Allison McMillan, Director of Engineering at Github
👩🏻💻 Job: Running the Coding department for GitHub engineering, focusing on improving and innovating on Repositories, Pull Requests, and Codespaces.
🇺🇸 Washington, DC, USA
👶🏻 Leilah, 3 and Devin, 5
🎙 Parent Driven Development podcast
Resources she enjoys
Lara Hogan: I love Lara Hogan’s newsletters and resources. She’s amazing.
Lucie’s list: Best for the first few years of your kids life but this is like everything you need to know, sent to you in a newsletter exactly when you need to know it.
A Mighty Girl for toy, book, etc. recommendations
You are now Director of Engineering at Github. What do you like most about your job?
I love a lot of things about my job! As the Director for the Coding department, focusing on repositories, pull requests, and Codespaces, the work we do is truly central to the mission of GitHub and how developers use GitHub every day.
It’s amazing to deliver this sort of value to folks all over the world every day. At the same time, as a leader at the company, it’s critical that I create an environment where people feel supported and challenged, a place where they can do their best work.
I love working with my peers, the department leadership team, and all the developers, product managers, designers, etc. to do that.
You have an inspiring journey in Tech after changing career, what advice would you give to someone doing a professional retraining?
There will be ups and downs, twists and turns, but just keep going and be kind to yourself along the way.
Career & Parenting
On being everywhere all at once.
In the How I Organize article, we see how busy you are professionally. This article was written 4 years ago. Has motherhood (of 2) had an impact on your professional activities and the way you organize?
When I wrote that article, I had 1 kiddo and I thought I was busy then! After having two, the systems I have in place are honestly what keeps my head on straight and makes sure everything is on track. I have THE WORST memory ever right now and so if it’s not written down, it simply is likely not going to get done.
Additionally, with two kids, my head is always everywhere all at once. Calendars, note taking apps, and the tools my partner and I have in place help make sure we can divvy up the workload (and mental load!) more effectively and make sure that we’re able to juggle everything together.
Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable
In Parenting and Managing: A short list, you list the ways in which being a parent makes you a better manager. Do you think parenting also had a positive impact on your other activities?
The thing that I love (and hate) the most about parenting is that it forces you to face your most difficult challenges and learn from them.
Whether you have kids that are exactly like you or completely different, parents are often changing their style, getting comfortable with being uncomfortable, and doing things differently for their children based on what is best for them.
I have definitely learned to be more patient and been able to psych myself up more for tasks that are new to me or outside of my comfort zone.
I think I’ve also learned to trust my gut more.
As a mom, I feel like i’m making a million decisions a day, as best I can, for each of my children, knowing who they are and what they need. Sometimes those decisions come with data, other times I just need to trust my gut and make, what I think is, the best decision. (also, sometimes i’m wrong and that’s ok too).
The challenge of keeping up
In your Being a new mom in tech article, you talk about the challenges of being a new mom in tech, do you still feel that way? I may be totally wrong but I feel the Tech industry is making progress (at least is trying) regarding parenting.
I think the industry has grown leaps and bounds in this area in the past 6 years!! It’s still not perfect, and there are still a lot of issues, especially for moms in tech, but there have definitely been improvements and, if nothing else, there is a much stronger support network these days.
What is, in your opinion, the hardest thing about being a working mom in tech?
In my opinion, the hardest thing about being a working mom in tech is keeping up with changing technology, new languages, and new ideas coming out every day.
As a mom, I don’t have time for side projects. I don’t have hours outside of work to dedicate to learning new things or staying up to date with everything and i’ll never be able to compete with someone who does have all of those extra hours.
But I do know how to work smarter, how to find the time in my day to learn the things I need to, and how to periodically make time to get that information through going to conferences or other opportunities that are more accessible to me as a mom.
How to improve parents’ journey in tech
I really like your talk BDD - Baby Driven Development, where you give great advice for parents in the workplace. I think parenting is underrated. What do you think we could do to improve parents/mothers’ journey in tech today?
This is a hard question!
I still think one of the things that needs to change is how we interview for jobs.
As I mentioned before, I’ll never be able to compete with someone who has oodles of extra hours in their day and this is doubly true when interviewing.
It is extremely difficult to find an hour or two of focus, outside of work time, let alone the ~6 hours most code challenges take, where many others, where time limits aren’t imposed, are spending significantly longer than that (at least right now, with younger children).
Required lengthy takehomes that anticipate having these longer blocks of time make it difficult for parents to apply to jobs and show what their skills are during the interview process.
What is the scariest thing for you being a mom?
Having no idea what i’m doing!!! My two kids are so different so even with my second I feel like I’m constantly navigating new territory.
There are so many things to decide, explain, and talk about every day, and especially this past year, so many new challenges and situations to explain. I just always hope I’m doing the right thing.
Back to work challenges
As you’re a very busy lady, how did you live your maternity leave? What was the biggest challenge you had to face coming back at work from maternity leave?
I’ve taken maternity leave twice now.
With my first, it was a whirlwind. I was working somewhere that had a really short leave policy and so it felt like I was back at work and trying to navigate it all very quickly.
With my second, I was able to take more time which was fantastic. But I also had a toddler who was almost 3 and full of energy and my second NEVER slept. I feel like every moment I had I was just trying to catch up on keeping my household going.
Both times, I think the biggest challenge going back to work was understanding how much I could actually do.
I was slower than I had been before, the way my brain worked was different (which was news to me that having a child can also change how you learn and how your brain works!), and I had to get used to the split focus of work and more worries related to home things.
After my second, I learned to also make sure I had a manager who was really understanding, a team with more parents (and ideally more moms), where I could ease back into work and make sure that we were on the same page regarding expectations.
Parent Driven Development
What was your motivation to create the Parent Driven Development podcast?
In 2016 I started talking about being a mom in tech at conferences. I was only speaking because I was pretty afraid to write too openly about it.
Every time I gave a talk, I had parents come up to me, telling me how grateful they were to hear that they were not alone. People told me they used my talk as a way to open up conversations with peers or managers and that it really made a difference to them. To me, that was a huge accomplishment.
I wanted to be able to provide support to others and for it to be easy for people to feel like they weren’t alone in their journey of being a parent in tech. That’s why I started the podcast.
To provide folks a place to (hopefully) listen to interesting topics, from the perspective of parents in tech, and to also hear our good moments and our failures, and know that they weren’t alone either in thinking about some of these issues we face in tech, talking about things from the perspective of developers, or just knowing that all parents have great moments and have some pretty bad ones.
What do you like most about podcasting? What is the most challenging thing running a podcast?
I’ve been able to talk to so many interesting people!!! I think some of the episodes we’ve done have been so important… ones about being a trans parent, infertility, looking for jobs, and more and it’s been great to ask guests all these questions that I have. I’ve learned so much!
The most challenging thing about running a podcast is finding the time to do so. Parent Driven Development is going on hiatus starting early-April, 2021 and i’m so sad about it. I feel like it is the right thing to do at the moment after the year we’ve all had, I’m honestly exhausted and just need a little break, but I definitely want to bring it back in the future and the website and episodes will all continue to be available!
You are doing a great job!!! I like to tell other parents this as often as possible because no matter what’s going on, or how good or bad your day or week has been, you’re doing a good job. We all need to hear it, especially these days.
More about Allison’s work
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