Meet Tonia. She’s saving the environment with code.

She talks about being a developer and how she got started

Tell us about yourself

I am a Software Developer for the Wisconsin Internet Mapping group at the US Geological Survey. I build applications that support the USGS and other federal science initiatives. I’m a wife and a mother of two. I love mountain biking, my family, and my job.

What do you work on?

I work on the front-end and backend, writing web applications in ASP.NET, JavaScript, that use databases like Oracle and Postgres; or services such as ArcGIS Services.

Endangered Species

One of my projects is an application to help promote the recovery of endangered species by determining whether pesticide use in a certain geographic area may affect a listed species. Farmers visit the map to make sure that the pesticide they intend to use is allowed.

Hurricane Response

Another project is used to collect data when a hurricane hits an area. Field personnel record significant activity from Geo-located sensors (like storm tide sensors) deployed at different sites. Data and reports are used by managers to help them determine the degree of response they should take for their area/community.

How did you first get started in your career in tech?

I have an undergrad degree in Geography with a focus on Urban Planning. After a semester in the Master’s Degree program, I realized my dreams of curbing urban sprawl and ending over-consumption of our resources were not as easily attainable as I thought.

I changed course and got certified in GIS. I was a GIS Analyst for 4 years, before going back to school again for a 2-year Programming degree.

How did you develop your technical skills?

I developed my technical skills slowly over time with a lot of practice. Once I decided that I wanted to do more with GIS (Geographical Information Systems) rather than be a cartographer, I went back to school for a 2-year degree in Programming.

The degree definitely helped build that foundation of programming for me. StackOverflow.com and various other websites helped me whenever I got stuck on something.

How do you keep up with changes in technology?

Technology is always advancing as new libraries, languages; and tools are released and then expanded upon. I recently learned AngularJS; from a primarily C# and Javascript background. I took a few Pluralsight tutorials, read a book that helped start my first application, and then used the internet as a major tool whenever I got stuck on a problem or new feature.

What does success mean to you in your career?

Success to me can be measured in daily accomplishments all the way up to the major release of a huge application. This is one thing I love about my job.

I can struggle and search out answers to a problem I’m having, and get frustrated that I can’t figure it out. But then there’s that moment when I finally get it and the code works! That is such a great feeling! That is success to me.

Having positive user’s feedback about an application I’ve created is also success. Knowing that I am creating applications that will be used for flood relief or to protect endangered species is major success for me.

Tonia’s awesome co-workers

What is your work culture like?

One of the things I love about my job is the work culture we have. There is a sense of this extended family within our group. Our boss is laid-back and encourages us to do our best. He shows he has complete confidence in our abilities and praises our work when we succeed.

Our team is pretty spread out, with developers from California all the way to New York. We do a lot of Google Hangouts, group chats, get together for our yearly retreat, and usually attend a professional conference.

Most of our projects involve a few developers working together on different aspects of the project. We all work hard and rely on each other for help and support. We follow through on that reliance.

Is a career in tech something that anyone can tackle?

I think anyone can tackle any job they set their mind to, if they try and learn. Would just anyone want to pursue a job in tech? I don’t think they would.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to initially. In all honesty, my husband talked me into pursuing it when I was trying to figure out what I wanted to go back to school for. I love doing puzzles, I am a very analytical person, I kind of like things done in a certain way (usually my way) and I am determined to get something done right.

I think the most important thing to consider is, you need patience to be in tech. Applications are not created within an hour and constantly learning new skills requires time and practice.

What is the key to your success?

I’m a hard-worker, a team-player and can get along with almost any type of personality. In my experience, working in tech means working in a team, and being able to work together and communicate, regardless of gender or any other differences, is important.

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