Meet Tracy Thomas
How did you learn about PDXWIT and what keeps you coming back?
I learned about PDXWIT early in its existence, probably through Twitter or other social media. I’ve been an advocate for women in technology for a long time. I stay involved to connect to other women in the community and to use my experience to help other women. I believe we all have something to give back to the community, and it’s imperative that women do so to help build each other up.
Can you give us some background on your career in tech? Did you intend this career path?
I think very few people intend their exact career path, but instead follow many winds through the career road to end up in their current position. I aimed technical from college, where I entered as a math major and eventually got a B.S. and a Ph.D. in Physics.
When I realized that I didn’t want to pursue an academic career, I assessed my transferable skills and got a job as a Software Engineer (though that sounds easy, it was quite challenging). I evolved my career over the years to Engineering Manager, Project Manager, and Program Manager, building on my ability to broadly communicate technical material and to effectively drive both strategic and tactical initiatives.
The more senior I become in my career, the more intentional I get. I now realize I could have been more intentional much earlier and want to help women gain confidence to go for what they want.
Tell us more about your path from academia to tech. How did you pivot your career from academia to tech?
When I was a junior in college, I had just changed my major to Physics and was struggling so much with the upper-division classes that I was questioning my choice. I got a phone call one evening—the caller said she was with the National Science Foundation, running a program to encourage women and minorities to pursue advanced science degrees. She asked if I’d like to participate in the program by doing research with a Physics professor. The only answer was yes. Before this program, I didn’t really know what a Ph.D. meant; how one would earn one wasn’t even on my radar.
Not only did I get to do research, I learned how to present my research and how to work on a research team. The professor I was with took me on under his own budget for two more years. That experience put me on my trajectory to get my Ph.D., and even though I left academia after my Ph.D., I highly value the experience.
The transition from academia to the business world wasn’t an easy one. It took me 9 months to find a job in Portland in what was a very good economy. I realize now that I didn’t understand how to frame my skills—I had programmed daily for 10 years, but was presenting myself as a beginner. My tech career journey evolved from there, with some twists and turns that were challenging.
What else are you involved in that we should keep on our radar?
I am on the board of the Portland chapter of UPWARD Women, an organization whose goal is to provide a network to help executive women lift each other up.
UPWARD Women Organization: https://www.upwardwomen.org/
UPWARD Women Events: https://www.upwardwomen.org/portland/
With Claire Hernandez, I organize events for the Experienced Women in Tech subgroup of PDXWIT. We target members with 15 or more years of experience and aim to provide events that attendees can walk away having learned or discussed something useful.
I’ve also spoken at ChickTech’s ACT-W conference for the last four years. Check it out and consider being a speaker in the future—it’s a great way to use your expertise to give something back to the community. This year’s conference just happened, but check out https://act-w.org/ for future events.