Breaking the Bias – Alex Nation goes all-in on what energizes her
As a part of our Women’s History Month celebration, we are elevating the voices of women at Qualtrics who have Broken the Bias by seeking nontraditional career paths. We sat down with Alex and other women at Qualtrics to hear their stories and we'll be sharing them throughout the month. You can check out the rest of the series here.
I graduated from UC San Diego in 2009 at the height of the recession. In college, at different times, I wanted to be a teacher, a lawyer, a journalist, a chef, and the editor-in-chief of Vogue.
I went into Nordstrom's management training program and was running top performing departments very early in my career. It was at Nordstrom that I discovered a love of sales and leadership, and learned a number of values I carry with me to this day.
dFast forward a couple years and tech was taking off where I live in Northern California. It piqued my interest and I thought, “If I convinced a panel of hiring managers that if I could sell expensive clothes and accessories at the height of a recession, I can sell anything.” That was over 10 years ago, and I've never looked back!
I ran a full desk in my first SaaS job; everything from prospect to close and implementation to account management. I was so green that I had no clue those are usually distinctly different roles, but it gave me the opportunity to discover my favorite piece of the sales cycle, technical discovery, demonstration, and value selling.
I went to interview at Oracle for an account executive role, and this was truly a pivotal moment. I was chatting with a hiring manager in a cocktail party setting when he asked me, "Do you like to hunt and close, or gather pain points and present?"
Remember, I was GREEN. I'd never heard it phrased that way before. I was wide eyed, eager, and keen to prove myself. I remember thinking that if it cost me the interview, I had to be honest. I told him I was definitely the latter. Definitely a pain point gatherer and presenter.
He said, "Ok. I'm pulling you from the sales rep queue and putting you into the sales consultant queue"
I had no idea that was a thing. What are these "sales consultants''? I discovered that their whole job is to know the tech inside and out, and support sales in their hunting and closing. I said, “Sign me up!”
That changed everything for me. Oracle put considerable time and resources into training me to be a Solution Engineer. I think of it as the Culinary Institute in the sense that I received classical training in how to do everything the "right" way.
Then came Marketo, where I was able to take what I learned at Oracle and run with it. Marketo is where I moved into supporting more enterprise accounts, developed my own distinct presenting style, attended my first president's club, interviewed for my first team lead role, and was able to dabble in a number of cross-functional areas. In my time there, we were acquired by a private equity firm and sold to Adobe right as I was leaving for Qualtrics. The overall experience led to lifelong friendships, including one with my old boss.
Enter Qualtrics. The last 3+ years have absolutely flown by. I was the first Solutions Engineer in California and looked after mainly our big high tech accounts here in the Bay Area, although I helped support a range of industries. I also helped support a number of cross-functional projects and particularly enjoyed interviewing and mentoring for our broader team. We now have an incredible team covering the West coast in both the Enterprise and Corporate spaces, led by John Worrell. John joined Qualtrics from Box almost 2 (!!) years ago, on the first day of lockdown in March 2020. He has been a kind and patient coach who has modeled what it means to be kind AND win.
With John's help and support, I was recently promoted into a leadership role. I will be leading the first dedicated product team for Solution Engineering, focused on Employee Experience. In other words, we are dedicated to helping our customers create legendary experiences for their employees. I am so excited for this new opportunity and am currently forming the team and putting together all the moving pieces - quotas, coverage, etc.
How did you decide on your career path?
I feel incredibly lucky and grateful to be in the tech industry, talking to a wide range of companies every day and helping solve their problems.
I gravitated towards industries I study obsessively - first fashion, then tech, and matched them with my natural strengths - teaching, sales, and leadership. I identified people I respect at different stages in their careers and forged relationships, exchanged advice, and studied their habits and thought processes. I paid attention to what energized me vs what depleted me, and went all-in on what energized me.
I made sure every step built on the last in a logical, cohesive manner, and I also never let myself get stuck in analysis paralysis. It's better to decide, make the wrong decision, and learn from it, than to do nothing at all. Make the best decision you can with the information in front of you at the time.
Tell us about the importance of leadership / mentorship in your career journey.
There is no such thing as a self-made person. Leadership and mentorship have been paramount in my journey. I would not be where I am without the countless people who have helped me, advocated for me, coached me, helped open doors and created safe spaces for me to struggle and grow. I try to pass on the help I've received in the hope of creating a ripple effect. Especially in this small industry (and in any industry, and in life!) relationships are critical.
What’s the best career advice you have ever received?
"Leave it better than you found it" - words to live by, and also the title of an excellent book by Bruce Nordstrom, grandson of John Nordstrom, who started a tiny shoe store in Seattle in 1901.
|Alex Nation is an alumna of UC San Diego and works as a Senior Principal Solution Engineer. She is an active member of Women's Leadership Development, a Q Group (employee resource group) with the charter of elevating and supporting all women at Qualtrics so they achieve personal & professional wellness and impact.|
May 23, 2022
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