“No one knows everything” An Interview with Alexandria Gilliott
A very special human who Women Rock Ambassador Charlotte Baker has been super lucky to get to know and work with over the last couple of months 💙.
Alex is a super hard-working and inspiring individual – she decided to take a leap of faith when she went from seven years as a designer to a software developer, without a related degree-level qualification 💥 .
From being a designer to a developer, part-time science documentary lover, gamer, and a big foodie. Alex has a curious mind and loves to surround herself with like-minded people ✨.
Alex proves it is all possible as she chats to Char about what diversity means to her, who inspires her daily and her manta 🧘♀️
We highly recommend getting comfy, having something to sip on and giving this a read 📖.
TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOURSELF AND WHY YOU’RE HERE TODAY?
I grew up on the beautiful south coast of England, with ever changing ideas of what I wanted to do from palaeontologist to astronaut to gardener and everything in between. Throughout my education, I could never settle on one ‘thing’ and therefore have a rather diverse set of skills such as film & game studies, photography, geography, and even floristry.
As mentioned, I am a designer turned developer. I fell into digital design at a part time job I had while at university (studying something else) and I enjoyed being a designer for several years before eventually taking the leap to become a developer.
I am here today with the hope that by sharing my experiences, I can offer that small nudge to take a chance or try something new.
HOW HAS YOUR JOURNEY BEEN (MOVING FROM DESIGN INTO DEVELOPMENT OR JUST IN GENERAL?) HAVE THERE BEEN ANY BUMPS IN THE ROAD ETC?
At the beginning, I was acutely aware that I didn’t have any formal education around software engineering and the sheer breadth and depth of topics, languages and technologies that exist was so over-whelming. Knowing where to start seemed like an almost impossible task and every job seemed to want a related degree-level qualification.
With some advice from peers in the industry and support from friends I chose to start with the front-end technologies mainly because my design background helped me here the most, and after a few months of self-learning using various courses and tutorials, I managed to get my first development job.
There have been ups and down as with anything. I have been fortunate to be surrounded by so many fantastic peers and mentors who strive to uplift those around them, and I have grown the most from working with those people. But I have also experienced the negative side of being a woman without formal qualifications in a male-dominated academically biased industry. There is outdated views and gatekeeping behaviour still around, but they are fading and there is support there for you if you are affected by it.
WHAT DOES THE WORD “DIVERSITY” MEAN TO YOU?
Diversity is success – it makes us all the best we can be and achieve more than we ever could alone. When I collaborate or I am open to other points of view or listen to other people’s experiences, the outcomes from that far exceeds anything I could have achieved by myself or with only liked-minded people. Diversity gives us so much strength and the opportunity realise and improve many things that would have otherwise gone unnoticed.
IF YOU COULD GIVE ONE BIT OF ADVICE TO SOMEONE WHO’S THINKING ABOUT MAKING A CAREER CHANGE INTO TECH – WHAT WOULD IT BE?
A “full-stack” developer is a myth. While it is good to have a working knowledge of each aspect of development there is far too much you need to know now for one person to be deeply and equally skilled in all aspects. This expectation to know everything, especially if you are just starting out, is what makes it feel so over-whelming.
No one knows everything! So, with that burden removed, I would recommend getting hands on and having a play around with a few different languages/frameworks by doing their tutorial projects to find out which flavour captivates you the most and progress from there. If you do what you enjoy, you can’t go wrong.
WHAT COULD COMPANIES DO TO SUPPORT WOMEN WHO ARE JOINING A MALE-DOMINATED TEAM/COMPANY?
Everyone is an individual so generic solutions are hard to identify so for me it is about ensuring equity, awareness and being flexible to the needs of any minority.
On an individual level, they should avoid spreading women out just for the sake of looking more diverse. Saying “we have a woman in every team” sounds great, but realistically, it can be quite isolating and make you feel like ‘diversity points’ rather than a valued team member. Teams should be made based on skillsets, experience and personalities not gender.
On a wider level, companies should be pro-actively addressing the gender pay gap. Women are both more likely to be underpaid and much less likely to negotiate their salary, and this is taken advantage of either deliberately or inadvertently. Having a regular and open process of evaluating compensation that also considers market rates and other economic factors would go a long way to addressing this problem.
IF YOU COULD CHANGE ONE THING ABOUT THE TECH INDUSTRY, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
It’s accessibility for people from all backgrounds and places. There is a large barrier to entry to this industry, especially if you don’t follow the traditional educational routes and an even bigger one to work with some of the industry leading companies that drive global change. I can’t help but wonder what potential revelations we are missing out on by excluding so many undiscovered voices.
HOW DO YOU UNWIND AFTER A LONG DAY?
I log a lot of screen time per day so heading outside for a walk really helps. I am also a big foodie so making a fancy dinner with my partner and paired with some nice wine is my usual Friday treat.
I also love gaming, all different sorts of games, because it is a great way to switch off work-mode and stop my brain from thinking about code! There is something I call the ‘code dream’, which most developers I know have experienced, where your brain is still mulling over a problem in the background, and you end up either dreaming about solving it or waking up with a potential solution! The brain is a funny thing, and this is an incredibly thought-intensive job and so having a good work-life balance is very important.
WHO/WHAT INSPIRES YOU IN DAILY LIFE?
I am constantly inspired by the people I work with; it was a big factor for my career change because I hadn’t met a developer who wasn’t inspiring in some way. And having worked in a tech-for-good company, it naturally attracts certain types of incredible people who are humbling and motivating at the same time.
They say to surround yourself with people who have traits that you aspire to have, and I am lucky enough to say I have done that and hopeful enough to say that I have achieved some of them.
WHO/WHAT ARE YOU LISTENING TO RIGHT NOW? (PODCAST/MUSIC ETC)
I do love a good science channel to learn about the weird and wonderful. It’s not a podcast but I am working my way through “Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell” videos. They answer fun questions in a short, animated videos such as “Can you upload your mind and live forever?” to “Why do beautiful things make us happy?”. If you fancy being fascinated, check them out.
I have a few for different contexts but a particular mantra from a workplace with an amazing culture has stuck with me: ‘Kindness, Candour and Good Humour’. It sounds obvious at face value, but it helps adjust your thinking. For example, sometimes when you are stressed it helps you notice if your good humour slipping and you might be less open to feedback, or when trying to be kind you realise you are not being candid and that might be detrimental to progress. Similarly, if you are being honest about something, you make sure it is constructive and fair to uphold kindness. They all balance each other out and are all traits I want to have and encourage in those around me.
Thanks Alexandria! Keep rocking!