Women in Tech: Athena Turek-Hankins
With a background in peace and conflict, and a resume that includes teaching English on a Fullbright grant, you might not expect her to be an engineering star. But Athena has quickly made a name for herself by solving some of our toughest technical problems.
What is your role here at iSeatz?
Right now I do frontend development and I work on our AMS platform.
I also did the frontend work for our Wyndham emails, which go out through Salesforce. I’ve become a little bit of the expert in Salesforce design, much to my chagrin.
Tech was not part of your first career, can you tell us a little more about what you did before working in tech?
In college I studied Middle Eastern Affairs and French. After school I started working in education at a French immersion school.
I had a friend who went through a coding school and she raved about it. Having been through the program she was able to articulate tech in a way I’d never understood it before: logic puzzles, language learning. It was actually a lot of the same things that made me so interested in philosophy.
Looking at my career path and the “next ten years” I realized I could be an asset to the community bringing a blend of humanities skills and technical skills to the table. So I decided to take the plunge and enroll.
Also, I won’t lie. I want to be a part of the solution of diversifying the industry.
What was your experience during your CompSci education?
When I was in my coding program I was the only woman. There were no women in the class after either. This was a really intense bootcamp – 6 days a week, 12 hours a day – and I was the only woman in the room for the entire time. This was a huge shift for me coming from the humanities background which is mostly women.
Did you ever feel like giving up?
There were definitely times in the bootcamp program. But I got hired really quickly out of my program and that kind of validated my decision to stick with it.
What do you think has made you successful in tech so quickly?
Honestly, I don’t really know. The projects I’ve been given at iSeatz have allowed me to grow really quickly – working with enterprise architecture, huge problems, high stakes. I also came in at a great time where we were re-envisioning our platform, so I understand the big picture versus getting a really myopic view.
My ability to translate tech-speak into everyday language has been an asset. Again, I credit my philosophy background.
Have you ever come across challenges related to being a woman in tech?
Most of my tech career has been at iSeatz, which has a huge female presence, so I think that has mitigated a lot of the potential challenges.
It is challenging when you attend a conference. There will be hard tech talks but also softer talks about diversity. I want to attend the diversity panel because I’m passionate about it, but I feel like that’s expected and I might fall behind in my career if I don’t go the hard-CompSci route. How can women and under-represented folks do both?
It seems like to be on a level playing field you are expected to sacrifice your softer passions.
Who’s your tech hero?
I don’t know her name but there was a woman I read about when I was making the decision to pivot to tech. She did a coding bootcamp and built an app that helped connecting immigrants with immigration lawyers. That put into perspective the type of things I might be able to accomplish.
How do you think we can get girls more excited and confident about STEM?
I think there are a lot of people doing really great work. I love the push I see nowadays to combine traditionally girly things with hard science to pique their interest early.
From what I’ve seen working at schools I think we need to put the extra effort in to make sure that girls aren’t getting steamrolled.
What do you like about iSeatz?
I love the commitment to hiring women and putting women in technical leadership roles. That comes from the top.
What technologies and tech-driven developments excite you the most about the future?
I am loving working in React and Redux. We work with these tools in a very unique way and it is exciting to see how flexible these tools are and how creative we can be. I love feeling like I really deeply understand these tools and frameworks.
Of course I also am passionate about the intersection of technology and social justice. We can use tech to change the world!
Anything you wish you could tell your early-career self?
I like the path I took. I learned a lot and I think they make me a more well-rounded person. I appreciate having that breadth of knowledge. I maybe could have studied it a liiiiittle bit earlier. But I overall love how I got here.