Galacia Pokos has always loved creativity and teamwork and, contrary to common misconceptions, these passions set them up perfectly for a career in computer science. After initially studying art and game design in college, they put their many skills to use in the tech field. Galacia currently works as a software engineer at a cyber insurance company in Boston, Massachusetts.
We chatted with Galacia to learn more about their journey from artist to game designer to computer scientist as well as their efforts to make the tech field more inclusive for queer and trans employees. This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Tell me a bit about your career trajectory and how you became a software engineer.
Technically, I didn’t start my career out as a scientist. I was actually going to school for graphic design, which slowly transformed into game design because I wanted to work on art for games. And then the game design major had me taking a lot of math and computer science courses.
After I graduated with my game design degree, I found out that in the Midwest, where I’m from, they don’t hire many game designers. And so I very quickly went back to school to finish up my computer science degree because I was already so many credits into that program. And so that, plus an information in mathematics degree, kind of set me up for a software developer job, which they do hire for here, thankfully.
I was working here [in the Midwest] for quite some time after college. But I recently started working remotely for a company out in Boston, Massachusetts. And that’s been really great, because I get a little bit of a glimpse into the bigger, wider world outside of my little tiny bubble here in the Midwest.
Does working as a software engineer involve a lot of team-based work?
I feel like a decade or two ago, it was very much the “code monkey locked in a cubicle” kind of situation that a lot of developers were put into. But a lot of folks have recognized the value in the teamwork aspect of it and bringing multiple minds together on things.
And I’ve always really liked that. In fact, that’s one of the reasons why I went away from the art side of things. I did freelance art work for a while and it was really, really lonely. And so I went into computer science knowing that this shift had started happening where you can work in teams on different projects.
What is your favorite thing about your job?
What I really like about my job is the problem solving aspect of it. When I went to school for art, I didn’t realize at first that the part I liked the most was hearing people’s problems and then solving them using illustration or animation or whatever the client happened to need.
And that translated really well to computer science. I see computer science almost as more of an art form and that’s been a neat way to go about things. It makes every day a little more interesting to see it that way.
How has studying game design helped you in your work as a software engineer?
The main skills that I took away from being a game designer are communication skills. The school that I went to, Dakota State University in South Dakota, focused on not just teaching you one facet of game design, but a deep enough level of all of the different facets of game design, so that you could communicate with anybody at any part of the process.
I think that’s gotten me a lot further in my career than anything else, because I can talk to a product owner, who knows nothing about computer science at all, and speak to them at a level that they can understand. And I can connect with all the different teams that pull a website together.
You’re also an artist, right? What kind of artwork do you do?
When I was very, very young, like five years old, I did a lot of art. That was basically what I was encouraged to do all the way up until it was time for college. And that’s why I originally went in that direction. I was always really into doing studies of animals and anatomy and stuff like that.
And then as I got older, and consumed more media, I realized that I can use my studies of real life to come up with really cool science fiction ideas. My husband and I are actually putting together a whole sci fi universe. At the moment, it’s mostly just for our personal enjoyment, but maybe someday I’ll actually get something out there.
What has it been like to be a nonbinary person at a tech company?
I’ve been doing my best to try to carve out LGBTQ+ spaces locally, and specifically in tech. At the company that I was working for previously, I was the only nonbinary person that I was aware of and one of the very, very few developers who wasn’t a cis man. So my solution to that was to create a Discord for local tech folks in the industry that fall into the LGBT umbrella. And I also got the opportunity to give a short talk on how to build up those kinds of communities.
But my efforts on the local side have also been vying in my mind with the efforts I’ve been making at my new workplace. I’ve been trying to help them diversify their hiring pool as well as trying to get regular pronoun workshops.
Has your company supported your efforts to improve LGBTQ+ inclusion?
Yeah, there’s been a lot of respect and support at all levels, both at the top and the bottom. I think the main issue is that there just haven’t been enough folks to say, “this is what we need” or “this is what I’ve seen work in other places.” And so that’s kind of what I’ve helped bring. And a couple other folks too. I’m not the only one concerned about it, which feels great because it seems like a really arduous battle when there’s only one person doing it.
What drives you to do this work to make the tech world more inclusive?
The tech space specifically has really been male dominated for a very long time. And I know it’s not the only field out there with this problem. But I feel like because it’s my wheelhouse, I have a certain amount of responsibility to make it a better space.