June 28, 2021
Inclusivity on the GIS Front: An Interview with Ally Reynolds
By: Lillian Minix
Timmons Group is proud to be a leader of diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts in our industry. This year, we became a member of the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion coalition, continued our commitment to our Diversity in Design and Women in Design resource groups, and established our very own Diversity Council.
In the spirit of Pride Month and on the topic of inclusivity, I wanted to highlight one of our own Timmons Group employees who identifies with the LGBTQ+ community. So, I sat down with Ally Reynolds to discuss her role at Timmons Group and her involvement with our firm’s Diversity Council.
When Ally isn’t spending her working hours as a GIS professional, she is hosting focus groups and discussions surrounding inclusivity as part of the Timmons Group Diversity Council. The Council, made up of several professionals from across the firm, is an extension of our firm’s commitment to promoting diversity, inclusion, and equitable practices firmwide. To get a better understanding of Ally and how her career and passions for inclusivity overlap, we met for a cup of coffee to have a candid conversation.
Let’s start with a little background on Ally’s GIS experience.
Ally is a project manager in our E-Government Solutions group and her role focuses extensively on automation and integration. Following preparation for a career in physical therapy with a Biology major and a minor in Spanish, Ally encountered an opportunity that would grant her access to a unique career move. After one week of training, she got her start in GIS when she was deployed to work with FEMA while enlisted in AmeriCorps post-school. Ally and her cohorts worked for a few months from an old Cold War FEMA bunker in Maynard, Massachusetts, just 30 minutes outside of Boston.
“The main project we had in Region 1 of our FEMA deployment was identifying staging areas to distribute emergency supplies post-event,” Ally says. “We used GIS technologies and based our findings on things like demographic data, parking lot size, and accessibility to preemptively determine sites that could be usable in the future.”
Ally has since grown her GIS expertise at Timmons Group.
Timmons Group hired Ally after her FEMA-based role moved her to Washington, D.C. She says that she saw a future for herself at Timmons Group because her applied experience was valuable for her group’s needs.
Since then, Ally has diversified her expertise in coding languages, a variety of GIS software, and business relations. “I write Python scripts to automate things for clients. Some municipalities have this process that takes them hours to do every week, so I will write a code that helps them do something in 7 minutes overnight while they’re not even working,” she says. She works in GIS programs like Esri’s ArcMap and ArcGIS Pro and coding programs like FME that help her write scripts that can integrate multiple data types.
A large part of Ally’s workload includes helping municipal clients determine what software can improve the process of updating their databases. “They need data that can keep track of where employees are working so they can do transportation planning or road design, so we help them integrate their databases and update things like addresses, names, and employer accounts,” she says. The ‘transformer’ type scripting she uses can be simple or extremely complex depending on the client’s needs.
In her role, Ally manages both clients and a support team.
Like many of our Timmons Group geospatial team, Ally works quite a bit from home. Her job is almost entirely electronic- and internet-bound, so accessing her files, researching, and working with clients are all things she can accomplish remotely. She’s been a huge proponent of streamlining communication methods for her group too. “When Covid hit, all our files and channels were Microsoft-based [SharePoint and Teams] which made it easier for us to communicate within our team and with clients,” Ally says. She rarely sees her clients in person because they’re based all over the country, so programs like Teams and Zoom have been an integral part of communications for her job as well.
When she’s not working with clients directly, Ally is managing five other people on her team. She supports her teammates as they acquaint themselves with different types of GIS projects and she helps them hone in on their expertise. “I started out as a tech with Timmons Group, so I know the type of work they’re doing. Getting accustomed with the building blocks of GIS was an integral part of my work, and now I’m helping them find their way in that too.” Ally says.
As a manager, Ally understands the importance of providing a collaborative atmosphere for her team. “Figuring something out on your own is really satisfying, but I want my team to be comfortable asking me for assistance. There’s definitely a balance, so I try to be a good manager and encourage my team to come to me for questions or clarification when they need it rather than spinning their wheels.”
When she’s not working, Ally spends time with her partner, her family, and her suburban-home-turned-mini-farm.
Alongside keeping up with her teammates and clients, Ally also keeps in touch with her family remotely, most of whom live in the Carolinas. She grew up in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, more specifically the City of Concord. Her mom and brother both live in Raleigh and her twin sister lives in Columbia, South Carolina.
While Ally was a North Carolina girl born and bred, she’s put down roots in Richmond with her partner Jenn, who she met while working at Timmons Group. Jenn was also a GIS professional in Ally’s group, and they worked on several projects collectively before Jenn moved on from the firm in February of this year. Ally and Jenn were both openly queer in their respective timelines at the firm, and Ally says that they have always been supported by coworkers, management, and clients.
When the pandemic hit, Ally and Jenn moved from working side by side in our Richmond headquarters to working back-to-back in the office of their 100-year-old home that they bought in Carytown in October 2019. When they’re not behind their computers, they spend time making updates to their home, raising six chickens and a dog, tending to their berry bushes, and installing garden beds that are filled with asparagus, which Ally says look like fluffy trees when you happen to let them grow too long.
Ally’s passion for inclusivity has landed her on the Timmons Group Diversity Council.
“I was invited to be on the Council by our Director of HR Shannon Hayes,” Ally says. She explained that it’s been a great experience for her so far and that it’s nice to see perspectives from people with different backgrounds and who span multiple generations.
The Diversity Council recently hosted a series of focus groups through its council members to gain insight from employees. “I hosted a focus group with a colleague and we had a great conversation about maternity and paternity leave with our coworkers, which we learned last week has already led to changes in our benefits packages,” Ally says. “The conversations we have are really refreshing. Our colleagues have been vocal about what things they would like to see changed, and our Council is producing results.”
Ally says that her colleagues on the Council are very invested in the longevity of results they can produce. “To attract and retain talent, we are excited to offer resources that promote inclusivity, diversity, and equity throughout the firm that are long lasting changes, and I’m glad to see Timmons Group taking initiatives to do that.”
Though Pride Month is coming to an end, the conversation surrounding inclusivity continues in the GIS industry and at Timmons Group, which Ally says she looks forward to being a part of. She’ll continue to provide support for her team and help set inclusivity standards in her role on the Timmons Group Diversity Council.