Alexandra Johnson - Geek Girl Rising
Alexandra Johnson

Alexandra Johnson

Software Engineer

SigOpt

“Be persistent. Whether you’re reaching out to a company or tracking down a bug, there’s usually more than one way to solve a problem.”

Alexandra is a software engineer at SigOpt, a San Francisco startup helps companies test products and optimize their performance by using machine learning. She graduated from Carnegie Mellon in 2014 with a degree in Computer Science has worked for Polyvore (acquired by Yahoo) and completed internships at Facebook and Rent the Runway.

Years in industry? 1 year

Who or what inspired your career in tech?
My parents both majored in computer science and electrical engineering back in the ’70s, then worked in startups in Silicon Valley for almost a decade. They’ve encouraged me to pursue a career in tech for as long as I can remember.

What is your biggest career success to date?
I recently graduated from Carnegie Mellon University where my biggest success was running a student showcase celebration for the School of Computer Science. SCS Day is a time for students, staff and faculty to show pride in their school and share how diverse their talents are outside of the classroom. I ran the event for three years, then successfully handed it off to future generations of undergraduates.

What has been your greatest career challenge?
It feels like the greatest challenge in my career is always the most recent one. Last week it was learning how to interview internship candidates. I shadowed ten hours of interviews, mock-interviewed two of my co-workers, and then conducted four hours of interviews.

What advice do you have for other women in tech?
1. Build trust with the people who are evaluating you. We can grow through criticism, but not if the delivery is extremely uncomfortable.
2. Know what you value. Is it autonomy? specialization? product influence? mentorship (as mentor or mentee)? Think about these before you start a job search.
3. Be persistent. Whether you’re reaching out to a company or tracking down a bug, there’s usually more than one way to solve a problem.

What’s been your best hack ever?
Applying problem-solving techniques from computer science classes to my personal life. For example, when approaching a large problem, I break it down into small, easily parallelizable sub-tasks.

Who are your role models?
Sheryl Sandberg. I read her original Vogue interview while I was still in high school. The highlight of my internship at Facebook was meeting Sheryl at a barbeque she hosted for female interns. And Karlie Kloss. I’ve had an interest in fashion for a long time, and I’ve watched her career because we’re about the same age. She’s extremely successful and very hardworking.

If you could go back in time, what’s one tip you’d give your teenage self?
Listen more. You’ll get to meet so many amazing people, take more time to learn about them.

What do you do when you’re not kicking butt at work?
I like driving my pickup truck out to star parties at the Robert Ferguson Observatory, Paint Nites, yoga, running, crafting, bead weaving, attempting to draw, among other things. I live next to a building supply store so last week I decided to build a bar for my housewarming party.

Flats, heels or kicks?
Heels, as high as you can get them.

Best career advice book? 
Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It’s a classic.

Who are the women in tech that you most admire and why?
Celeste Baranski, one of my parents’ close friends, who’s been working in startups in Silicon Valley since before my parents met. Jess Lee, whose passion for Polyvore took her from inquisitive user to CEO. She’s also the nicest and most likable person I’ve ever met. Kristin Yvonne Rozier, Assistant Professor at the University of Cincinnati, who was my long-distance high school mentor. Her presence motivated me to become involved in the community of women in computer science. Camille Fournier, formerly CTO of Rent the Runway. Follow her on twitter @skamille and you’ll see why she’s a great role model.

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