Education has always been important to Alaina Percival. That’s why she made it a priority to earn her MA in Organizational Management in France and her MBA at Georgia State University. It’s also why she taught herself the basics of coding. As if that isn’t stellar enough, today, she’s the CEO of Women Who Code, a global nonprofit organization dedicated to inspiring women to excel in technology careers.
Even before she immersed herself in the male-dominated world of technology, Alaina had proven herself as a woman ready and willing to beat the odds. Move to a new country with a completely unfamiliar lifestyle and language? Check. Excel professionally in a deprived economy with 13% unemployment rate? Check. Build a personal network from the ground up? Check. Alaina has proven time and time again that with passion and perseverance, she is capable of anything.
HER STARTING POINT
QWhat impact did your education have on your career?
AMy major helped my communication skills and kicked off my international career. The experience that I gained from the International Relations program exposed me to ideas, people, and cultures that have become extremely valuable to the work that we do around the world. While it’s hard to pin down the exact benefits, but the indirect benefits of my education are valuable on a daily basis.
QAfter graduation, you took a job with Puma in Germany! What inspired this move?
AMoving to Germany to work at Puma was a huge challenge. I was looking for an experience where I could prove to myself that I was capable of anything. I wanted to build my career in a country where I had to learn the language and build a network from scratch. I had to compete as a foreigner in a job market that at the time had 13% unemployment, all while trying to work at one of the most desirable companies in the country. The experience taught me hardship, but it also showed me the power of perseverance and hard work no matter the circumstances.
QWhat sparked your passion for the tech community?
AWhen I first moved to the Bay Area I was immersed in the tech culture, meeting people who were doing exciting things at amazing companies. I wanted in on that world. Starting from “scratch” with no real background in the industry was a challenge, but it’s one that I thoroughly enjoyed and found myself falling in love with the industry and the people in it.
QWhy did you decide to go back to grad school?
AI’ve always had the goal of earning a graduate degree. Education is very important to me, and I want to learn everything that I can about the world so that I can tackle any challenge that comes my way. I also developed an amazing network of friends and colleagues in grad school, which has been the greatest benefit of my time spent there.
HER BIG BREAK
QWhen did you first become interested in coding?
AWhen I moved to San Francisco and decided to enter the tech industry I knew that I needed to learn coding to compete in the tech market. I’ve always loved learning new things, so I used a side project that I had been working on for years as a prototype to teach myself the basics, and then got a lot of help from talented friends and members of the WWCode community to progress my education.
QHow did you get involved with WWCode?
AI joined WWCode right as it was getting started and quickly got involved with the leadership team. I was working with a lot of engineering executives and noticed fewer than 5% of women were getting recruited into top engineering positions at funded startups. That made me see the potential that WWCode could offer, so I started focusing on helping women to excel in technology careers.
QTell us about WWCode’s mission.
AWWCode has two program avenues:
In-person events: We are producing 1,000 free technical events around the world this year. These consist of talks, hack events, and technical study groups in a variety of programming languages.
CODE Review: We have a weekly publication where we highlight the successes of women in our community and the tech industry in general. We provide free and discounted conference tickets and scholarships to our members. We gave away almost $100,000 in conference tickets last year. You can sign-up at womenwhocode.com
QWhy is it important for women to learn to code?
AAll the Top Careers lists have software engineer at or near the top. You can become a software engineer even if you didn’t study for it in school. That gives career aged women and young women a great incentive to learn.
All industries are going to be technology industries in the future, so we will see more and more leaders and executives in those companies having some technical experience. It doesn’t matter if you are interested in healthcare, finance, fashion, media, or shipping all of the leaders of those industries would benefit from technical experience.
QWhat career challenges have you faced so far?
AThere isn’t any single challenge that is daunting. Rather it is the constant shifting miasma of challenges that crop up every day. That makes things difficult, but exciting, and helps us to maintain a nimble structure that has the ability to pivot, shift, and adapt to anything that comes our way. We face new challenges head on and aren’t afraid to try new tactics when necessary.
QDescribe a day in your life.
AEvery day is different. I oversee numerous projects, networks, and relationships, and am constantly spearheading new initiatives to help the company expand its reach. There are always more opportunities, and one of the biggest challenges that I’ve had to overcome is learning how to say “no” when something just doesn’t budget into my schedule.
QWhat experience has been the most rewarding for you since you launched the company?
AI feel a sense of profound pride when I notice the specific impact that WWCode has made on the career of one of our members or directors. The goal is to improve the lives of women through expanding their tech career opportunities. Every time we succeed, we are changing a person’s entire future, and that makes the work worthwhile.
QAnd finally, what do you wake up looking forward to? What’s next for your career?
AOne day I would like WWCode to be obsolete. We exist because there is a gross disparity between men and women working and succeeding in the tech industry. It is our goal to close that gender gap, smash through the glass ceiling, and change the nature of the playing field so that everyone, men, and women, have an equal opportunity to succeed in this vital and growing field.