How to Excel as a Woman in Tech: Alison Tinker’s Journey

June 16, 2020

Last week we learned how to become a cybersecurity expert from our Chief Information Security Officer Don Mills. This week, we sat down with Alison Tinker to hear how she got her start in tech and how she excels as a female developer in a male-dominated industry. 

Meet Alison Tinker, Software Developer 

The roots of her career as a software developer

How has your career evolved to become a software developer? 

Alison Tinker is a Software Developer for SingleStone Consulting

When I was starting college and even when I was in high school, I never knew anyone who was a web designer. You were either a computer scientist or graphic designer, there was no in-between. But after a couple of years of working as a graphic designer I started to notice a need for web designers. Having made websites since I was in grade school, I was already comfortable with most of the concepts and began to make a career transition. 

As my technical skills grew, I became more and more interested in development. After a few web development roles, I made the switch to software developer when joining SingleStone. 

What’s challenging you right now project-wise? 

I’m on a challenging, fun, and sometimes stressful project with a ton of moving parts. We’re using dozens of different Amazon Web Services, data lakes, and kafka, to name just a few. Even with a decent foundation in these technologies, I still spend part of my work researching how to implement, and then deploying. I enjoy that aspect, though. I like context switching, changing around and getting to learn a lot of different things. On average, I’d say I’m learning at least a dozen new things every day. 

The challenges of being a female developer

What’s it like being a female in the tech industry? 

It’s a balance. On one hand, you don’t want to be treated differently, but on the other hand, you want people to recognize that the gender ratio is way off. At the same time, you want to fit in, but you want people to recognize the problem – there is a gender disparity. 

I think that is something I still struggle with. Trying to be authentic and also trying to fit in. It can be difficult. As a female developer, your biggest concern, IMHO, is wanting to be seen as a peer and included.  

At other organizations, I experienced the negative balance. In prior roles, it wasn’t uncommon to be excluded or ignored because my male colleagues felt like they couldn’t relate to me (as a female). Thankfully, at SingleStone it’s been the total opposite. I haven’t had that experience, not one bit. People here are kind and automatically assume we have commonalities based on our shared interest in technology.  

Do you feel there’s this pressure to work harder to be acknowledged?  

Definitely. Women tend to be quieter. If you’re not the one always talking to show your knowledge, you have to work really hard so that your work is the evidence of your abilities. I think a lot of women feel that there’s the possibility of them not being chosen for a project just because they’re a woman. To combat that, you take on this mentality and pressure of having to be better than the best male team member. 

What advice do you have for women entering the tech industry? 

Practice awareness. You may feel pressured to be less authentic than you want to be in order to succeed, in order to be counted as an equal. I definitely have. You may feel that you need to change your behavior or conform to your environment but retain your authenticity. See and feel what’s going on but hold on to your sense of self.  

Be as bold as you have to be. Men are typically good at being heard, sometimes you have to match their enthusiasm. Remember: when in Rome. We’ve been taught it’s rude to interrupt, but if others are doing it, you may have to too. Bring your individuality to everything that you do and stretch your comfort zone to be heard and respected. It can be difficult, but you must speak up.  

What’s your advice for someone considering a career in programming?  

Over the years coding languages have exploded. It can be really overwhelming, and analysis paralysis is pretty much inevitable, but I do have one trick that’s helped me learn new things.  

Find something that you really want to make and learn how to make that instead of trying to figure out what’s the right thing to learn. Don’t focus on what other people are learning. Start by figuring out what you want to build and just learn how to build that thing. You’ll be more motivated by something you’re passionate about. 

If you’re ready to have an actual career: practice patience, persistence, and resilience…because you’re going to need it. 

What do you like best about SingleStone? 

I don’t know if it’s there’s just one thing, but the culture is great. The people are really, really, really great. Everybody’s interested in learning, especially about cutting edge technology. That’s something I did not find at places that I worked at previously. People weren’t as concerned with future tech as they were with just working with what’s always worked.  

A lot of the companies I worked for were very slow to adopt new technology and I think that SingleStone is very quick to adopt it after they’ve done the process of assessing if it’s worth using. Cloud is the best example of this, people are still so hesitant to use it at many places. There are so many smart people at SingleStone that are willing to learn the old stuff and the new, it makes working here much more enjoyable.  

How do you see gender disparities in tech playing out today? We, at SingleStone, are always looking to hire and foster teams that are diverse, inclusive, and kind. If these sound appealing, please, come join our team.

Alison Tinker

Software Developer
Alison is a full-stack developer with experience in web design, front-end, and back-end technologies. She has over 9 years of experience developing performant, responsive, and accessible web applications.