BABE #173: ALLISON HALL, Senior Front-End Engineer, Brightwheel
Today’s babe is a front-end engineer at Brightwheel: a tech startup transforming the early education experience for students, teachers and parents alike. Diving deep into her world as a woman in engineering (and formerly with LinkedIn,) Allison shared with us her thoughts on how we can help aspiring STEM babes enter (and thrive in) the demanding and ever-changing industry. Read on to discover how jigsaw puzzles gave way to her now career, and gain insight into the schedule of a programming BWH who reminds us to take on life with tenacity and surround ourselves with supportive mentors (and to be one when we can).
Hometown: Villa Park, California
Current city: San Francisco, California
Alma mater: UC Berkeley
Degree: Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
Very first job: Pre-Algebra Math Tutor
Hustle: Senior front-end Engineer, Brightwheel
Babe you admire and why?
Mia Hamm. I grew up playing soccer and watching the U.S. Women’s National Team when women’s soccer was beginning to have more international competitions. She was an amazing player and a great role model. She showed young women like myself that we can succeed in any career and make a huge impact for future generations.
How do you spend your free time?
I try to spend most of my free time outdoors. I love running, hiking, snowboarding and pretty much any outdoor activity. I also fill up a lot of my “free” time volunteering. I am involved with the Junior League of San Francisco, where we focus on aiding the seniors and children in our community. I also lead the Bay Area high school mentorship program for Chicktech, an organization focusing on tech diversity. When I really need to decompress, you’ll find me baking something with my sourdough starter, doing a jigsaw puzzle or playing video games.
Favorite app, website or blog?
Wunderlist. I wouldn’t be able to keep my life organized without all my various to-do and shopping lists.
Favorite fictional female character?
Go-to adult beverage?
What would you eat for your very last meal?
Beef taco and chicken enchilada combo from Bobby D’s!, a Mexican restaurant in my hometown.
If you could have coffee with anyone in the world, who would it be?
Tell us about your hustle.
I am a senior front-end software engineer for Brightwheel, an early-education startup. What that means is I create the web interface that our users see and interact with. I also help lead my team of six engineers to help us prioritize and manage what we are working on. As a company, we’re building tools for preschools and daycares to help run their businesses. This ranges from an app to log when kids eat, sleep and check in or out for the day, to our web tools helping schools run a variety of reports and bill their parents. This all used to happen on paper, so it’s a huge timesaver for the educators. Parents also enjoying getting photos and videos of their kids throughout the day.
What does your typical workday look like?
My team runs on a process called agile development. For us, that means working in one week sprints where we keep a backlog of projects we want to work on and commit to pieces of those each week. I act as our team “scrum master,” meaning I organize our meetings and help keep us on track for our weekly goals. If it’s early in the week, I will spend a good portion of my day preparing what my team will work on in the next sprint. This includes working with our product manager to document tasks for new features, helping to review new designs and sometimes writing requirements for new features. In the middle and towards the end of the week is when I try to get most of my sprint tasks done. This includes writing the code for the web front-end of a feature, having the code I write reviewed by a coworker, testing the feature in a QA environment and then monitoring usage of the feature after it launches. I’ll usually have two to three features in various stages of that cycle at any time. In-between all that I help the company with recruiting, review other people’s code and manage the planning for our front-end development team. I also make sure to chat with our customer success team throughout the week to see what our customers are saying about our product and sometimes join them on a call with our customers to gain insights on new features we are thinking about building.
How early did you become interested in working with tech?
I knew from a very early age I was interested in math and science, and that I had several other family members who were engineers. My parents and I always joke I was destined to be a programmer because of how obsessed I was (and am) with jigsaw puzzles. We didn’t know it at the time, but it was definitely a sign of my future career. I had no real idea what computer science was until I was a junior in high school. I was doing a science fair project for my AP physics class and my teacher suggested a programming project to me. I liked it, so when it came time to pick a college major I went with computer science. I still didn’t really know that front-end engineering existed, but as soon as I did my first project involving front-end engineering in college, I was hooked and never looked back.
How has your career evolved?
I have taken a pretty traditional path in my career so far. After my junior year of college I had a web development internship with LinkedIn. At the end of the summer I was given a full-time offer for after graduation. I accepted immediately and spent the next three years at LinkedIn. While there, I was involved in many “women in tech” activities, led a front-end tech talk group for 40 engineers and became the tech lead for a front-end team of three. I left to join Brightwheel as the first female (and first front-end) engineer. In my 16 months there I’ve seen our team grow from 12 to 47 (and counting), have built countless features while maintaining quality and speed and have become one of our engineering team leaders.
What’s necessary to get more women to pursue careers in STEM?
We lose talented women at so many parts of the career funnel right now. For starters, we need to encourage more women to enter technology and help them not feel a stigma before they even begin their careers. We also need to keep the open conversations going and telling people in industry when they are acting inappropriately. Most of the sexism I’ve faced personally is from unconscious bias, and when you tell someone what they say bothers you or is unacceptable, they usually respond positively and alter their behavior. If they don’t respond positively and continue the behavior, then companies need to manage them out and show that behavior [like that] is not tolerated. There are definitely more, but those are the biggest two I’m focused on right now. I think everyone can help by supporting women interested in tech and challenging themselves, family and friends when they say something biased or inappropriate.
How have your past internships, education and work experiences prepared you for the work you do today?
My internship at LinkedIn was great preparation for industry. I was embedded on a team working on [the LinkedIn] inbox, so I got to experience what daily work life was like there. My education did not prepare me as well. It helped with collaboration and basic coding knowledge, but the work I do is not that similar to my school work. Front-end engineering is not usually covered in a lot of classes, so it’s more learned by personal experience.
How has being a woman affected your professional experience?
It has helped me learn about being a minority and how important diverse teams are. This applies to more than just women and has helped me approach recruiting and new products with diversity top of mind. It also has made my experience a lot more challenging than if I was a male. I have been told I was too quiet one week, and then when I tried to speak up more I was told some team members found me abrasive. I’ve had my questions eye-rolled at as stupid in classes, and then seen the male a few seats away from me ask the same question and have it answered immediately. Those challenges have made me stronger and seek to work with only the best, inclusive teams. Most importantly, it has allowed me find an amazing network of women who are all facing these same problems and trying to solve them for future generations.
What is the gender ratio like in your industry? Do you see it evolving?
I think the average is somewhere around 20 percent [women]. Most companies try to include as many roles under the tech category as possible though, so the programmer ratio is realistically lower than that. We certainly have been talking about it more and I see a shift starting to happen in colleges. The real issue is, until we fix the culture to be more inclusive, women will continue to leave the field and the ratio won’t get much better. That change I see evolving slower, but something the women willing to stay in the field as it is can transform and alter for future generations.
What are some common misconceptions about your job?
The big one I hear is that I have no social or communication skills because I am a programmer. While I am more on the introverted side, communication skills are actually vital to be a successful computer programmer.
Who are some women in your field you look to for inspiration?
Every woman-CEO of a tech company. On a more personal level, one of the senior leaders while I was at LinkedIn, Sarah Clatterbuck, inspired and influenced me a lot in my time there.
What’s your ultimate dream job?
Either a CEO or VP of a product engineering team for a company transforming the world
Are you involved with any other community organizations or side projects?
I’m a member of Junior League of San Francisco and the mentorship lead for ChickTech Bay Area.
What advice would you give to a babe trying to break into your industry?
Don’t give up! You will face some challenges, but then you will turn around and find a supportive mentor or see an incredibly inspirational woman the next day. Also, create a support network to help you when you face those challenges.
What motivates and inspires you?
On a large scale, knowing I’m in a position to leave a large impact on my field. On a daily basis, knowing my work could serve to transform the way the world approaches early education.
What is your philosophy on work-life balance?
If you aren’t happy, your work will suffer. Take the time you need to make sure you’re mentally and physically strong while still kicking butt at work.
What helps you wind down and manage stress?
Running, nature, wine, video games, puppies, travel.
What are some notable experiences you’ve had on the job?
My husband and I met as LinkedIn interns. We didn’t start dating for about eight months, but that summer was when we became best friends.
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
Take care of your mental and physical health and find a career you’re passionate about. I see a lot of young employees dedicate all their time to working. This isn’t a sustainable lifestyle and will eventually cause you to burn out. That being said, if you find yourself wanting to work on the occasional weekend, you probably have found yourself the perfect career.
What’s next for you?
Helping Brightwheel continue to grow and become the go-to tool for all early educators.
In partnership with: Warby Parker
Revolutionizing the eyeglass industry, Warby Parker designs an in-house, trendy and socially conscious collection, providing high-quality, better-looking glasses at a fraction of the going rate. Our favorite part of WP? Their Home Try-On Program, where you can select 5 different frames online, have them delivered to your door, take 'em for a spin, pick out your faves, then send them all back - all before spending a dime. Learn more about it here.
*This is an affiliate partnership. That means when you shop using our links and codes, a portion of your purchase goes right back to us, so we can then roll out some awesome new things for you. Of course, we only promote hand-selected brands and products that we stand behind and know you will enjoy.Interested in advertising with us? Email us.