You Should Know… Allison McMillan

Photo by Jacqueline Hyman.

Allison McMillan, 35, is an engineering manager for GitHub who taught herself how to code. She had a startup company, speaks at tech conferences, and is very proud of her heritage as a Sephardic Jew. The mother of two also created a podcast called Parent Driven Development, which is about and features parents in the tech industry.

What made you decide to get into coding? What brought you there?

I started originally because I’ve always loved community building and bringing people together … The startup [called Neighborsations] that I started was based on helping folks within neighborhoods meet other people in their neighborhoods with common interests. And as I was working on this I was working with a group of developers to sort of build up a site, and I was getting frustrated.

And I said, ‘Ok If I’m gonna be the founder of a tech startup, I need to know some of this tech.’ … To be honest, I was expecting to not enjoy it because I’ve never been super into math classes or things like that but I actually really love the day.

What does being a Sephardic Jew mean to you in terms of your identity?

I think being Sephardic in sort of a mostly North American Ashkenazi world is really important and a lot of our traditions, a lot of our culture … are very different. So it’s always been really important to me to make really traditional food for holidays, to do all the – for example, on Rosh Hashanah we dip challah and apples in sugar instead of honey.

So for me, to make sure that we’re doing that in my home, but also for my children, especially my son is in preschool now, for him to be aware that he’s Sephardic and to be proud of those different traditions and that different heritage.

He goes to a Jewish preschool, and one of the things his teacher said in his report is that he’s always sure to remind his class what things they’re doing at preschool that are different than what he does at home because he’s Sephardic.

So I just think that there are all different kinds of Jews and there are all different kinds of traditions, and I think sometimes in America we get caught up in the Ashkenazi narrative, and it’s really important to recognize and celebrate those differences and those different Jewish traditions.

How do you involve Judaism in your everyday life?

I think Judaism colors my narrative of the world, right? And so I think there’s something really special about Judaism, right? It’s not just a religion – you can go to synagogue, you don’t have go to synagogue – but it colors how I see my connections with other people. It colors how I interact with the world … how I value family time. It sort of gives weight to the things that I think are most important in the world.

I love, as a Jewish person working in tech, I love pulling those parallels and seeing where those different parts of my identity sort of can cross over.

So you just came back from Israel, and you were with ROI, how was that?

That was amazing. I speak fairly frequently at conferences, but this conference I was not speaking at. It was actually like a professional development opportunity for me, with a Jewish lens.

But it was really amazing, I mean the ROI community and network is really pulling together change makers and just a whole group of individuals from all over the world that have done really incredible things.

It’s amazing that you’ve made this whole career out of something you taught yourself.

The thing about being a developer is you learn more and more along the way. As I look at more complex problems, I have a ton of imposter syndrome, like “I don’t have a CS degree. What are these words that I’m even reading?” It’s a lot of grit. As you do things, you sort of put the whole puzzle together. I try to take note of the things that I’m learning, so that I can look periodically look back and be like, “Oh, I am totally smarter than I was a month ago, or six months ago.”

I hate to even ask this, but what is it like being a female in the tech industry? Is it as male-dominated as they say it is?

It is still pretty male dominated. I think that the fact that companies are looking at their diversity reports, for women, for people of color, etc. I think that’s a really important step. One of the big points of conversation is not just hiring more diverse folks but also retaining them.

I speak very publicly about being a mom in tech and what companies can be doing better … Having parents on teams makes entire teams better just because of some of the qualities and the work-life balance, and the perspectives that they bring to conversations.

How long have you been doing your podcast?

It’s been about a year and a half. My husband was very supportive, but was also like, ‘So you’re going to start a podcast right before you have a second baby?’ and I was like ‘yes, it’s going to be great, don’t worry about it.’ … Some episodes are specifically related to tech, some are just about what it’s like to be a working parent…and that’s been a really interesting experience.

We have a whole panel of folks so I don’t have to be on every episode. It’s worked out really well. It’s just a variety of people from different backgrounds, different kids all the way from a year and a half all the way to 18 years old. So it’s really cool as a parent of young kids to get perspectives on what are things I’m going to have to deal with in the future.

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