Women+ in Tech: Alex Behrman & Lily Chang

Whitney Choo
Mar 30 · 9 min read

To celebrate Women’s history month, we want to highlight some of the amazing women engineers here at Policygenius. We got a chance to chat with two of our engineers about their initial journey into tech, their day-to-day and what advice they can give from their experiences.

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Alex Behrman (left) Software Engineer & Lily Chang (right) Senior Data Engineer

Hi Lily and Alex. To start us off, can you please share a bit about your background, and what your day-to-day looks like?

Lily: I joined Policygenius about 3 years ago as a data engineer. I’ve recently been working on data pipelines, data warehouse, and currently been working with the product team on a lot of the product facing data pipelines. My day to day looks like a lot of pairing and code review, stakeholder meetings, and project planning. The rest of the time, maybe 1–2 hours, I have the luxury of individual programming time.

Alex: I’ve been a software engineer here at Policygenius for about 10 months and I work on our internal CRM tool. My day-to-day consists of a lot of pairing and a lot of coding. A few meetings interspersed, but most of my time is spent pairing and coding with my team.

What are you working on now that excites you?

Lily: Currently I’m working with the product team on a lot of product facing data pipelines. Some of these will, and have had, a big impact on our operational efficiencies. An example of one process we improved would be Operations performing manual data entry and updates. This consists of an Ops member going to a carrier site to check if a life insurance policy has been approved or not, and then manually inputting the status into our internal CRM. Using the industry standard data exchange protocols, we were able to completely automate the process and reduce the turnaround time from about 2 days to just a few seconds. It’s amazing how technology can completely cut out tedious tasks and in this case, help us help our customers, faster.

Alex: In a similar vein, I think automations and reducing turn-around time is a really cool thing to be working on. Getting life insurance to our customers used to be a very manual process for our operations team, but we’ve done a ton of work creating a robust automations pipeline that has significantly reduced the number of manual touches our Ops team have had to take on per case. By enabling our Ops team to do their work more effectively and efficiently, we’ve been able to give our customers a better experience buying life insurance. There’s still a ton of room for innovation and improvement in the process, and being able to work on that each day is really exciting and rewarding.

What is it like to be a female+ engineer at Policygenius?

Lily: It’s just like how male engineers or employees are treated in Policygenius. This answer is relieving because to me, there isn’t a difference in the way female engineers are treated here. I don’t feel like I get more attention or less attention, I do the same amount of work, just like how everyone else is treated equally here.

Alex: I totally agree with that. I do the same type of work male engineers on my team do, and there’s never been any difference in how I’m treated or in the way my work is given, viewed, or anything like that. We’re all part of the same exact team and doing the same work. I’m valued as a person and not a female engineer.

So tell us about how you made it here to Policygenius. Did you always know that you wanted to work in technology? What led you to develop an interest in this field?

Lily: My undergrad degree was in linguistics and teaching. Then I got more interested in working with numbers, so I went to grad school for social econometric study. In the first few years of my career, I did a lot of number crunching and learned to automate a lot of this using Excel VBA, Stata, and R. After that, I taught myself Python. Python is such a general purpose programming language and has a great ecosystem around data science, web development and just about anything else. Learning Python really sparked my interest in technology and opened the door, for me, to the programming world.

Alex: I had never even considered being an engineer or working in tech while I was in college. I thought I wanted to be a lawyer so my undergrad degree was in History and so, I got really good at writing a ten-page paper in a day. Math or coding was not even on my radar. I was a paralegal for a while and realized I did not want to go to law school, so had a bit of a quarter-life crisis. A friend of mine was an engineer and she showed me what she was working on and I thought it seemed pretty cool, so I started taking some online courses and found that I really liked it, and was good at it. So then there was a question of whether I go back for a Masters or do a bootcamp. I ended up going for a Masters in computer science, and that’s how I made the transition into being a software engineer.

Since both of you switched career paths, can you tell us more about what that was like? Do you have any advice for someone who might also want to make the switch?

Alex: I did a lot of research before making the transition. I wanted to make sure that this is what I really wanted to pursue since it would require a lot more schooling. I had to know that I was completely invested in this idea before I made the switch. I researched a ton of schools and bootcamps, talked to some of the female engineers I knew. I got their advice on whether or not I should do this and whether grad school or bootcamp was more worth it. I solicited any type of advice they might have. With all of those considerations, I took my first course and realized I liked it. That solidified the idea that it was the change I wanted to make and that it was right for me. Altogether, it did take about 3 years to get through all the additional schooling, so I would encourage others to do your research and make sure it’s really what you want to do.

Lily: This might sound really dire, but it took me more than 4 years to make the switch from linguistic to an engineering job. Because I did my undergrad in China, when I came to the US, I couldn’t apply straightaway to a computer science program. So, I chose something in the middle, a social science program, where they taught SPSS, Stata, and R, for analyzing data. It was my first step into a scripting language. There are a ton of great courses and resources online, and to get my foot in the door, I completed a lot of Coursera and Udacity courses. They have wonderful nano degree programs that were about $50 a month at the time. It took me about 6 months to complete a nano degree, but by the end of it, I had a portfolio of 6 projects that I put up on Github. Fortunately for me, my Github portfolio ended up impressing the hiring manager at my previous job, and helped me make the transition into technology. For anyone who wants to make the transition, don’t let the time commitment scare you away. It will take a lot of time but the results will be worth it.

Now that you both have transitioned to technology, have either of you encountered any challenges or adversity in your career because you are a female engineer?

Lily: Not necessarily here at Pg, but in the past, I’ve definitely been talked over in the meetings by other male counterparts. Sometimes others would be acknowledged for restating what I had said. Or I would get passed on a promotion because male coworkers had a better relationship with the male manager and leadership. The more recent challenge I had was coming back as a new mother from maternity leave. I basically had to spend more than 2 hours in the mother’s room, by myself, with my laptop and my pumping machine. That was a big transition for me to be isolated for two hours and having to explain to other people, ‘Oh I have to go pump,’ if someone were to try scheduling a meeting over my pumping time. That was the first biggest challenge as a female [mom] engineer here, but I’m sure that I would have the same experience elsewhere, at different companies.

Alex: Yeah I have similar experiences of being talked over, or male counterparts restating what I’ve said and everyone thinking it’s a new idea. As I’ve progressed in my career and through the different jobs I’ve had, I’ve changed and become a lot more vocal and direct at work. It’s harder these days for people to talk over me, restate my ideas, or not value my work on an equal level as my male colleagues, because I just don’t let it happen anymore.

On the flip side, what do you think is the best part about being a woman in technology?

Alex: I think there are so many opportunities for women in tech right now. I think there’s a really amazing push right now for diversity and inclusion, and I think as women, we have a chance to really drive that change and have a big impact there. I think there are great networking, conferences and leadership opportunities specifically for women. There’s so much room for improvement so it’s really exciting to be pushing for that change. Obviously it’s tough that this change hasn’t already happened and that it’s not an equal playing field right now, but I do think it’s really cool that we get to be the voice and the catalyst for this change.

Lily: I really like Alex’s answer. Having more women in technology will really bring our perspectives into the field. We’re building a product for everyone, not just men. There are things men wouldn’t understand, like the nursing experience, carrying a child to term, et cetera. Those are first-hand experiences we can bring and build into the product experience.

To wrap it up, what advice would you give to the younger generation looking to pursue a career in technology?

Alex: Do it. I think the technology field as a whole is constantly growing with new opportunities appearing all the time. Especially as a woman, if you’re interested in being in the tech field, absolutely go for it. Exciting things are happening. Things are challenging, things are changing, there’s just so much innovation happening in this field. It’s a really exciting time to be working in tech.

Lily: From my background and experience, I would say find out if it’s your true passion. If it is, like Alex said, just do it. I was pursuing the science track in high school, but the reason I went into a liberal arts linguistic major was because my aunts told me, ‘You’re a girl, so teaching would be a better fit for you’. That was a choice I regretted for years. Just because norms expect a certain way for you, doesn’t mean you have to follow. Teaching was really not what I wanted. Don’t listen to the crap that the older generation or society tell you about what girls can or cannot do. If that’s what you like, go for it.

Alex: Not even just the younger generation, Any generation can make the switch. I think a lot of people think you have to have your life figured out by the time you go to college but for many people that isn’t true, including both of us. So many people are going back to school to change their careers. It’s never too late to switch and to start pursuing a career in technology. It doesn’t have to be just when you are younger. If it’s something you’re into, no matter where you are in your career, it’s an option and something you should look into.

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Interested in working with these amazing ladies? We’re hiring!

We’re growing fast and looking for people with grit, collaborative attitudes, and creative problem-solving skills to join our team. We’re a growth stage startup expanding both our NYC and Durham headquarters. If we’ve piqued your interest, check out our career boards here!

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