Seven Questions With Algolia’s Bernadette Nixon
We are back with another blog in our 2020 Women In Tech 7 Questions series!
Today, we hear from Bernadette Nixon, Chief Executive Officer and Board Member at Algolia, a startup company offering a web search product through a SaaS model. Bernadette was the 2019 recipient of the Aragon Research Women in Technology Award for CEO. At the time, she served as CEO at Alfresco.
Read on to learn more about Bernadette, and her perspective on very important topics related to women in technology.
1) Please describe yourself in three words
Driven, Passionate, Empathetic
2) What do you find most interesting about the technology field in which you work?
Algolia is a Search API, specifically for eCommerce and websites in general. I find it very relatable—we all shop online and search the web every day, and it’s a huge market. Because we’re an API we also get to geek out as we disrupt the market with our Search-as-a-Service offering, which is always fun. And finally, we’re on the leading edge with our approach, so it’s exciting to talk to others about where the market and our customers are headed, and how we can continue to help through our innovation.
3) How do you find work-life balance, or what do you enjoy outside of work?
I don’t like this question and think it’s outdated for many reasons. I don’t strive for work-life balance, I look for ways to integrate my work with the rest of my life. What does this look like? During COVID times unfortunately, like most people, I feel chained to my desk at home, so I make sure I start my day with 20 mins of meditation, and my husband and I moved our venue from home to our boat. So if we want a change of scenery we can literally change it at the weekends and visit a different harbor. I’m in the middle of a search for a couple of exec team members at the moment and one of the candidates can only talk over the weekend, so I can guarantee I’ll be at the helm on Saturday morning talking to them. During non-COVID times they laugh at me in my local nail salon, because I come in and set up my iPad and my laptop and I do calls or Zooms while I’m getting my nails done. And background noise on a call doesn’t bother me because I’m usually on the phone the entire time I’m at the airport. But I try to keep my weekends free from regular work, as it’s usually the only time my husband and I get to spend time together given both of our travel schedules, and instead I like to catch up on what’s happening in the industry, or read or listen to a book that’s relevant to what’s happening at work at the moment. And to completely disconnect, I’ve taken up painting—I’m on my 9th painting currently.
4) What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career and how did you overcome it?
Twice in my career I’ve wanted to change both my career path and the country in which I worked at the same time, so I had to figure out how I could do that. The first time I was working in England and wanted to move to Switzerland, and the second time was when I was working in Switzerland and wanted to come the the US. Each move had its hurdles—I didn’t speak French but I needed to cold call in French if I was going to get a job in Switzerland. And in both situations I needed to convince an organization to hire me and sponsor me for a visa. I learned the hard way the first time round, the only way to do it was to set myself a goal, with a deadline, and define a strategy for achieving the goal—and you need to get creative. My strategies in each case were different. The first time I learned how to cold call and have the initial conversation in French, and I got close with one company, but the permit process was very difficult in Switzerland, so I switched strategy and wondered what type of organization could I work for where the permit process wouldn’t be as big of a hurdle. That’s when I set my sights on the UN, as you don’t need a permit to work for them, but I’m not a poly sci major, so what was my value proposition? I figured that out and it’s the only time in my life I’ve made a physical cold call and knocked on someone’s office door—and I got a job as a result. Coming to the US I took a week off work and I was convinced I was getting back on the plane in a week having secured a new job—and I did. I’d done all my prep before and had a list of 20 companies I’d researched, set my sights on 2 types of positions, and started cold calling Monday morning. I got lucky and lined up a 1st interview on the Tuesday, 2nd interview on Friday and got back on the plane having secured my new job—then had to wait 5 months for the visa, but that was worth the wait. For me, whenever I have conviction AND set myself a goal I always achieve it. Sometimes it may take me longer than other times, but it’s worked for me over and over again.
5) Are there enough opportunities for women in tech? How would you assess the progress women have made in the tech industry?
Every time I think about this and reflect on the progress we’ve made, I look up the stats to see what progress we’ve actually made—and I just did that this morning. The most staggering stat I found was that the number of women software engineers hired has only increased 2% over the last 20 years, yet 20% of computer science grads are female. We can all do better.
6) What are some things you think should be addressed on macro, peer, and educational levels to encourage women to feel empowered in the tech industry?
There are 2 very simple actions that we can all take: 1) encourage and mentor the girls and women in our lives, whether you’re a man or a woman. I was fortunate enough to go to an all girls senior school in England, and my sister credits that experience for a lot of my success in life, because they set the expectation that we could achieve anything we set our minds to. 2) Every hiring manager needs to ask for a diversified slate of candidates. I did this very recently and the second list was much more diversified than the first. Doing these two things, both of which are entirely within our own control, will change the world we live in.
7) Please provide a WIT call to action.
Expand your mentorship programs.
Want to be part of the WIT action at Transform 2020? Register to join our WIT Panel session and watch the 2020 Women In Tech Award winners accept their awards!