Linda M. Sorrels

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How many years have you been in tech?

15 plus years

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

Growing up in rural Southern Illinois and graduating in a class of just over 100 students there was not a lot of encouragement from the staff or direction to plan to go to college. Most of my classmates were planning their wedding for June the year they graduated and headed for work at the garment factory, Comic Book printing company or the coal mines, all which were considered good paying jobs. But I knew I wanted to go to college. I didn’t know how that was going to happen and I had no role model. Funny that one and only meeting with the Guidance Counselor I was given three career fields suitable for me, a female. I could be a nurse (why not doctor), a missionary or a teacher. Wow! Three choices. I was always a good student and knew I was not good with sick people, so I choose the teaching route.

After following a McKendree University classmate to Virginia, I graduated from Hampton University, one of the top historically black universities in the world and landed a teaching position in rural North Carolina. I could not get a teaching position in Virginia, so I car pooled two years to North Carolina in order to get the experience I needed to get a position in the Virginia school system.

I called HR for three solid weeks in the summer to get a position in the Newport News, Virginia school system. At that time, their idea of “school integration” was placing Caucasian teachers in the predominately black schools and African American teachers in the predominately white schools. The learning experiences teaching Math and Science in the inner city for two years lead me to counseling. I felt I needed counseling courses to help my students as well as myself in understanding the daily struggles they were experiencing with drug abuse, alcoholism, sexual abuse, pregnancy at 13 years old, parents who were in prison or a single parent who had abandoned them to their grandparent to raise.

I continued counseling my students in the classroom and was later hired as a Crisis Counselor in a major hospital Emergency Room.

It was time for another career path and I choose to get a degree in Computer Technology and was hired by a major astronautics firm in St. Louis, McDonnell Douglas Astronautics Company later Boeing Company.

How were you exposed to tech?

I interviewed with a McDonnell Douglas recruiter in Virginia Beach for a position in St. Louis. I chalked up this interview as a practice interview in how to conduct yourself for a technical interview. I just knew I was not the person he was seeking to fill the position. I only had one skill out of the five requirements he was looking for. I was extremely surprised to get a call the following week to fly to St. Louis for more interviews.

I interviewed all day and was passed from one supervisor to another from 8:00 to 5:00. Again, I did not expect to get this position. Chalk the full day of interviewing up to practice answering technical questions. I was sitting in the lobby waiting with another female interviewee who had recently left the Navy and had certification on a weapons system. I flew back to Virginia that week believing she got the job.

I received a phone call the following week offering me the position as the first female engineer hired to teach the US Navy and US Air Force the Weapon’s Control System for the Tomahawk Cruise Missile. Add to my extreme delight in being offered the position was that I was offered a salary for one week what I was being paid for one month in my current position.

I went through training in St. Louis and in six months I was given Top Secret Clearance and was in front of a classroom of 25 Air Force personnel. Quite a change from teaching Math and Science to troubled teenagers.

What is your current role?

Agile Quality Advocate

What is your proudest accomplishment?

Being brave enough to change careers five times and finding each career change being better than the one before. I have been blessed to have jobs that I loved and a husband who encouraged me to make the move, if that was what I wanted to do. I have also worked for awesome companies who encouraged their employees to take college classes and paid for their degrees. I encourage everyone to take advantage of free company tuition reimbursement, I have at every opportunity.

I have taught the US Navy in VA Beach, VA and Port Hueneme, CA, the US Air Force at Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, Arizona, and Field Service personnel headed for overseas assignments.

Also very proud that I had the opportunity to travel to 26 state capitols, Washington DC and Puerto Rico multiple times a year presenting a case management system to the Disability and Determination System for the Social Security Administration.

Additionally, I attended StarWest Development and Testing and IoT conferences affording me the opportunity to be a Session Speaker to present, “Mobile Monsters” at the first Asynchrony Internal Conference 2016.

What are you learning right now?

I am working with a great group of Swift and Ruby developers and try to learn something new each day. The opportunities are great here at Asynchrony to pursue any skill you would like to pursue, one only has to ask for ‘Guru Time” with someone who can tutor you. Working with a group of very talented creative people also keeps you wanting to learn more.

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

I still suffer from Imposter Syndrome and try face my fears head on. I know I am in a safe environment to fail and learn. I give myself six months to learn something brand new and it has always worked for me.

I still remember the many many times where I was getting on a plane Sunday afternoon to fly to an account to train groups of Case Intake workers, Examiners, Supervisors, Doctors and Lawyers on the latest Disability and Determination System release on Monday morning. It still runs a shiver down my back remembering I only had a week maybe two to learn the changes before standing in front of 30 case workers and all that could go wrong with very little QA performed ahead of time. I spent many hours on the phone with the St. Louis office developers during breaks, lunch hours and after hours to get me the latest fixes to what we discovered during training. I earned my “Ruby Slippers”.

Ah! The joys of waterfall development. I am so glad those days are behind me and I know there is a much better way of writing code and delivering working software. Why did it take me so long to discover Agile Development?

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

While teaching Math and Science many years ago, I always encourage my students, no matter their gender, to pursue career choices in Math and technology. I encourage all females to go after careers outside the “normal expected field” and have no fear. It will be okay and the workforce is so much more accepting now than it was for me 15 plus years ago.

What are your hobbies?

I enjoy party planning, collecting children’s glass dishes from the early 1900’s, taking Dierberg’s cooking classes, attending fundraising events with my friends, and spending one full day a month with my sister, who plans our St. Louis restaurant dining experience.

My husband and I also enjoy landscaping projects together and have five late 1960s Ford Mustangs. My husband never wanted Christmas or birthday presents during our marriage.  So I was quite surprised, after 15 wonderful years of marriage, he said he wanted something for Christmas this particular year.  I bought him a  classic 1968 California Special Mustang.

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

I love getting off the elevator every morning walking into our old Cupples warehouse workspace. Asynchrony has a unique blend of races, ages, skill levels, religions, educational backgrounds and expressive individuals. We can all learn more from each other than computer languages, frameworks, design and infrastructure.

Anything else that you would like to add?

I am not going to mislead anyone that my work experiences have all been perfect, but I have been fortunate to have never been made to feel like I was not welcome or capable as a result of my being a woman. And you have to remember I started my career in the technical arena over twenty years ago, when there were very few women in the room. I raised a lot of eyebrows, but I worked hard and proved myself capable.

I started my latest career in 2011 and there were only 8 women on a floor of 90 young male developers and software programmers.  It has been a true joy working with my young male and female co-workers and I want every woman regardless of her age and experience to feel that way. I believe in a future where the horror stories experienced by some females are just a memory of the women who were strong enough to keep going when they were told to give up or the going got rough.

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