Saron talks to Ale Thomas, Developer Advocate and Web Developer at Kubeshop | Mixed Change. Ale talks about growing up in Mexico and learning to code on her own. She walks us through her career history and how she paved her way into tech without a CS degree. She highlights how mentors played a critical role in her coding journey and how important finding those mentors and a community is. Finally, Ale shares her thoughts on what inclusivity in tech means to her and the work she is doing to make an impact in the space.
[00:00:05] SY: Welcome to the CodeNewbie Podcast where we talk to people on their coding journey in hopes of helping you on yours. I’m your host, Saron, and today we’re talking about representation in tech with Ale Thomas, developer advocate at Testkube.
[00:00:18] AT: We think there’s a lot of improvements. Yes, there’s a lot of women now in tech, but there’s still so much more to be done. And it makes you feel like you shouldn’t stand up because nobody else is, but like you’re also maybe the only one. So who’s going to do it if you don’t do it? So it’s tough.
[00:00:37] SY: Ale shares what kick-started her lifelong passion for tech, how she manages to balance learning with a healthy lifestyle, and her experiences with representation in the industry after this.
[00:00:53] SY: Thank you so much for being here.
[00:00:54] AT: Hi. Hi everyone. Thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here.
[00:00:58] SY: So let’s start at the very beginning of the early days. Tell me what it was like growing up. Was tech a big part of your childhood?
[00:01:06] AT: It surprisingly was, but not in the way I wish it was.
[00:01:10] SY: Okay, tell me more.
[00:01:12] AT: I grew up in a very small city in Mexico where I had access to a computer maybe when I was nine years old, maybe in fifth grade. But this was the computer that my mom used for work in her office. So after school, she would still have to work. So I would visit her at her office, stay there before we both went home, and I would just play on her computer. And one thing is sometimes, you know, how they’re blocked in some workplaces, so I didn’t have access to the internet. And the other thing that I could do was just tinker around with the computer itself. So that was an immediate love that I had for just using the computer, just being on it, even if I had no access to the internet. And I would spend all those hours just playing around with the software that came with that Windows machine. And after that, in high school, I had the opportunity to have a class that was a Java course. So that was my first interaction with coding itself. So I had my computer by then when I was in high school, right? I was 15 years old, maybe. And I already had my computer and I would spend most of the day on it. So I’ve always been very techie in a way that I’ve been addicted to computers and just glued to them on my free time. So that was pretty much my childhood with having access to a computer from very early on, I would say, and just immediately falling in love with it and just playing around with it.
[00:02:34] SY: What kinds of stuff did you do off a computer?
[00:02:37] AT: Different stuff. So I would like to try all the software that came with it, especially having no internet at first, right? So let’s say that I didn’t have access to the internet until I was maybe 12 when I got my first PC, but the things I did was I would make like illustrations on paint and animate them with movie makers. I would make a little short movies and stuff, which made my mom think that I would be an animator or like a director or something like that, but that was not the path that I followed at all. So I would do that. Then when I did have access to the internet, I would play online, I would also with my cousins. There was this platform that was called Jimdo. I don’t know if that’s how it’s pronounced, but it’s pretty much like a website builder. It was like a Blogspot, I think.
[00:03:24] SY: Yeah. I think so. That sounds familiar. Yeah.
[00:03:26] AT: Yeah. I never used Blogspot, but there was this thing called Jimdo where you could get a domain, domain.jimdo.com. And my cousins and I had this idea of maybe building a website where we had like games, like games.com. So what we would do is create this website, Jimdo.com, and kind of decorate it and style it and add games that we actually stole from these other websites. And this was our dream of having our own games.com version, but I did all those things before really diving into tech. I would just, like, really be interested in creating stuff with computers.
[00:04:07] SY: And when you were doing this exploration, these games and creating these things, did it ever at any point occur to you that maybe there was a career in tech waiting for you? Or was it just kind of all fun and games at the time?
[00:04:21] AT: It was really all fun and games. Even when I was in high school and I had this class that was entirely programming, I didn’t know that it was a career that I could pursue because I thought maybe this is like just a hobby. I didn’t have, I guess, enough information or enough examples that could show me that it was like software engineering, for example, was a career. So I didn’t. I had no idea. I have absolutely no idea. I just knew that this was something that I really enjoyed and that was really fun and I felt good at. But through at high school. I never thought, “Wow, I want to be a software engineer,” because I didn’t know I could be a software engineer, honestly.
[00:05:00] SY: Did you have any ideas of what career you could have or what you wanted to be?
[00:05:04] AT: Yeah. So another hobby of mine besides technology has been learning languages. So ever since I was a little kid, so my first language is Spanish. Obviously, because I grew up in Mexico, and then I started picking up English, obviously. And I also studied French and Portuguese. So I was good at languages as well. And that gave me the idea of, “You know what? Maybe I can do or maybe what I have to do is something with this “talent” that I have with languages.” So I wanted to do something like international relations or business. So when I was in high school, that was my objective to kind of go to college for that. And that’s what I went for actually. So I graduated high school. And then I started majoring in international business at a school there in my hometown. But yeah, it just wasn’t for me.
[00:05:58] SY: Wasn’t for you. Why not? What happened?
[00:06:01] AT: So the thing with just my background, I guess, and my interests, I was really not into social studies. I wasn’t really into that. I was very practical. I was a very practical kid, a very practical learner. So really the classes I enjoyed the most even when I was in international business were statistics or we even had this class that was Excel for business. So anything that had to do with computers just resonated with me so well and I was still like very blinded by this idea that software engineering is not a career. I didn’t know that. So even when I was in school studying for business, I did not enjoy any of the other classes that was like politics and stuff like that. And my favorite classes were math, anything that had to do with numbers, anything that had to do with playing around with the computer and then that class that covered Excel, I remember that they started teaching us like simple macros and stuff and immediately I would dive into that. I would put it on myself to spend extra time just understanding how it worked and what it meant. So I would start programming with macros, even though that we didn’t need that in the course. So that kind of made me realize that there was more that I could do with computers and that that was really just what I enjoyed. And in college, we had this class that’s called like algorithmic thinking. It’s like a base course. It’s for every major in my school. They don’t necessarily teach you programming, but they show you like how to write algorithms, how they work and just like how to design them. So there, my teacher was a computer science grad. So that’s when I discovered that people could graduate from that. So that’s when I really discovered that it was something that I could pursue, but it was a little late in my journey. I was like, I guess, at school, they had no computer science program. So I would have to completely transfer schools or start over in a different campus or something like that because it wasn’t offered in my hometown. So I decided to find just another engineering major. And the way I made my decision was based around if anything had any programming course. I took industrial and systems engineering, which was available in my campus in Mexico. And I transferred to that because it had like three courses that would be programming.
[00:08:21] SY: Wow. Yeah.
[00:08:21] AT: Yeah. I took what I could get. I mean, I wish I could have been a computer science grad, but it still gave me a C++ course, some Python courses, and a C# course as well. A lot of statistics using R for programming and Python as well. So the cool thing about these courses more than they were just like introduction to the world of programming was that they were usually led by computer science grads that immediately noticed how passionate I was about it and really served us as mentors for me when I was navigating a major, when I was interested in a different one. So these professors really shaped my learning throughout college, but geared towards computer science. So even though I was studying for industrial systems engineering, which is very manufacturing heavy, my focus was entirely on programming at that point.
[00:09:17] SY: And what was the moment when you realized that you wanted a career in software? When did that happen?
[00:09:24] AT: So a lot of things happened, I guess, that influenced that. So I’ve been working since I was 17 years old. So I was not even in college yet when I had my first full time job. And I’ve always been very curious and very kind of all over the place, which you can tell from what I’ve told you already. I’ve done a lot of things, but that was my idea. So I had to work full time to pay for college. And at first, I was a teacher. I was an English teacher and a French teacher. That was my first job. But then I made it like a mission for myself to find jobs that would be either related to my career or would let me gain expertise in an industry. So I started working full time jobs since I was 17 years old. I tried marketing. I tried teaching. I tried consulting via like the statistics stuff that I worked on my international major, international business major. And then I started doing like industrial stuff, like industrial engineering stuff. And then I had this position very close to the end of my college studies where I was an intern. So this was not the full time position, but I was an intern at a factory and they were making cardboard boxes, but they had this production planning system that they were using in the company. And I remember that they were struggling with it. My job wasn’t even to work with it. Right? But I just observed that that was an improvement point and took it upon myself to improve the software for them. So I presented a project for them and be like, “Oh, I can actually work on the software that you’re using and then maybe it helps you out.” So I presented that at the end of my internship, which was a five-month internship, and they accepted it and like gave me like a contract to finish that.
[00:11:11] SY: Wow!
[00:11:12] AT: So it was like a year, a full year.
[00:11:13] SY: That’s cool!
[00:11:15] AT: Yeah, considering like the internship bit. So in total, I worked like a year for them, but the rest of the year was like a software engineer, just working on their software. And then that’s when I really realized that there was opportunity out there, to be a software engineer for a company, to help improve this type of things, like their internal software. So I think I was about a year, I had a year left to graduate, I think, or a year and a half. And that’s when my focus completely shifted into, “You know what? I’m getting all this expertise and I can learn on the side and I have these amazing teachers that are offering me help and giving me resources to learn.” So it was my mission from that moment on to graduate and just start looking for software engineering jobs. I didn’t even try with industrial system, with the industrial engineering. I had made up my mind by then, but it took me a long time.
[00:12:10] SY: The stuff that you were learning enough in the internship that you ended up doing it as a software engineer, were these skills that you were picking up in those three software classes or were they skills that you were teaching yourself?
[00:12:23] AT: I started teaching myself since I was in high school and I finished that course that we took in Java. It was a hobby of mine. So when I finished that course in Java, I also did Flash, so I also did like ActionScript, which is not around anymore, I think. But I would do little projects on the side, just for fun. So when I go into college, even though I was starting international business, I already knew how to program in Java, like the fundamentals very well. And that’s when I meet my professors and they start teaching me about C++ and C# and just different types of applications and stuff like that is when I think I made my learning a little bit more relevant to the industry, like more modern. So I started really learning all the types of programming that existed and there were various applications. I even did like a very short course with one of them for like mobile development and stuff like that, but everything was on the side and the classes that they offered me were really geared towards logical thinking. So they taught you very introductory content so that you could develop your logical thinking because you weren’t a different major, so you didn’t really need to know how to program that much. But it was more like an extra for me because I was already very serious about it on the outside.
[00:13:40] SY: You mentioned that you’ve been working since you were a teenager. Was that out of necessity or were you trying to get ready for a career and trying to level up your skills that way?
[00:13:49] AT: It was both of them, I guess. I entirely needed to have a job because I paid for my entire college education. But I could have done maybe with just a normal job, but I was very focused and like, “Well, if I got to do this, then I’m going to do it with intention and I’m going to try and build up my resume.” I wish I didn’t have to obviously because, at the end of the day. I was working in my what, 18, 19 years old, so that was like hard, but it also worked out pretty well in my resume. But it was mostly a necessity.
[00:14:23] SY: Yeah, sure.
[00:14:25] AT: Yeah.
[00:14:25] SY: Got you. Got you. So I know that you know on this show mentors are a huge thing that come up as a source of support, inspiration, and I’m wondering, were there any mentors along the way that helped and supported you in your journey?
[00:14:41] AT: Yeah, definitely my professors. I have two teachers in particular that I remember very fondly and still talk to them and still update them if I do something cool in tech. They were always rooting for me and providing me with these opportunities to learn more. Like I told you, one of them, he would look out for opportunities around the state or around the city. He was actually the one who recommended I took this like one week mobile development. It was like an intensive course for like a week. And he was like, “Oh, you should try this out if you’re interested in discovering about mobile development.” And he would provide me with a lot of resources. So I think those two professors, I owe everything to them and my tech journey because they really helped me shape it and realize that it was a place for me.
[00:15:33] SY: What do you think made it feel like a place for you the most?
[00:15:36] AT: Definitely finding that I wasn’t alone because throughout my journey, everything I learned, like I told you was locked up in my bedroom, right? Like after school, outside of school and outside of work. So I had no one to relate to. In college, they were all in a different major, right? They didn’t care about programming. They didn’t care about those things. My friends obviously didn’t care about that. And I think the moment I realized I belonged was when I started discovering that there were existing communities that I was just completely unaware of. I think even to this day, it is very unheard of in my city, back in my hometown, there’s maybe one community group that does tech stuff. So that’s a million people city with just one community group. So there’s not a lot of representation. And it’s started for me when I started going online and kind of like interacting with tech people online when I was like, “Oh, wait, people are going through the same thing I’m going, or they’re also learning on their own.” It was a journey, definitely.
[00:16:39] SY: What do you think helped you find those communities? How did you even know they existed?
[00:16:46] AT: So part of my being just chronically online since I was a kid, I’d been on Twitter since I was, I think, like 14, 13 years old. But it was obviously like just to fan girl, right? Like if I liked a band or if I liked a celebrity, I would just be on Twitter for that. But I never stopped using it up to this point in my life. I’m still very active on Twitter. But what I did is, so I had this personal Twitter where I would just tweet to my friends and joke around and whatnot. And when I started getting really passionate about technology, I would tweet like, “Oh, I learned this,” or I would tweet about that. And obviously, my friends wouldn’t care. And I felt that. I felt like, “Oh, it feels really weird to like not be able to connect to anyone about this.” And I remember I found through Twitter, Emma Bostian, who was very big on Twitter. So I found her because I don’t know, I don’t remember what tweet it was, but I found her through like a trending topic. And I was like, “Oh my God! So there’s like people that are talking about tech online.” And so I immediately created another Twitter that my friends would not be able to find because for some reason it felt like embarrassing, right? Because you were into something that nobody cared about. So I made myself another Twitter where I would just follow these accounts that Emma Bostian, would follow or like just to see what they would tweet about. And that’s when I realized that there was like this huge community that I had been entirely unaware of. And I started tweeting about my learnings there. And it was a completely different reception, like a completely different reaction to what I had gotten when talking to my acquaintances in real life. So I think that was a moment when I discovered it, and it was through Twitter initially.
[00:18:29] SY: Yeah. Yeah. You found Tech Twitter.
[00:18:32] AT: Yeah, I found Tech Twitter.
[00:18:33] SY: There you go. There you go.
[00:18:34] AT: Blessing. And a curse. No, I’m just kidding.
[00:18:38] SY: Sometimes. Depends on the day. Depends on what mood we’re in.
[00:18:41] AT: Yeah.
[00:19:00] SY: So tell me about what happened after you graduated. You had this internship under your belt. You had this experience. You have these mentors. You have this degree. What happened next?
[00:19:10] AT: So about two months before I graduated, I was determined to get that software engineering job and I started applying to positions. I think being so disconnected as well to like the tech world, I had this entitlement, like this idea that it was so easy to just get a job because I was completely unaware of the state of just how hard it is to get into tech sometimes. I started applying, blindly applying. I was like, “Well, I have this, I know Java. I have my GitHub profile over here. I have this internship. I have this other thing that I did.” And I did get a few calls and I got a call from this company, that’s what I discovered. So my journey was super non-traditional, right? Because I would just learn whatever I needed for the projects that brewed up in my mind. I would not do any traditional learning, obviously. And so that’s when I discovered that I had to do, or that some companies interview you through like data structures and algorithms. And I had no idea about data structures and algorithms. I was very practical in like what I knew when coding. So those two months, one month before I graduated, I started learning about DSA and really grinded DSA. And then when I actually had interviews, I remember I had this interview with this company that I just wanted to like… it was a live coding interview, but before that, how they send you those hacker rank coding assignment.
[00:20:41] SY: Yeah.
[00:20:41] AT: And I remember I was so terrified because I would be tested on DSA, right? I was so terrified and they sent it to me, let’s say on maybe November 20th. And I was like, “I’m not going to do this,” because I was going to graduate in December. So I was like, “I’m not going to do this. I’m so nervous. I’m going to fail it.” And I remember that it took me like a month to get back to them because I was like, “I just can’t do it.” But they kept being interested, right? So they were like, “Oh, please do it. We still have the position open.” So in December, I do send it in. I did do well and then they want me to do a live coding interview. And again, I was terrified. I was like, “I’m not going to do it. I’m not going to do it.” Like, “I’m going to fail.” Like, “I’m just like doing this for fun. Why would anyone hire me if I’ve always done this just for fun?” And then I gave like the furthest date way I could to take that live coding interview. And then when I had it, it went amazing. It was so great.
[00:21:36] SY: Oh, wow!
[00:21:37] AT: Yeah.
[00:21:37] SY: Did it feel good when you were doing it? Like, did you know it was going well?
[00:21:40] AT: No.
[00:21:42] SY: Okay. So it still felt terrible.
[00:21:45] AT: Yeah, it felt horrible. It was so nerve wracking because I remember that it was three men interviewing me. They were really nice, honestly. They were really, really nice, and I really appreciate that. But I talk a lot through my process, and I remember I solved the problem, but not being optimal at all and then they gave me the opportunity to fix it and then I made it a little better. So they really appreciated I guess my thinking around. I was so nervous. So I didn’t know if I had gotten it. But after that call, like a few hours later they called me and they said that I had gotten it. So that was maybe January and then February I started with that company. And it was amazing. I was like, “I can’t believe it.” I had the audacity to just apply and I got it. And yeah, two months after graduating, I was already working as a Java software engineer. So that was pretty cool.
[00:22:38] SY: That’s really cool. So Java ended up being the language that you got your first job in?
[00:22:42] AT: Yeah. And I was there for two years. It was really great because I guess it was very telling from the get-go from like my interviewers. They were really, really nice people. And that was my experience throughout in that company. I had the opportunity to learn a lot. They were also all aware of my background and how many gaps, I guess, I had to fill. It was very shocking too because I had to adapt into a place where everyone was computer science grad. So there was a lot of terminology that I didn’t know. Like I would get to meetings and everyone would know about these processes. I remember I didn’t even know anything about Scrum and I would just like play around with it. Be like, “Oh yeah.” So act cool.
[00:23:26] SY: Yeah.
[00:23:26] AT: And in the meantime, like do my homework, do my research because I still had a lot of gaps to fill in, but they were super amazing. And I learned so many things, especially because everything was applied, right? So I guess that really made me use so many tools, just kind of like tinker around with even more technology, which was great. And my manager was very open to having me even like switch in between teams because he managed two teams, one did back end and one did front end. And he was like okay with me getting tasks from both teams so I could play around with both sides. Yeah. So it was pretty cool.
[00:24:05] SY: That gap that you mentioned that you had to kind of fill and kind of pretend like you knew what some of these words were, was that because of the degree or is that just because you hadn’t been an engineer before? Do you think it was attributed to the fact that you did not have a computer science degree itself? Or was it more a matter of just you were new and it was your first job?
[00:24:28] AT: I would assume that I would have known those things if I had a computer science education, but I think that it was more the resources that I used when learning. Like I’m telling you, I was not very structured in my learning because I didn’t have like this objective of covering an entire road map. So when I started learning a program, the way it worked in my mind was, “Okay, I want to build, I don’t know, a restaurant app on my phone. How am I going to do that?” And then I would just learn around that. I would not be like, “What’s the actual process to design a system?” I was very, very practical, like, I’m just going to learn what I need to make this and that left a lot of fundamentals and computer science that I just completely ignored. It was more, I guess, my way of learning and my way of studying, which I regretted immediately. I was like, “I can’t believe I didn’t do more research. I was just very practical. I was very hands on with my learning. So it was mostly that, I think.
[00:25:26] SY: And where did you end up going after that? Did you end up sticking with Java?
[00:25:30] AT: So when I was in that job, so I would say that I was really good at Java at that point, right? Because I was being very practical with it, building like really complex applications and handling this software for this company. And I was really confident in that. I was filling in gaps and everything. I was really feeling supported and everything, but I was also sharing my journey on Twitter. So I’m in this job and I remember that one of the things that I had to do the first few months was like a scraper. So I had to do the scraper because we worked with car manufacturers. So we worked with gathering manuals from like Chrysler and Mercedes Benz and stuff like that. So I would have to go on their website and navigate their website and scrape it from their manuals. So that’s when I started to play around with front end. So I had not touched front end at all. Like I didn’t have that MySpace space where like everybody played with HTML.
[00:26:30] SY: Yeah. Yeah.
[00:28:15] SY: How did you balance being productive and being able to finish tickets, close tickets, deliver results, but then also learning and playing around with new technology and trying something new that you didn’t know before or that you might be slower at producing results for? How did you balance that?
[00:28:35] AT: So I was pretty bad at that for a while. I think that I was the type of person that would try everything and keep adding more and more on my plate, which wasn’t great because, as I told you, I had gaps, right? So I think that was the reason why I had a lot of gaps, too, that I would just try and learn a lot of stuff and try it and just do so many things at once. And I think what really helped me when I found that job and I started actually navigating being a full-time software engineer at the same time having a fill in gaps and at the same time being super interested in front end was that I stopped being a multitask. I would do multitasking that made me feel like, “Oh, wow, it’s so cool. I can do so many things at once.” For example, still to this day, I am the type of person that has to finish one thing to start the other.
[00:29:30] SY: Probably a good thing. Yeah.
[00:29:32] AT: Yeah. I think I’m like anti-multitasking now.
[00:29:36] SY: Interesting. Yeah.
[00:29:38] AT: Yeah. Yeah. It doesn’t necessarily mean that like in one day I can’t do multiple things, right? Because that’s the reality. I do a bunch of things, but I will do, for example, a big task in my developer advocate job, cross it off, right? Or like separate it in days. So for example, I say on Tuesday, I’m going to do all the documentation improvements, and that’s it. I’m not going to touch anything else. And then in the afternoon, because I finish about around 4 PM, maybe, my developer advocate job, then if I have a web development project with the agency I work at, it’s like, “I’m just going to do one big thing like on Tuesday.” So I try and do one big thing for each job or each activity that I’m embarking on. That includes studying. That includes work and that includes, well, not leisure, but yeah, it’s more like big chunks of stuff instead of giving in to small things and then completing them throughout the sprint. No, I like to finish things and have them all finished by the sprint. So finish one thing every day or one thing at a time.
[00:30:43] SY: I’m wondering if you have any advice for folks trying to figure out how to balance learning and how to manage that because I think that it’s so easy to get caught up in shiny tech syndrome where you see the latest, coolest thing, the latest thing trending and you feel like, “Oh, man, I got to learn that before I miss out.” How do you approach learning today? How do you approach picking up on new skills today?
[00:31:07] AT: So I completely get that feeling because I still get it. That’s just the nature of who I am, right? I see a shiny thing, especially in tech, and I’m like, “I want it,” and I want to play around with it. But I think my advice for someone that would be starting is to focus on one thing. You don’t need to know everything and I a hundred percent advocate for becoming proficient with something, one thing, and then everything else can complement it. But I think we spend a lot of time also like, “Oh, which language should I learn?” We spend like a week or even months. Sometimes I go, “Oh, which one’s the best for me?” Like, “Just pick one.” Just pick one. And everything else will be so much easier if you just completely dominate the fundamentals for that. So in my experience, that translate still to like what I learned today. I really like to dive deep into something and you kind of like have to… what are those things called that they put on horses so that they don’t look away, look around? Yeah, kind of have to have that, that idea, right? Like yeah, there’ll always be shiny new things, but you can’t keep up with everything and it’s best to perfect the fundamentals of something and that will make it so much easier to learn everything else that you might need on the go. That’s my advice, like, stick to one thing.
[00:32:34] SY: Coming up next, Ale talks about her hopes for the future of representation in tech and what we can do to foster more positive working environments after this.
[00:32:51] SY: So I know that you are very passionate about representation in tech, and I’m curious, someone who’s been in tech in one way or another for many years and found your way into the tech Twitter and now you’re a professional developer, what has your experience been like when it comes to representation in tech?
[00:33:10] AT: It’s been tough. It’s been definitely tough. For me, it kind of felt like I had to fight for my place in it. It really feels like when you have no representation, when you don’t see other women coding or when you don’t see other women just in tech positions, it feels like it’s intimidating. It feels like, “Well, then I don’t belong there.” So it’s been tough. Even when I had that first job, I remember part of the fear that I had was that, like, I’m just very scared. I actually didn’t know firsthand, like, a girl or a woman that was coding when I was there. My teachers that mentored me were men. So it was like I didn’t know any computer science grads that were women. And when I go in that job, it was like, like I told you, my manager was leading two teams. So it was like 20 people in total. It was three women. So that was still pretty shocking. So when you’re there and you’re like, “When you finally make it and you’re like, oh, well, it turns out that they do hire women.” Then you make it into the team. And then you realize, “Well, do they actually? Because it’s only three of us.” So it was hard. I think from that moment, when I was in that job, I also got really involved with like onboarding. Part of like me being talkative and stuff like that was like, “Oh, my manager just wanted me to like talk to people,” because nobody wanted to do interviews. And I was very involved in onboarding. So it was just kind of like making it easier or giving opportunity to women that we had some applicants, kind of like reinforcing that, like, “Oh, why aren’t we hiring more women?” Like you have to bring that conversation up. Right there, I was working at an American company with a Mexican subsidiary. So we were all Mexican. I was still not even facing the part of race.
[00:34:54] SY: Right. Right.
[00:34:55] AT: So I felt like I belonged because we were all Mexican, but it was like three women, and then I transferred to jobs in the US. Right now, at my current company, I’m the only Mexican woman. I think I’m the only Latino woman. So like it’s hard. You think there’s a lot of improvements. Yes, there’s a lot of women now in tech, but there’s still so much more to be done and it’s definitely rough. It makes you feel like you shouldn’t stand up because nobody else is, but you’re also maybe the only one. So who’s going to do it if you don’t do it? So it’s kind of like this kind of pressure, but also guilt, it’s like guilt and pressure and also a little bit of anger because like, “Why aren’t there more women here?” You know? It’s tough. It’s tough.
[00:35:48] SY: Do you feel like the pressure you feel, the frustration, the loneliness, is it something that comes from the way people treat you? Or is it more internal where even if everyone is being nice to you and everyone is being fine, you still feel different because you can see the difference? You know what I mean? Is it more coming from just being in that position or has it been created by an environment and being inflicted upon you?
[00:36:21] AT: I think it’s more the system. I think I’ve been very fortunate to have worked with great people and I feel so, so lucky and so privileged that I have never been targeted for being a woman. The thing that makes me really sad and really upset is that I am not the norm, right? When I tell people like my boss has never treated me weird because I’m a woman or something, everyone’s like, “Oh my God! How?” My female friends that are in tech, the norm is usually that you’ve been mistreated for your gender or your race even. So I’ve been pretty privileged with that, but that doesn’t mean I’m unaware of the situation and can also observe what is happening that like at the end of the day I am the only Mexican woman here in my team. That’s pretty crazy. I think that’s where the frustration comes from just knowing that things aren’t fair.
[00:37:21] SY: Got you. So for managers, leaders who are trying to create a positive work environment, trying to create a positive work culture, who the ideal situation is just to hire people, to hire people from all backgrounds and make the workplace representative, which takes time and is a whole list in and of itself. But apart from just directly hiring people, is there anything that your bosses, mentors, managers have done to help make the environment a little bit more bearable? Is there anything that has helped you feel a little less different and a little more like you belong?
[00:38:02] AT: I think a lot of this has also planted like a sort of insecurity in you that if you speak up, for example, nobody will care or people will not rely a lot on your opinion. And something that has helped a lot with my manager right now actually is to advocate for myself and the things that I do. So I think I’m used to, I’m not saying this is all women. I really hope it’s not. I really hope it’s just a “me” thing. But with my background and just coming from like being in the shadows, I feel like I’ve always been in the shadows, right? Now that I’m doing my job and that I am leading a team of like a project and stuff like that, it’s really hard for me to kind of like show off what I’m doing internally or kind of like advocate for myself and also set boundaries. So I’m always like, “Yeah, just give me whatever and I’ll do it.” And I’m also like, if I did something really big, I’m not really good yet at being like, “Look, I did this,” and that’s super normal. Right? And everyone should be doing it. So I think that’s something that has made my experience better with my current manager. She’s also a woman. She’s like, “You should advocate for yourself and show off what you’re doing and show off what you’re up to and we want to hear it and say no.” So it’s kind of like this missing bit that I guess traditionally, at least in Mexican culture as well, you’re taught to like not speak and just take it in, take everything in.
[00:39:32] SY: Yeah. I think that it’s really important for us to be aware of what type of situation we’re getting into before we take a job, assuming we have the luxury of picking the job that we get to take. And I’m curious, what are some questions or things we can ask when applying for a job or what can we maybe research about a company to let us know if we’re going into a good culture and whether we can kind of avoid and steer clear of some of the toxic work cultures out there, especially if we’re coming from different backgrounds and different groups?
[00:40:08] AT: Yeah. I usually ask how diverse your team is, who I’m going to be working directly with as well. I have also recently, in the last couple years, reached out to people in the company, like, directly. And sometimes I know them, sometimes I don’t know anything about them, and I just go like, “Hey, can you tell me what it’s like to work there?” I usually ask also if they have any programs ongoing to improve diversity. Also, it’s very important for me to observe who interviews me, how they behave, like if they’re diverse as well, right? Like you want to see that, that they’re people that are making decisions are diverse. Things like that I think are very important, just being very observant, because it’s obviously very easy to just say like, “Yeah, our culture is great, but it’s a very important decision because you’re going to be spending a lot of time with these people and you want to know that it’s going to be a safe place for you.” [00:41:05] SY: Absolutely. What is one piece of advice or one thing you want to tell people who are coming from a different background, who are entering tech for the first time, who are new to this space, maybe just encounter tech Twitter? What are some words of advice you have for them?
[00:41:21] AT: To stay focused, not feel discouraged. I think it’s very easy in this industry. It’s very fast paced to feel like everyone is making progress or everyone is making a lot of money or something like that and I think it’s very important to stay like on your lane, stay focused, and not compare yourself to others, I would say. Just focus on your journey and on learning those fundamentals and there is a place for you in tech definitely. So I guess just to not let comparison bring you down.
[00:41:58] SY: I love that. That’s good. Now the end of every episode, we ask our guests to fill in the blanks of some very important questions. Are you ready to fill in the blanks?
[00:42:12] AT: Yeah, of course.
[00:42:14] SY: Number one, worst advice I’ve ever received is?
[00:42:18] AT: I had this advice come to me when I was like 20. I was already making money, like on the side, even though I hadn’t graduated. I remember I got this advice that was like, “These are the years where you just have to produce and just produce and produce and produce.” And I remember that that really set me on a journey where I was an overachiever, where I did not have time to focus on anything else but work and making more money. So I think definitely that was the worst advice I’ve ever received.
[00:42:49] SY: Yeah, that’s pretty bad. Number two, best advice I’ve ever received is?
[00:42:54] AT: To try things and be curious and be open minded. I had a boss that was really impressed by like how I’ve had tried everything possible in my resume and he encouraged me to keep doing that, until I found my passion obviously. But he just said like be curious and let curiosity drive you. So I think that’s the best advice I’ve ever received.
[00:43:20] SY: Cool. Number three, my first coding project was about?
[00:43:23] AT: My first coding project was a Java desktop application for like ordering coffee. So I did that when I was in high school.
[00:43:32] SY: Very cool.
[00:43:33] AT: Yeah, it was so fun.
[00:43:34] SY: Number four, one thing I wish I knew when I first started to code is?
[00:43:39] AT: Computer science basics.
[00:43:42] SY: Fair enough.
[00:43:42] AT: Yeah.
[00:43:45] SY: Wonderful. Well, thanks again so much for joining us, Ale.
[00:43:47] AT: Thank you for having me and letting me talk away.
[00:43:50] SY: Absolutely.
[00:43:54] SY: You can reach out to us on Twitter at CodeNewbies or send me an email, firstname.lastname@example.org. For more info on the podcast, check out www.codenewbie.org/podcast. Thanks for listening. See you next week.
Thank you to these sponsors for supporting the show!