Carrie Hamm, local software developer and Bellevue Club member, admits computers weren’t something she was into originally. “Learning computer programming was not voluntary,” she says with a laugh. Basic programming on Commodore 64 computers was part of her school’s curriculum in Huntsville, Alabama. “I hated it. It was my least favorite thing.
“But as computers became more prevalent, I knew how to do it and had some experience, and that became kind of the running theme of my life,” Hamm says. “I knew how to do it, and people were always asking me to do it.”
Still fighting the urge to commit to a career in tech, Hamm, now 42, attended the University of Alabama Huntsville and then Auburn on track to do something entirely different. She first studied visual arts and music, then switched to English and political science, eventually interning with congressman Bud Cramer.
But she still dabbled in computers on the side. “I remember playing around with the earliest versions of Photoshop and wanted to experiment. And the earliest versions of AOL, Prodigy and Delphi that’s when it started to get fun. I was like, ‘People do art. I can even talk to people in other countries on the computer.
“When I was in college, the web was new, and there were so many things we could see on the horizon, things that were going to be possible. My friends and I were always trying to figure out how we could leverage the web with our limited tools and personal websites. Email was still UNIX, and in pushing through its limitations, we were gaining valuable experience”
That’s when things started to shift. Realizing the field offered good salaries and a strong future, Hamm made the jump into professional computer programming when she started working for a temp staffing company that needed to create a resume database and search mechanism—something she hadn’t done before. However, in all her tinkering, she had discovered she had a distinct knack for “figuring out how to make things work.”
“I was just trying to solve a problem, make it easy,” she says. “For me, that’s what I really like about technology—solving people’s real problems in an elegant way, trying to make life easy.”
After gaining more experience working in a few other companies, including one where she had to automate methadone pumps, Hamm moved to California and eventually Seattle, tech Mecca.
“Working for Microsoft wasn’t a dream job—it was more: that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to make that happen,” she says. In 2004, she started her first consulting position with the industry giant. “At first, it didn’t go well,” she says. “I brought my small and mid-size business mind to this very established corporate culture.”
After a short time, Hamm switched divisions at Microsoft and eventually found a niche for large-scale data regulation and governance projects, ending up in the marketing, licensing and IT. But after having her third child, she left Microsoft to start her own business, a home retail and design company. Anxious to keep her toes in technology, however, she started in the IT department here at the Bellevue Club in 2011 (prior to becoming a member). Her job was a major implementation of CSI, the enterprise club management system.
Unfortunately, during that time she encountered some major health problems. “I started to undergo this massive degeneration. I went from being in pain in December to being unable to walk in February. It got worse and worse and worse. Everyone kept saying my back was just out of alignment,” she says. “I was going to see a chiropractor just to come into the office for an hour.”
Eventually one chiropractor told her it wasn’t her back causing the problems, it was an inflamed colon. The doctor suggested that she cut out all grains from her diet. She was a little skeptical, but says she was willing to try anything.
“After three days I was beyond 100 percent. I had all this pain and it was coming from what I was eating,” she says.
But to present day. Hamm says she currently feels healthier than she did in her 20s (she eats essentially a Paleo diet). And she hopes to mesh her technical skills with her passion for the arts, and maybe even her desire to help people take control over their health as she did.
“Mobile app development, being a creative person, that’s a natural step for me,” she says. “I’m really interested in user experience design. Front-end design is so important, and I haven’t had a lot of influence in that in a while.”
“I have a list of four or five [apps] I’m interested in and one in particular that’s health-related. It’s primarily meant to serve people with similar food sensitivities.”
Regardless of the exact direction she takes next, Hamm says she is happy she chose to make technology her career, and she encourages other young women to give it a shot as well.
“Women are very needed in those positions. They bring a different quality of interaction to a group. They advocate for different things, they have a different tone. It makes a company much more robust—and it’s not just women, but all points of view.”