Ep#85 Being a Vulnerable Leader takes Strength

August 31, 2022

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Headshot-AlexHead

About the Guest

Alex Head

I have developed the ability to present highly technical topics to any level of business; and I can do it in a meeting or on a stage, over audio or video, or through media produced myself.

For the majority of my career, I've had the fortune of working in direct-client facing roles where I get to experience technology use across a myriad of organizations: enterprises, government, financial services, high-tech, health care, service providers, hosting providers, web monsters – and everything in between. I have moved through engineering, architecture, sales and marketing roles.

I have been exposed to and am versed in a wide variety of technologies, protocols and product vendors. I incorporate this into my work through storytelling, community building, organic social growth, video content strategy and overall content production.

I also possess an entrepreneurial, growth mindset and exercise this through my own endeavours and exploration. Everything I learn from that, I then apply to my professional career.

Episode Summary

#jonmyerpodcast #jonmyer #f5devcentral #myermedia #podcast #podcasting

Being a vulnerable leader shows strength and empowers your team to do more! The success of our next guest was guided by her perseverance and her determination. Alex Head, Head of Optimization at AWS decided that it's ok to show your vulnerable side from personal to professional. No longer was she going to faking it till she makes it!

Interesting in learning more about Brand Relationships and Content Creating. Check out my podcast with Corey Quinn HERE!

If you're interested in learning more check out the AWS WAF Website.
Are you looking to attend an AWS Summit or maybe AWS re:invent, more information here!

Episode Show Notes & Transcript

Host: Jon

Please join me in welcoming head of optimization, an author behind the article. I won't fake it till I make it anymore. Alex Head.

Alex. Thanks for joining me.

Guest: Alex

Thanks for having me and good morning.

Host: Jon

Yeah, good morning. So Alex, we first had a chance to meet in reinvent 2021, did a quick pitch or pose, and we've been trying to coordinate this for some time. Now we are eight months later, so better, late than never. We at least get a chance to get it done. I really appreciate you joining the podcast today.

Guest: Alex

Oh, I'm really excited. I, um, and a, a big shout out to Steph on my team because, uh, she did your podcast a few weeks ago. If you haven't listened. Listen, it's so good. If you guys listening now soon she was recording it. I was like, oh, to, um, so apologies on that. Uh, email is not my strong point. Uh, you, I tell the team slack all the way. Um, unless, unless it's gonna take me a minute, it is going to take me a minute. <laugh>

Host: Jon

Slack chime and then email wait. Okay. So Steph was awesome to have on the show. So huge shout to her. Thanks for a plugin to it. In fact, let's get to a little fun fact about you. I heard you like podcasts. What's your favorite podcast?

Guest: Alex

I do. I do. Um, so I, I always listen to the daily every morning. So I would say that's probably what I, I go to, but someone on my team, Eric Peterson recommended to me recently to listen to dead and gone. And it's about, um, grateful dad and these like mysteries surrounding him. So I'm like heavy into that right now. My husband Joel is, um, big, grateful dead fan. So I feel like I'm trying to connect to his music a little bit as I listen. Um, but I I'm a podcaster for sure. Like I will pick up podcasts and then even if I only have five minutes in between calls, like turn it on right away and listen to it and, and go into it. And then this one all time shape

Host: Jon

<laugh>, you know, that was sort of a semi trick question. Put you on the spot. I'm like, please say me please. <laugh>. So Alex, today, our topic is screw the five year plan be unconventional and your career has been anything but conventional let's take a step back. You were actually an animal science major at Auburn <laugh> yeah. Did you go from animal science to tech?

Guest: Alex

Yeah, so growing up, I always worked at a vet. Um, it was right down the street from where I grew up. I think I ended up spending a total of seven years there and I loved it. Um, and so when I went to Auburn and I grew up in Atlanta, when I went to Auburn, I was a, I decided to go into animal science and I went large animal science, which, you know, you don't get in Atlanta much, but I was, I was hanging out with the cows. Um, and uh, I had an offsite with some of, uh, my team last week and someone had the funny phrase of, from cows to clouds. Um, and I think I might stick with that as my tagline for now, but, uh, about, I guess starting my junior year. Um, and I was not good at school. Uh, I think I graduated high school with a 2.9 GPA and I graduated college with a 2.9 GPA.

Um, but I was a really hard worker and I needed to like have real life things to work towards something, to learn something new. Um, so about going into my junior year, I was like, there is no way I'm gonna get into bed school. There's very things that I did not know. There's very few bed schools in the country and they don't accept very big classes. Um, and then I was like, I'm gonna graduate. I'm gonna be in debt and I'm not gonna make much money. I was like, do I love animals this much? Or can I just have my own animals? <laugh> so, um, and I wasn't good at organic chem. That was my, my worst one. So I, I went to my college counselor. I was like, I wanna graduate four years. I'm not spending time. But, um, what do you suggest I do?

And he suggested I stay with animal science to go ahead and graduate on time, but he was like, I've noticed that you've taken all of your electives in math. And I was like, well, yeah, cuz that's an easy a and he was like, well, I don't think most people would say that. Um, he was like, maybe look at something to get your foot in the technology world. Uh, and then like three days, yeah, I graduated on a Friday and then that Monday I started in technology recruiting, um, kind of thing where like they hired all these kids outta college. Um, you know, a lot of it was commission based, so it was low risk for them. And when I was doing recruiting, I thought, okay, now I'm gonna get an inside look into these companies in Atlanta and I'm number one, gonna be able to see like what company culture am I really drawn to and excited about.

And then also as I'm filling these different roles for them, what skillsets and projects that they're working on seem really exciting. Um, and I knew that I probably wouldn't get into the role first. So I went with company first and I weather channel was one of my customers. I walked into that building and fell in love with the culture and the people. Um, and the, uh, one of the leaders at the time rising Kohl who, uh, still a mentor to me, he was like giving us a tour. Um, it was a big group of us and the way that he talked about the teams and the projects, I was like, well, I have no idea what the cloud is, but I've got to be a part of this <laugh>. So I waited and, uh, financial analyst, mind you, I have no finance background. Um, <laugh> I, I probably had not even been in an Excel sheet, uh, before, but a three month contract had opened up for a financial analyst and I completely, uh, am I allowed to cuss?

Host: Jon

Yeah, you are allowed to cus don't worry.

Guest: Alex

Um, I completely bullshit in my way through the interview and the person who interviewed me shout out to Landon is still one of my very close friends. Um, and they were like, do you know how to do a V lookup? Do you know how to do this? So I was like, yeah, of course, absolutely. Um, one person in the interview asked me what cloud was. I don't even know how I came up with that. Um, but I started, I was doing like invoices for them. I kept hearing AWS this AWS that they were doing a huge migration from, um, all these data centers, because the weather channel it's like basically mandated by government to keep a certain like number of years of weather data. So there's so much data. Um, and they do really awesome things like that. Like say you can partner it with a light, right.

And say, when the weather hits this in Chicago, people drink more of this. Um, so there's like awesome insights in it. And this is like nine years ago probably. Um, and so I kept hearing AWS, AWS. And so I bought AWS for dummies. I, one of Steph's favorite stories to tell on our twit show, uh, is I printed out our bill, um, which was hundreds of pages and lined it up on the floor. I actually ha like slept walk one night and just lined every piece up to try and figure out what the billing meant. Um, and then at the end of my three month contract, I went to the, the VP that, um, I had kind of pseudo been supporting and was like, Hey, I think that you can monitor and plan a little bit better for these like invoices that are coming in, if you do X, Y, Z.

Um, and they hired me, uh, full time and I got to kind of grow with their footprint on the, on the cloud. Uh, and then I guess probably 10 days after I started full time, um, I got diagnosed with stage three cancer. And so I was like 23 years old. And I finally gotten the job that I've been working towards since I was a junior in college. You know, the thing I thought was unobtainable. Um, and it was a wrench in the plans and I worked through it and I don't, I don't know if I would suggest that. So if you're listening to this and you're going through a health issue, um, take the time, create the boundaries. Um, but I worked through it, uh, came out on the other end, thankfully, and then just really hit the ground running with what I was doing with weather channel and, and growing and, you know, kind of being that AWS business owner, uh, took online classes and it just evolved from there. So that, that was probably the very long winded version of it. <laugh>, but that is the cows to cloud <laugh>.

Host: Jon

I think I'm gonna use that title for this episode, you know, also, you know, screw the five year plan unconventional from CALS, the cloud cloud. So let me, let me step back just a little bit. You were at the weather channel and while you were there, actually in, in college, you liked math. And when you went to the weather channel you were doing and the recruiting part you analyzed, and you actually were looking at some of the capabilities that, uh, other tech companies were hiring, and then you took those and did you actually take it and work towards those types of education and training? So you could be more, you know, acceptable into the, like the weather channel or how did that work?

Guest: Alex

Yeah.

Host: Jon

And by the way, I wanna real quick, I wanna jump in there. I read your article on the, you know, your diagnosis. I want to touch on that. I don't wanna skim over that. That is very powerful message that you have for everybody. I wanna leave that. Just, we're gonna talk a, a good deal about it. I'm so glad the outcome, but it I'm gonna share everybody your article. I read it this morning and again, and it's very empowering, but let's talk about how you went from recruiting to the weather channel.

Guest: Alex

Yeah, so, and, and, and I'm not saying that I was like some, um, overly wisdom 22 year old, because I don't think there was method to the madness, but what I did without realizing it is I didn't necessarily say, oh, this job has Python. Let me go learn Python. I looked at kind of the projects and the aspects of what they were delivering that really got me excited, that I was like a problem that I was thinking I could solve. Cuz I'm very much, as I said, I was not, not great in school, but if I have a project or something I'm working towards, I can learn anything. I mean, a good example is, um, our, our team optics at, at AWS, we were during pandemic, we were putting out all this virtual content because that was the easiest way to reach customers. And I wanted to have a way for internal teams to use it and be a little bit more accessible.

So I started to, to learn some CSS and JavaScript to make this cool interactive website. And if I have like an in project, um, I can learn a ton. And so I'm more looked at like, what are their results that they're delivering that, um, that I was drawn to. And then I wasn't afraid now I would say I'm not afraid to, but then it was probably more, just all the energy in the world as it present in my twenties, but I wasn't afraid to change what seemed cool. Right. I, I mean, I think when I first started recruiting, I really liked some of the work I did with Turner broadcasting. And, um, I was like, how cool to be, you know, drawn to some of these projects that they're doing with like the NCAA and love sports. And, um, and then I realized that, like, that wasn't, you know, that was way more of a niche, like what was more of the deliverable around that. Um, and so that's how I let that guide me to like, projects that then I could learn skills around.

Host: Jon

So at the weather channel, you were, uh, a consultant or on a contract base, and then you got a full time position a week later, you received your surprising news. Like it was, it was a setback to you. Right. How did you take that? And what were some of the obstacles that you had to overcome during this time?

Guest: Alex

Ooh, well, so I've always been, I, I, you know, you read my article, something I'm trying, I've been trying to actively work on. I've always been a very closed off person. Like I, I would say, you know, I keep my, not that it's healthy. I keep my emotions to myself. I keep my feelings to myself. I just kind of put up those walls. I always have this defense mechanism on mine. And so I had before, when I was like in contract, I had gone to the doctor a couple of times and I was like, I have this full and lymph node on my neck. Um, and they kept on telling me, I mean, I think I went to three different doctors. Um, it's strep, it's just lasting a long time strep it's STR is strep. Um, and so I was like, okay, I don't like going to doctors to begin with.

I was like, hands off <laugh>. Um, and I honestly thought I was, I was slowing down, uh, and I thought, oh, I'm just out of my college years. Like just getting tired, you know, um, taking, thinking that way. And then this random person came up to me in the gym, ended up being a heart surgeon and said, I like don't mean to make you uncomfortable, but you have this lump on your neck. And I said, oh, I know I've gone to the doctor. They say it's nothing. And he was like, well, have they tested it? And I said, no. And they, he was like, do you mind if I just get you in with one of my friends, um, at, uh, the hospital that was near us. And I was like, sure, whatever. And then, I mean, I, within 48 hours, um, is I had the, the diagnosis.

And so I, and, and at the time, my now husband and I had been, had been dating for a bit, but not like long time. Um, and we were really good friends before we dated. So I was like, okay, here's your, here's your out? <laugh> um, you know, we could stay friends and he ended up, I think, like moving in the next, the next week. Um, but at work I had to be open about it with people that I didn't know very well. Right. I was, I was about to be bald. I was about to have to take time off. Um, and it's crazy. The first person that I said on my told on my new team was in town from Seattle, his name's Cameron. And, um, he, we had all gone out to lunch to like welcome him, um, in, you know, to Atlanta for the week, we were gonna work on some projects and I just felt comfortable around him.

And I just told him, and it turned out that his mom had almost the exact same diagnosis as me six or seven years prior. And Cameron is now, I mean, he's uncle Cameron now because he's so involved in, in our family, we lived across the street from him in Seattle. Um, and I just, I made these lifelong friends by being vulnerable. And I don't think that I realized that until later on in life, but it puts you in this weird situation of these people were new to me. They didn't know me. I was the youngest by far. Um, it was so I was, you know, one of the only, only females and a lot of them had worked together for a long time. And so it was like, I couldn't hide it. I wanted to, but you know, I, I didn't have the option. So it kind of pushed me into that, that realm for the first time, um, which ended up being a good thing, but very scary. <laugh>

Host: Jon

Were you ever embarrassed and scared to be vulnerable at the same time and share this personal information about you? And it's like, you just wanna be reserved, but now you have no choice because it's gonna become obvious.

Guest: Alex

Oh my gosh, absolutely. I mean, it was, I think, I think anytime even today that I, I am vulnerable. Um, I get this like gut feeling of regret right after. And I think, you know, people are just gonna think, I immediately think like, oh, people are gonna think, I, I want attention or, you know, I want, you know, their sympathy. And, and really now I have learned that it's more, I'm creating a safe space. You don't, you don't have to share everything. Right. But I mean, for example, about six or seven months ago, um, we went, I went through a miscarriage at about 10 weeks and of course I kept that to my, myself and my husband and our little family, but I've told people on the team now. Um, and people that don't necessarily know me as well, cuz the team has grown so much, um, when I've became comfortable to share it.

And now multiple people on the team that I wouldn't even talk to regularly have come to and talked to me about things they're going through. And um, you know, when you are vulnerable, especially as a leader, you're creating a safe space for other people to be vulnerable to. Um, and so at the time I was doing it more of a survival tactic. Now I try and tell myself, you know, you, you own your personal information, right? Like you don't have to tell anyone anything, but when you feel comfortable or if you feel comfortable, you're giving people the permission to feel comfortable too.

Host: Jon

I think when you open up and you're vulnerable and share some of that, it's not attention gathering. It's allowing others to feel that they are in that safe space and they can start sharing some of that information if they'd like to. And it creates a very comfortable working environment, whether you're a leader in it or you're just on someone, part of the team they'll come and confide in you, they'll open up a little bit more about what's going on personally. So you don't have to guess, it's not like you're gonna be pulling teeth outta them. You they're just gonna open up and share that. And I appreciate you sharing that information, not only about your diagnosis, but also your miscarriage. And I think it just opens up and shows you as a person.

Guest: Alex

Yeah. I mean, I think to, I, I look at, I, I try to pay a lot of attention to leadership qualities and culture qualities of, of different teams and companies that I'm drawn to. And anyone on the team would tell you, I'm like extremely, extremely protective of our team culture. And if there's one thing I'm the most proud of it's that, and you know, that is the space to be human. And I think that we were thrown into that during COVID because you, if you were a robot the whole time, um, you burnt out and you burnt out hard. Um, and we saw it right. And I mean, especially at a, at a company, as big as Amazon, people are gonna burn out, they don't, you know, aren't are probably taking care of kids at home too, balancing their mental health. And like, don't know when to turn, you know, no one knows when to turn the computer off.

My husband had worked from home for like six or seven years by time COVID hit. And that was extremely helpful for me to see him balance it, but we didn't know how to do that. And so giving people the space to feel and be human, um, you know, things like when, when the, of all these shooting shooting happened a couple months ago, um, by son was starting a new school. And it, you know, I mean, I'm sure as it hit so many parents, it hit me really hard. And I told my team, I mean, of course I send out resources for them, but Hey, you know, if, if you're feeling this way too, it's okay. Like, go ahead and take some time, take a breather. Um, because you have to, people will want to work with and want to collaborate and wanna work for people who give them the space to do that.

Host: Jon

I wanna take a step back to back at the weather channel and talk about being vulnerable, but also open it up when you don't know something or you want to ask questions, there's something I read in your article. And, and I think it kind of really speaks to where you were and where you've come to where you are now with your team. Were you always open about asking questions? Were you always open? So Amazon's leadership principle learning, be curious. Were you learning and being curious openly or doing it? You know, privately?

Guest: Alex

I would say, um, I've always been pretty open about what I don't know. Uh, and I've never, I don't know if I've ever really thought, I don't think I've been asked that question. That's a good question. Um, I've always leaned on assuming, I don't know, because someone explaining it a different way can always be helpful. Um, I do it as we hire people now. I, I wanna only hire people I can learn from, right. I, it doesn't do you any good to hire carbon coffees of everyone on the team? And, and that's part of the, the cool thing about optics is everyone has a very different background. Um, and so I try, even in my personal life, when I'm meeting people to learn something about them or learn from them and I, I constantly want to gain those random bits of information. I, I love doing trivia.

I stink at it, but I, I love doing it cause I learned things. And, and I think some of that, I mean, I've always been very, very curious, but I think some of that too, is when I went through chemo because you, you get like kind of chemo brain and then also just mentally, I blocked out a lot of it. Um, I don't remember a ton. And especially now that I have a son, there's some things that I would like to, to share with him from that experience. But I, a lot of it is just Xed out from my memory. And so now I, every chance I get, wanna learn something new or write it down or, you know, remember, um, and, and have those kind of like random nuggets of information. And so I think even at, at weather, I, even if like a project didn't have to do with me, I wanted to learn what they were doing and what worked for them. Um, and just see, you know, kind of understand the, the rhythm and flow of what someone else was doing.

Host: Jon

So at Amazon, you got hired and you had to move over to Seattle, but you're not there now. We'll, we'll get to that in a few moments. Uh, some more interesting question, actually, a spontaneous one. Uh, I heard you're into the NBA. Who's your favorite team?

Guest: Alex

Yes. So the Atlanta Hawks. So I grew up in Atlanta before I went to college. I'd gone to majority of home games from age, like three on, um, they did a huge fundraiser for me when I went through, uh, cancer. And then when I got better, I got to play basketball. They surprised me play basketball with Dominique Wilkins, like one of my, um, all time favorites. And so I am a big, big Hawk fan it's, it's been interesting moving back and not living here and, and being in the position to, to go to more games. Um, and I can't wait to get my kid involved in it too, but, uh, definitely big sports fan Hawks fan. I mean, I used to, when I was little, which kind of goes into my numbers, I would like call out the stats as the game went <laugh> um, and I always thought that's what I would do when I grew up. And, uh, and I mean, I guess it ties to numbers. So I guess it wasn't too far off

Host: Jon

Ty to numbers, head of optimization. Hmm. I, I'm seeing the reoccurring theme here. Your trip to Amazon 10 days after your wedding, you moved out there, talk about don't being afraid of change, because that seems like that's a lot to take on at that time. Now for a quick interruption, a huge shout out to our friends at Veeam for sponsoring this episode, Veeam backup for AWS can easily protect all of your Amazon EC two RDS and VPC data. Wait a second. They can protect my VPC data too. Yep. That's right. Simplify AWS, backup and recovery while ensuring security and compliance. All right. Now, back to our episode,

Guest: Alex

I was horrified. Um, I, I could be totally honest there vulnerability. Right. So when I interviewed with Amazon, uh, and at this point, IBM had weather channel and I worked in Watson and I was, uh, basically my job and I had hired two people. So it was like, my own little mini team was when they acquired a company, which was a lot <laugh>. I had the sort secret IBM constantly firing, uh, that had a cloud footprint, me or someone on my team would go out there and, you know, say first off, like just introductions, get them onto the contracts, all that bar stuff. But then also, can I help you? Can I help save you money? And, you know, can I find some savings in what you're doing? Can we make this more secure, those kind of things. And so at that point, um, I mean, I, I liked what I was doing, but I didn't really see a path.

And I mean, this is the time when, when the word ops did definitely did not exist. Um, even me saying like cost optimization, I, I doubt that was even on my resume. Cause I didn't know, you know, people would know exactly what I meant or think that I was finance. And so, um, my, how did it, uh, AWS contacted me and I did, I did work very frequently with AWS, so that wasn't, it was people that I worked with a lot. Um, actually my TA while I was before I went to AWS, now we just hired him on the team. And so I'm super excited, full circle there. But, um, I got hired with one of the, who was already there to, um, well, let me backtrack. I interviewed for the job in New York city and they flew me out to Seattle for the interview because my manager or like future boss was there and my husband or future soon to be future husband came with me because I was on crutches because I broke my foot a month and a half before my wedding.

And so he came to help and, uh, we were in Seattle. We saw my friend, Cameron, who I mentioned earlier. And, and like, I mean, half a day in my husband was like, we're not moving to New York here. And I was terrified. I'm extremely close to my family. I talk to all them multiple times a day. I'm a huge part of my nieces and nephews lives. Um, they would stay at our house frequently. I lived very close. I had never really lived out of the, I mean, I hadn't lived out of the south. Even when I went to Auburn, I was an hour and a half drive home and he really pushed me to do it. And I'm beyond grateful that he did. Uh, and I started that Amazon and I, we were working, I was working in global accounts and there was one other person who was already doing it.

And we were kind of testing out having these specialists that help you save money. Like our tagline was just like, we're a free resource here to save you money. And at the time global accounts was like 40 handpicked accounts, um, that we, there was multiple specialists assigned in global accounts just to see. And, and I think even because this was such a nuanced experience, my, my headcount was even in, in sales operations, wasn't even, you know, not even a, like really a customer facing team. Um, and it, I had no idea what I was doing. I knew like two people in Seattle. Um, I'm pretty sure I tried to convince, uh, my husband to, to that I could quit like multiple times in the first three to six months. Um, and I felt, I felt way outta my realm. And so, especially being across the country, uh, you know, I think my biggest lesson there is that it takes time and even something that's an exciting thing to share. Like, oh, we're moving across the country. And we definitely popped out by telling everyone at our wedding, cuz they couldn't be mad at us. <laugh> <laugh> um,

Host: Jon

And in 10 days, by the way,

Guest: Alex

Yeah. I mean Amazon, they, they move fast <laugh> you can, uh, they packed up that house and um, quickly, quickly got us out there, but it, you know, it's just because something is an exciting and great opportunity does not mean that you get there and it's like, <laugh> magical rainbows. And you know, the happiest thing in the world, you have to kind of find your path. I mean also at weather channel and IBM that team I worked on for those, I guess it was probably like four or five years, they, they saw me go through it. All right. They saw me learn, they saw me grow a team. They saw me bald, they saw me sick. They supported me. And so going across the country where no one knows that about me. Right. And, and I didn't know if I wanted them to and I was just the new girl in town. Right. Like I was just the new girl on the floor, um, was very, very different. Um, and, and it was, it was hard <laugh>

Host: Jon

While you're at Amazon, you received some surprising news, something that you didn't think was possible given that you went through chemo and through the years, do you wanna share with everybody, which, uh, I'm sure it was ecstatic and surprising for you?

Guest: Alex

Yeah, well <laugh> so a little bit background of, of up to that point. So global accounts continue to grow. Strategic accounts came in, um, my counterpart moved to the financial services side, so it was just me and I, I was getting a chance for the first time to kind of like figure out what model I thought worked, how I would scale. And I just didn't think what I was doing was scalable with 70 plus of the largest accounts. And um, when global and strategic accounts merged, then our, our leader was, uh, Carish, um, shopper who I quoted in my article. And I had known her since my weather channel days. She'd given me great advice in the past and not necessarily been like a meet every month mentor, but when I needed it mentor. And, uh, so I went to, I think like her first time talking to all of global and strategic accounts, which is crazy that at the time that fit all run room.

Now it's like so, so big, um, was our Christmas party. And I went up to her and I said, I'm so excited for you to be here. So excited for, to take over. But, um, I'm gonna take a job running a fin hack program, which is something that I kind of incubated and started in, in global accounts. And she looked at me and said, you're making a mistake and you shouldn't do that. And she said, can we talk about it on Monday? And I was like, I mean, I'm giving her the benefit of the doubt. Of course I showed up on Monday and her and my, um, manager at the time, Hannah had found four headcount for me to hire and become what later became the, uh, the optics team. And so I started hiring and I mean, I started interviewing and at the time this might not mean much to people who were not at Amazon, but I was in, I was in L five. So I was still on kind of the junior side and not many managers were in the L five. And so I was kind of an individual contributor who was also a manager and was trying to hire and figure these things out. Um, and

Host: Jon

Talk about running down and energy.

Guest: Alex

Yeah, well that was it. So I, I had been told since chemo that naturally getting, getting pregnant wasn't out of the picture and I regularly would go in for checks more or less because they wanted to make sure that like hormone levels weren't affecting my bone density. Right. Um, because I was in my, my twenties and, you know, that's, you're not supposed to have those low levels and then that kind of thing. And so I think maybe December I had gone in for just like my checkup and they were like, yeah, everything's good. Still, you know, still have really low levels. And they were like, your immune system's a little down. So just take it easy. It was reinvent time. So I did not take it easy. And, um, I just thought that I was just running on fumes cuz I didn't wanna disappoint getting this opportunity.

And you know, I'd gotten headcount without writing a paper, which is a Amazon miracle or some, um, they were giving me a really amazing opportunity. And so I just kept going, going, going, and then February came around and um, just like some, a normal medicine that I take. Um, I thought it needed to be adjusted cause I just did not feel great. And my doctor was like, no problem. Um, but you know, just for liability sake, you have to take a pregnancy test and then you can, we'll switch up your medicine. Um, and that pregnancy test was positive. And I think, uh, my husband and I in our one bedroom downtown Seattle apartment miles away from our family were shocked. Uh, I was also already pretty much done with my first trimester at that time because I had no idea and

Host: Jon

Uh, things were changing quick.

Guest: Alex

Yeah. Um, and I was terrified to, you know, I was like, well, I'm building this team another kind of moment of, of vulnerability of like when, when I got diagnosed not to, not to compare pregnancy with cancer, but when I got diagnosed and I was newly, you know, on a team, I was like, shoot, you know what, what's gonna happen here. And I definitely got in my head about it and I was exhausted. Um, and I was traveling all over the place. And so it was this kind of all out sprint to hire the team before I went on maternity leave. And so I did that. I hired my last person the day I left from maternity leave. And then on that day, Carla, you know, to, to walk me out and welcome me to maternity leave said, um, I think that you, you should name the team before you leave because she wanted to separate us a bit from the, the more central kind of cloud economics teams, um, give us our own internal brand.

She was like, it just kind of gives you something to do the work chart with never thought that anyone would call us this and me and Andy and ally, uh, which if anyone watches some of the optics content, the frequent members rode on a whiteboard, um, all these different names. I have a picture of it on my LinkedIn and Carla picked optics. And then I went on maternity leave, scared outta my mind that I was gonna come back and this team was gonna be like, why do we need her? Right. They didn't. I mean, I, I, and it ended up being the best manager experience I could have possibly asked for because it showed me what I can step away from. It also showed me where my value is when I came back, like where I could help. Um, and it allowed people to kind of onboard on their own. And when I got back, everyone was calling us optics and <laugh>, that was 2020. I came back the day, Seattle shut down for COVID. And um, my team was poor people at that time. So March 20, 20 <laugh> and here we are, we're in August, 2022. And I believe we just hired our 42nd person, which is just crazy. <laugh>

Host: Jon

I did not know that's how you came up with optics because your team is well known outside of the Amazon community. In fact, that's where I reach out. Or if I'm like, Hey, do you know a member of the optics team? And they're like, yeah, sure. Whatever. I, I didn't know that that's a good, uh, premise into the birth story or the name of the team.

Guest: Alex

Yeah. I mean, it it's still like AI, Andy and I always talk about like, would we have picked something different if we knew that this brand had taken off like this, this is crazy, but

Host: Jon

We have a different name, you know what? No, it's great. That that's how it works out. And I think that's how change and life has driven into during the transition of going on maternity leave. How did you learn to balance your work and your personal life throughout this transition? Because now your family's growing and you have to juggle it and you're at home everybody's home while your son's being born. And now you have to be even more vulnerable because the family's at home.

Guest: Alex

Yeah. And daycare shut down. And we had no, no help. I mean, um, you know, our friends that lived across the street, they would, and, and they don't have have children. We all kinda learn to be parents together. Um, there's like a six of us who actually all went back to weather channel days. They were there the day I told them him all, I had cancer who we lived maybe within a half mile of each other. And we all like all Cameron, Chris me were all in technology. Um, Rhonda was over there designing airplanes at Boeing. So one uping, all of us. But, uh, I think we, we would just take turns pushing Warren around the neighborhood when one of us had a big call and we, we made it work cuz I mean, I also couldn't fly family out there. It wasn't safe. I didn't want, you know, my mom to, to get sick or, um, I couldn't be exposed to much cuz I had, I don't have an immune system.

So I had to be very careful. Uh, and so we created this bubble and we all figured it out together. And um, but if, if I hadn't have had car, if I hadn't have come back from maternity leave and still been working and, and Carla's org, I think it would've gone a lot different. Like, um, she really, she championed me when I was on a call and I had Warren bouncing on my lap and you know, they, she really made it kind of that safe space to do that. And that showed me that it was okay. And, but when it comes to prioritization and again, this goes back to what example am I setting to, to my, to my kid, but also to the, the team. And there's, I could be doing a million things at once at any given time. And so, especially when we're all at home, you have to sit down and you have to think like, what is the most important?

And to me, absolutely what comes first is my partnership with Joel and my marriage because I'm a 10 times better mom and we're better parents together when we're in sync, when we're a team and you know, when we're giving each other the time to, to kind of be together and have that. So, you know, during the pandemic, we would say one morning, right? Like right now we still do it today. Um, one morning, a week we push meetings a little bit and go play tennis together and have that time. And then of course prioritizing Lauren and being a mom. And sometimes the, the schedule is uncontrollable and that's okay. Um, but I think being human makes you way better at your job, right? Cause when you know that you can step away and be a human, um, and, and have the support, then you can probably be a lot more supportive to the team.

Host: Jon

I think the pandemic has taught us something about those who go into the office every day. And then they're at home. They had two personalities, they had their home life and then they had their work personality. And what they did is now everybody's at home, you are at home in your own setting, but you're on camera. Nobody knew how to juggle that and how to be a human at the same time of ju you know, their work and professional life. You're allowing people not only to be vulnerable, but to humanize them that it's okay to, you know, okay. My kids will step into my camera, my recording sometimes, and I will leave it in the recording as, Hey, you know, what's going on, what's now you can't, you know, do that. And the reason to do it is I want people to realize that it's okay.

I don't edit recordings when we mess up or we, we make a mistake. I had one where we were in the middle of it and you could see her daughter crawling under the table, behind the camera to get passed. And I told her, she goes, what's going on? And I was like, I won't tell you now until the recording's done, but we'll go. You know, and what it does is it allows everybody that things are all right, leave them be as they are. And you're doing that for your team. You opening up as a leader, allows your team to say, Hey, listen, can I push this back? I'm just having a lot of family stuff going on or I gotta go do something, whether they wanna share more details or not, when they do share those, you know, that you have a deep connection with them.

Guest: Alex

Yeah. And I'd say that it's, I've learned recently too, that it's twofold, right? It's about being comfortable with what you're prioritizing and, and vocalizing that. And also, you know, putting those boundaries up. I mean, I had, uh, someone a couple months ago set up a call with me at 6:00 PM. Um, which happens because I'm on east coast and a lot of Amazon's on west coast. And I said, Hey, you know, that is in the middle of screaming kiddo time. Um, and the person responded was like, oh, no big deal. That doesn't bother me. They can be, you know, they can be hanging out. And I realized, I was like, no, that's not the right answer. Right. Yeah. It it's not about, oh, you know, having the, the, you know, not being on camera does like, doesn't bother me or something like that. It's about, no, this is my kiddo time. Right. This is my sit on the floor and hang out with my kid or hang out with my, my husband and be a human <laugh>.

Host: Jon

No, I agree with you. It's alright. In some settings, obviously during the day, if something goes on, but we're not a traditional nine to five anymore. If there's something happening at lunchtime, I actually block out my lunchtime with my kids home during the summer, and I try to give them lunch. And then we go out to the pool for like 30 minutes. I was like, I know we're on a short time, but this is the time that no meetings happen. And when you work on the east coast, west coast wants to start at your noon time. And it's, it's all a juggle. When I ask people, Hey, what works best for you? Here's my calendar. But if you don't find something that's, uh, convenient to you, let me know. I'll move some things around, but I'm totally respectful of everybody's time. Before we wrap things up. I have a quick question for you. We're gonna get off topic to some fun facts. Okay. I heard you're into crafting. Do you wanna talk about some of the stuff that you've built or crafted behind you?

Guest: Alex

Oh yes. So I actually built the desk and I'm sitting out with, I can't move my camera around the seat, but oh

Host: Jon

My God. I want the camera to see what, what do you mean you,

Guest: Alex

You built it? I sent, I mean, out of other things, I like placed put like a bunch of desks together and, and pieced it together. Um, but I have like my, my desk, my dog's bed is under it. And then I have a crafting table over here and a puzzle table over here. Cause I, I have to give myself the, the mental, mental space, my, my best friend, Alex, which is kind of confusing Alex and Alex, but, um, is, has always taught me and, and actually came and spoke to my team and, and taught the team the importance of finding micro joy. Um, and so things like micro joy is maybe been 10 minutes on a puzzle or, you know, getting to paint for a second. So behind me, I have, well, this is from my son's like preschool class. Um, we bought an auction, um, this, I painted it's celebrate weirdness and innovation, um, by Anthony Bourdain.

Who's, who's one of my favorites. And of course my, my shout out to Seattle in the Hawks. Um, and then pretty much like everything behind me is something I made. Um, my, uh, alley who was one of my first hires on, um, on optics, gave me this wine bottle behind me that says do epic shit. And so I have that on there. And Savannah on my team made the origami balls that are up there too. And, and then over here are what I'm reading right now. And I am obsessed with biographies auto biographies specifically. Um, I have a, a to Z challenge, which maybe I can kind of see. Yeah.

Host: Jon

Oh, nice.

Guest: Alex

Um, so I try to do every, uh, letter of the alphabet and, um, am constantly listening or reading biographies. If I listen, I always buy the book cause I wanna gift it to someone too. So, um, it is, that is my, a story of my micro choice. Um, behind me,

Host: Jon

Alex, in your article, you have a plaque that says, get shit done. And let me tell you what you're definitely getting shit done and all this, there it is. I'll, I will definitely put a link, uh, in the description below to your article. I find it very empowering and allows people to be vulnerable. I really appreciate you sharing, you know, the insights with you. What is next for you?

Guest: Alex

Um, okay, so I'm gonna tell you what's next, but I, I get final question because I have to learn something from you in this. Um, so,

Host: Jon

Oh wow. Put me on the spot. Hold on a second. Okay.

Guest: Alex

<laugh> what's next is, is, I mean, stuff like this, right? I I've talked on optimization and fops for the past five years and I've been able to help be a part of this amazing team and I become more and more comfortable with the vulnerability and talking about kind of an unconventional path and how the anti five year plan, right? Like if I had put a five year plan together, I'd be in a completely different place. And, you know, just looking at setting the goals and the things that are most important to you in prioritizing those and not necessarily putting a timeline on them, you never know, right. It doesn't, that can kind of bring you in. I would've never, ever in my wildest dreams had told you in 2020 that two years from then the team would be this big. I would've laughed in face like absolutely hundred percent.

And so, you know, it pigeon holds you to do that. And so I want to con I, I'm in a really amazing position of having this team where we kind of get to incubate these ideas. We get to be these, this little startup and a, with the protection of a huge, amazing company. We, you know, we get to kind of live by our leadership principles and the Amazon leadership principles. And I wanna continue to grow that and also see if I can, if I can help and impact and, you know, continue to, to grow my impact from a, a leader perspective,

Host: Jon

Your path is anything but conventional. All right, I'm gonna leave the floor open to you. You wanna learn something? I, I don't, I don't feel little nervous being on the spot.

Guest: Alex

It's it's one question. And, um, I ask this to anyone who's ever interviewed with me, um, or any fireside chat I've ever hosted or anything like that. So if you could have endless time to learn one new skill set, doesn't have to be work related. Um, what would it be?

Host: Jon

Fly a helicopter

Guest: Alex

That scares the Jesus on me.

Host: Jon

<laugh> okay. I, this was totally random. I saw it the other day actually flying over the airport where I did a trial test where he, a trainer actually took me up and I was hovering around the airport. So I actually did one class and I was flying the helicopter and I took it up over where I, I live in the Lehigh valley and I flew it up over it. And it was really cool. It was nerve wracking and wish I could afford to keep going in the amount of hours and time it takes to do it. But I think it would be really cool and something to just be like, yeah, let's go do that and go somewhere.

Guest: Alex

Yep. Good one. That's a good one. I mean, I get the answers all over the place. It's fun. I feel like I, I learn or I learn something else that I wanna like try out every time I ask this question,

Host: Jon

Are you gonna try out, learn how to fly a helicopter?

Guest: Alex

No Heights are not my thing. I will say. That is the one thing that is the one thing. Not in any five, 10, I'm comfortable with that being in every plan.

Host: Jon

<laugh>, don't say never by the way, because that could change.

Guest: Alex

<laugh> I don't, I honest, I don't even do well on flights, which is insane because I travel almost every week.

Host: Jon

Wow. <laugh> yeah, that that's really ironic because I know you do a lot of traveling and go to a lot of places, so I'm sure you found ways to get around that

Guest: Alex

Coping you cope coping mechanism. <laugh>

Host: Jon

All right, Alex. Thank you so much for joining me on this podcast. I really enjoyed it.

Guest: Alex

Thank you for having me,

Host: Jon

Everybody. Head of Optimization, an author behind screw unconventional and your five year plan, Alex Head.

Alex. Thank you so much for joining me.

Guest: Alex

Thank you.

Host: Jon

My name's Jon Myer. You've been watching Jon Myer podcast. Don't forget to hit that, like subscribe and notified, because guess what folks we're outta here.

 

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