We’re pleased to introduce this new blog segment, a piece designed to celebrate the journeys and achievements of non-traditional tech talent in our community. MnTech is committed to continuing the work necessary to strengthen, energize, and diversify the tech ecosystem. Whether you’re a woman, BIPOC, someone without a traditional IT/CS degrees, someone who’s considered early/late in your career, you’ve recently made the leap into tech from a different industry, you’re actively searching for a new tech role, etc, we’d love to highlight your story and shine some light on the diverse variety of backgrounds and paths that lead folks into technology.

From Britney to backend developing
As a young girl, Alicia Smith had distant dreams of pursuing a career in IT when she grew up. She idolized her father, a former mechanical engineer at Pillsbury, and aspired to follow in his footsteps one day. Though in hindsight, Smith says it’s possible that the young Alicia had incorrectly presumed her father was baking cakes and cookies at work instead of engineering and constructing bakery machines and equipment.

Smith’s dreams were dampened as a child after being told that her hopes of being in IT and software development would not pan out in her adult life; she was told that these career paths were unrealistic for women. Although discouraged, she didn’t let these words keep her from pursuing her interest in IT during her free time. She continued to be fascinated by technology and computers, and even began building and designing her own websites as she got older (her first being a site devoted to Britney Spears). 

A safer choice
Despite her interest in STEM fields, Smith admits she didn’t enjoy school as a teenager and was an average student. However, she couldn’t rid herself of the lingering doubts that IT was not a realistic pathway. With the additional familial pressure to become a first-generation college graduate, she decided to get her Bachelor’s in Business Administration, knowing that it would be a somewhat simple path to landing a stable job and getting her foot in the door in a broad industry.


Alicia, her husband, and their two sons

After landing a role at an IT agency after college, Smith quickly fell in love with the job and was getting a taste of working in the field she’d been passionate about since childhood, though not in the exact capacity she had always dreamed of. From there, she moved into sales and account management positions at various tech-enabled companies. Not long after, she married and started a family of her own, keeping busy with the joys and struggles of new motherhood. It wasn’t until she was laid off from a job in 2015 that she began to think about the next steps in her career; her hopes of developing software and coding had not been lost along her career journey, and Smith knew it was something she needed to finally pursue. With a young son at home, she also realized that she didn’t have the time or resources to go back to school for a traditional four-year computer science degree.

New beginnings with Prime
Enter: Prime Digital Academy’s full stack engineering boot camp program. Smith decided to give the brand new (at the time) four-month program a shot. It seemed to be a realistic and tangible way to quickly gain the skills needed to enter the IT workforce, given her other responsibilities. The following months were long (50+ hour weeks) and strenuous, jam-packed with learning foundational concepts, techniques, and coding languages, networking with trusted tech mentors, and gaining teamwork, leadership, and professional growth skills. Smith graduated with the first-ever Prime cohort, comprised of 20 individuals from a diverse variety of backgrounds.

Six weeks after graduation from Prime’s Beta Cohort, her lifelong dreams were finally coming to fruition. She was hired as a programmer on a master data management team working in support development and data structure, and triaging user issues and bugs. The lucky employer? C.H. Robinson, long-time MnTech member and Fortune 500 transportation and logistics company. Smith’s natural people skills and passion for IT allowed her to climb the ranks quickly, with her most recent title being a Software Engineer II on the shared billing team.

Alicia’s self-proclaimed STEM idol: Reshma Saujani

Leadership at Robinson
Though she takes great pride in all her time at the company, Smith is most proud of her role in founding the Women in Technology community, now a formal employee resource group at C.H. Robinson. She quickly discovered that the tech world is largely dominated by white males and found herself yearning to connect with other women within Robinson. Deeply inspired by Reshma Saujani (Founder & CEO of Girls Who Code) and fueled by the doubts of others, Smith set her sights on creating a community for women and by women – a place to share challenges, insights, and opportunities with one another. Women in Technology dove headfirst into giving back to the tech community by partnering with organizations like Girls Who Code and Technovation[MN] to participate in external events that promote and support young women in STEM. Members of Women in Tech are passionate about supporting, mentoring, sustaining, and developing the next generation of female technology leaders. Smith has served as President of Women in Tech since January 2019.

Reflections and words of wisdom
Fast forward to the present day – Smith has been working remotely from her home office over the past year. Despite the natural highs and lows that have defined her journey into tech, she reflects on the last several years with a deep sense of pride and gratitude. She gives much credit to her mentors, leaders, and managers at Robinson, who took a chance on a relatively unknown Prime grad with no prior developing experienceThere were bumps along the road that accompanied her lack of experience. She recalls being written off at times, despite her vast domain knowledge, noting that senior developers would trust the insights of one of her more experienced or male colleagues over hers. However, Smith notes, “My thing was that I was always going to prove you wrong.”

Her advice for tech companies looking to expand? Think bigger picture. Spoken like a true Minnesotan, Smith says, “If you go fishing at the same pond, you’ll always get a walleye. If you’re looking for different flavors, different knowledge, you should find a perch, pike, northern, or bass pond. Not everyone has the same flexibility and life situations to pursue traditional paths. That doesn’t make them less smart or less valuable – it just means they had to do what they had to do to get to where they are. Corporations need to take note of that.” As for other non-traditional tech talent individuals who feel discouraged about getting their foot in the IT door, Smith emphasizes the importance of being constantly curious, passionate about learning, and able to adjust, adapt, and admit to mistakes. She advises to treat job hunting as a full-time role, if possible: set up a schedule, timebox your application tasks, join an IT community, and develop and code in your free time. Most importantly, she says it’s crucial to seek out mentors, ask for help, and be unapologetically authentic. 

A well-traveled path and a fresh start
Reflecting on her personal and professional triumphs and goals, Smith notes, “I didn’t think I’d be here five years ago. I’ll continue to set goals to impact the community and grow my knowledge through forums, events, networking, and analyzing data structures. We need to teach young women that it’s ok to be in quality assurance, project management, IT, and MIS… because I would be so much further along than I am right now if I had those tools. But it’s been a great journey and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

Alicia and her father

After nearly six brilliant years at C.H. Robinson, Smith has officially accepted a position at General Mills and will be transitioning to a senior business analyst role later this month. In her new role, she’ll be examining consumer data and applying it to General Mills’ marketing technology space. Though she’ll always hold a special place in her heart for software developing and is tremendously proud of her time at Robinson, she misses the “people side” of the business. She’s eager to dive into this new space where she’ll combine her technical skills and ability to speak the developer’s language with her sales & marketing prowess and affinity for building relationships. Her new role at General Mills brings her journey full circle in a way; Smith is one step closer to being “just like dad” (Pillsbury was acquired by General Mills in 2001). The young Alicia can take comfort in knowing that her adult counterpart would one day make a name for herself in the tech world and play a key role in paving the way for many generations of young women to come.



Adriana Nguyen

Marketing & Events Manager