colleagues to advance your career?

Absolutely. Any underrepresented group has to work twice, thrice, or ever ten times harder. And it’s not just about working as hard as you can, but also about getting lucky and finding opportunities. I grew up knowing I would always need to work harder than others, being 1: low income, 2: a woman, and 3: from an undeveloped country. And although I embraced this and understood that I would always need to put in more work, I know there’s people and women out there putting in even more effort than I have and they’re struggling to make ends meet. This is why we need organizations to focus on creating opportunities that are specifically catered to us. It doesn’t matter how hard you work if there are no opportunities and openness out there. 

What is the best professional advice you've ever received?

To explore every opportunity. I’ve always been interested in many things, and I’ve never stopped myself from trying them all. I had a mentor at one of my previous jobs who encouraged me to keep on doing this. He showed me it was okay to try and do everything and to not be afraid of changing my mind. I went from teaching languages, to marketing, consulting, and then programming. The world and the tech industry are so big. There’s not one single path to follow. I always tell myself, if I don’t like something, to always try something else.

Do you have any female role models in the tech space?

I have admiration for everyone in tech who belongs to an underrepresented group. I especially look up to those who work towards bringing more opportunities for others and who play a role in inspiring women and minorities. One of the women in tech I mostly admire is Veni Kunche, who’s created Diversify Tech to connect underrepresented folks to career and educational opportunities.

What advice would you give to younger women entering the workforce today?

Don’t let self-doubt get in the way. Whether you’re the only woman in the room, or one of many, you belong there. As women, we’re quick to doubt our skills and capabilities. Even when we don’t, we’re approached by others who question our credentials. Be confident in you and how far you’ve come, because only we know how hard it’s been and how deserving we really are to be here. 

Looking back, is there anything you'd change about your journey of working in tech?

I think I would have started sooner. I doubted myself for a really long time even though I was lucky enough to have a supportive environment. But when you’re the only woman in the room, or the only one interested in something, you can easily get discouraged. I did for a long time.

If you’d like to find out more, head over to @pokecoder on Twitter, or get in touch with us.

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