Alex the Great
Alex graciously agreed to get up early on a Sunday morning and take Beth on a run-through of her regular weekday commute. Gallivanting around Fremont to find the most perfect lighting with this badass woman was a delight that we can’t wait to share with you, so without further adieu…
Tell us a little about you.
I’m a designer and artist living in Seattle, WA for the past 4 years.
I graduated from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities in 2012 with a degree in Computer Engineering (emphasis on architecture and embedded systems). Desperate to get out of the Midwest, I took a job at Microsoft and moved to Seattle.
I worked as a Program Manager at Microsoft in System Center and then Internet of Things for a total of about 2 ½ years. I wore a lot of hats and gained a lot of valuable and not-so-valuable skills, but the most important thing I learned was that my real passion lay in design. When I was attending, my college had few (if any) HCI or UX design classes, so I didn’t even discover the discipline until post-graduation.
I felt conflicted for many months, trying to decide if and how I should make a career transition from PM to design. My design portfolio was non-existent, so I stood little chance of getting a design job at another company. I had no idea where to start, and was terrified at the prospect of just quitting cold and starting on my own.
Still too scared to quite, I bought an Adobe CC license and every night after work would spend hours teaching myself Photoshop/Illustrator/Indesign. I started looking for freelance work to get myself started. Then, one day at work, management announced that our project was effectively getting shelved and we would get redistributed to other work. This felt like a sign if there ever was one — a large majority of the team left in the following months, and I was one of them.
After leaving Microsoft, I had no problem finding steady work as a freelancer doing UX, visual, and graphic/production design. Although I was successful, I missed working with a team and yearned to contribute to larger scale and longer term projects. I had gained an interest in data visualization and design challenges around the subject while working on previous projects, so I decided to shoot for the stars and took a job with the top company in the field – Tableau Software.
By day, I work as a UX Designer at Tableau solving amazing problems around data visualization and analytics. By night, I create art, run, and do graphic design. Chances are you’ve seen some of my work on light poles, wheatpasted poster walls, the Seattle Times, and too many magazines for me to remember.
Tell us about what you’re wearing.
For my first outfit, I’m wearing a vintage London Fog raincoat that I couldn’t pass up from the thrift store. I’m complimenting the boxy, dramatic look of the coat with a form-fitting dress and Oxford shoes. I like how the dress is understated enough to not compete with the coat, but can still stand on its own.
I decided to wear something more casual for my second outfit. This is what I usually wear when I go out after work to my neighborhood bars, and is one of the outfits I feel most comfortable in. Also, I’m always cold so I like layering! The t-shirt is by Actual Pain, purchased from Alive & Well in Capitol Hill, Seattle. The earrings are from a thrift store, and so is the jacket.
This third outfit is a little more formal. I’m wearing a shirt that’s easy to get out of the closet and over my head in a rush but still looks pulled-together. These are my favorite headphones; I get so many compliments on them and they were only $5 at Target!
How did your style evolve to what it is now?
My style has evolved from something I’ve envisioned for a long time but have never been able to execute. I grew up in a very conservative household where deviating from the norm was heavily looked down on. Every aspect of my appearance was monitored and I wasn’t allowed to do things like cut my hair short or wear certain styles.
In college and even a few years after graduating, I sometimes continued to struggle with this mentality. Even now that I could dress how I really wanted to, I oscillated between the self-image I had in my head and a style that made me blend in. Worrying about what other people (especially men) thought took up way too much of my time.
For a while during this time, my style was more on the showy, attention-grabbing side and changed a lot. It wasn’t bad per say, but (like everybody else) I was trying to find myself and decide what I really wanted to do in life. Changing my clothing and trying every box hair dye color on the shelf was my way of coping with these insecurities.
I didn’t discover real confidence in myself until I moved into design and started freelancing. I started with an empty portfolio and no connections, and within 2 months was booking 40 hours a week doing something I loved. For the first time in my life I felt truly independent, and finally started caring less about everybody else’s opinions.
It’s a continual journey to true self-assurance, but I’m a lot closer than I was before. Today my style feels casual, polished, and 100% me.
Do you have any style icons or favorite brands?
I’m most inspired by the people I see in my own neighborhood. The people of Seattle have a unique style that puts individuality and functionality over being sexy or attention-grabbing.
As for brands, I like the understated, classic style of American Apparel but don’t shop there much anymore because I’m not a fan of some of the recent issues with the company and how they treat their employees. I do a lot of thrift store shopping now instead. My biggest issue is that because I’m so small, it’s hard to find things that fit right!
Any advice for a young person thinking about getting into a STEM field?
About 90% of what you learn in school you will never use in the real world. About 90% of what you use in the real world you will never learn in school.
What would you say is the project you’ve done that you’re proudest of?
During one freelance project, I designed the UX + UI + Visual library for an entire web application that serviced 3 very different user types in only 40 hours (the client had a time constraint). It was an insane week but to this day I consider it one of the strongest projects on my portfolio.
Are there any misconceptions about STEM fields that you’d like to clear up?
When I was young, I was told that if you want a good STEM job you have to take it at a STEM-focused company. For example, if you wanted a good software engineering job, you should go to Microsoft.
This is utterly wrong. There are plenty of companies that produce products that have nothing directly to do with STEM but still have awesome STEM jobs and employ some of the best in the field. Take a job at a company that does something you’re passionate about and you’ll enjoy your job a million times more.
Anything else you’d like to share with the audience?
While I work in design for software, I also have strong skills in print production, which is a little unusual for someone in my role. A lot of graphic and advertising design nowadays ends up in digital media like website ads and e-mail flyers, but I like being able to seamlessly move from RGB to CMYK. So much of our lives nowadays are spent moving between digital and physical interactions, and I find that so interesting.
My interest in print came about from my interests in art and drawing, and a strong admiration for vintage concert posters. I was able to get steady contract work from an advertising agency that specialized in wheatpasting for events and brands and it was one of the coolest jobs I’ve had. You gain such a greater appreciation and insight into your own work when you can touch it and hold it with your hands – something I can’t do with the software interfaces I design!
What is the best way (if any) for people to follow you on social media?
We love that Alex brings her passion for graphics into the STEM world – and also clearly into her outfits! It was such a privilege shooting someone with such confidence in herself and her abilities – thank you so much for sharing your experiences with us all Alex!
Dona & Beth