Rebecca Skinner

How many years have you been in tech?


Tell me about your background. What were your early years like?

I grew up in a pretty poor family, and didn’t have access to technology, other than an NES. I moved around a lot between different relatives who would take me for a few years. Nobody ever valued education and people expected me to go into blue collar work. My teachers didn’t push me and I didn’t work hard in school. I was a bad kid that nobody wanted to help. I wanted to be a fashion designer or an archeologist, but I didn’t really understand much about careers then.

How were you exposed to tech?

My sophomore year of high school I decided to take a programming class. As soon as I took it I never imagined I wanted to do anything else. My CS teacher was the first adult who ever thought I showed potential and took an interest in me. I was really depressed and had few friends so I spent all my time on IRC and reading man pages on my salvaged Linux box.

What is your current role?

I’m a software engineer at Asteris. I work on an open source configuration and compliance tool called converge. My focus is on security, safety, and correctness of our configuration language.

What is your proudest accomplishment?

I think just getting to where I am technically and in my career. I was conned into going to a bad for profit school after high school and so I’ve been largely self taught. Getting to the point where I not only felt like I knew enough to fit in, but being able to mentor and help others is what I’m most proud of. I look at some people who are dear friends that I mentored through their early career and I’m proud and humbled at the small part I was able to play in their successes and triumphs.

What are you learning right now?

Right now my focus has been on improving how we build software. In particular I’ve been trying to learn and develop new techniques that help us be more expressive in software and think more abstractly. I’ve been trying to synthesize functional programming and system architecture with development methodologies and mathematical reasoning. In the process I’ve been extending my knowledge of propositional calculus, abstract algebra, and project management.

Describe a time where you solved a problem in a creative way. For example, did something in your personal life trigger a solution to a problem at work?

I think I’m always trying to solve problems in creative ways, even when I don’t need to or it’s against my best interest. I love pushing the boundaries of how I think about problems, and trying up apply solutions from radically different problem domains.

What was the last fear that you faced? How did you feel after you conquered it?

I have avoided flying for years because of fear of tsa harassment. I have recently dedicated myself to traveling out of town for conferences and dealing with the travel. What helped me was just committing to things I knew I wanted to do before I let myself get afraid. I want to find ways to let my joy guide me though the fear.

What advice do you wish someone had given to you? What advice would you give to others starting out?

I wish I knew how much of tech is about people. We’re all humans working with other humans to solve problems for humans. The machines are incidental. Software is one of the apex human endeavors, like art, music, and literature, because we’re encumbered by so few constraints, and so much of our work relies on sharing our minds with other people.

What are your hobbies?

Video games and cooking are my main hobbies. I also enjoy 3d modeling and animation, reading trashy urban fantasy novels and binge watching 90s TV on Netflix.

What do you like about St. Louis? The midwest? Why do you live here?

The cost of living is great here, and we have more culture than people would expect. Mostly though, I have family here and that comes before everything else for me.

Who inspires you?

There are too many great answers here. Big names, of course, but I think mostly it’s the women I meet locally. Women who are where I am, in the field I love, doing things that I aspire to and that are attainable to me.

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