Woman in STEM: Alli Koester

Nebraska Women in STEM talked to Alli Koester about her experience pivoting her career from healthcare to tech.

Alli Koester began her career in healthcare. Her love of science and physics led her first to radiation science before later pursuing a more personal connection with patients as a physician’s assistant (PA). During that time, she had two children and her priorities shifted from work to family. She found that being a PA didn’t allow her to balance her life how she wanted to.

“Most of my career was in surgery, which included long hours, early mornings, late nights, weekends, holidays, on-call, everything,” explained Koester. “The hours were very unpredictable. I had to ask myself if I was going to keep doing what I was doing and become burned out, miserable, and miss out on important pieces in my kids’ lives that I didn’t want to miss out on, or make a switch.”

Koester decided she needed a different career but didn’t know what would be a good fit for her.  During the COVID-19 pandemic, many colleges and universities were offering free online courses, so she took a variety of intro classes to explore her options. One of the courses was in web development and she realized she enjoyed it. “It piqued my interest, and I knew I found the path I wanted to take,” said Koester.

Koester found web development to be very similar to being a medical provider. Koester explained that when you’re looking at code, you’re diagnosing the problems, finding the solutions, solving the problems, and giving a better solution. “You do this by speaking code to a computer instead of medical language to a patient,” she said.

Koester enrolled in different web development programs, boot camps, and classes to improve her skills. She came across the Pathways program offered by Don’t Panic Labs in partnership with Doane University and applied. At first they didn’t have room for her, but Koester persisted and ended up in the program.  She was later hired by Don’t Panic Labs as a software developer.

Koester loves the flexibility her tech job has given her. “Having just a little bit of flexibility goes a really long way, especially for working parents,” said Koester. “Kids get sick, kids have appointments; there always seems to be something that comes up. So having a profession that is at least a little aware and okay with those things is really nice.”

After joining the tech industry, however, Koester realized how male-dominated the industry is. “A lot of software development, principles, and foundations were founded by women, and it was initially a female-driven career,” explained Koester. She has hope that more women will once again pursue tech jobs and tech employers will make more inclusive spaces for women to thrive. Additionally, she hopes there can be more education for women about different STEM career paths and professions, so they have a better understanding of the options available.

Koester’s advice for other women in STEM, especially those thinking about making a switch in their career, is to do it. She said that if you find yourself unhappy in your career, it’s never too late for you to change it, and your skills will transfer to your next job in ways you don’t always anticipate.

“Making that switch is hard, challenging, and it makes you uncomfortable, but ultimately it’s worth it,” said Koester. “I’m feeling a lot better about my work-life balance now that I’ve made the switch. It’s nice to be working for a company that’s supportive of adjusting your time and aware that things come up. It’s amazing and it makes all the difference.”