Why this Oracle exec turned to academia to help climb the cloud career ladder

Originally from Lafayette, La., Andre Alfred (left) enjoys exploring the Pacific Northwest with his wife and three children. (Photo Courtesy of Andre Alfred)

About the time he was in kindergarten, Andre Alfred started playing with the Tandy 1000 SX that his dad bought at Radio Shack. By age 9, he was writing code in Turbo Pascal. After graduating high school, he passed on higher ed and slid right into good-paying jobs in engineering and product management.

But Alfred had a promise to mom that he had to keep.

So nine years out of high school, he enrolled in WGU Washington, an online university, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in IT management while continuing to work. That opened something of an academic floodgate and Alfred has continued picking up degrees as he has climbed higher on the career ladder, including an MBA from MIT and his current pursuit of a PhD in engineering management.

In January 2018, Alfred became senior director of compute operations at Oracle in Bellevue, Wash., where he oversees a team of more than 250 engineers and program managers in 13 countries in the Global Business Units division. His group works on projects worth $6 billion in revenue, and includes SaaS products used by customers in hospitality, food and beverage, health sciences, construction and communications. The scale is huge — one product under his team is used in more than 200,000 locations internationally, processing some 6 trillion transactions annually.

Andre Alfred earned an MBA from MIT, which is also where his mother, Veronica Guillory, worked. Alfred remembers Guillory bringing home computers and dial-up modems from MIT when he was a child, providing some of his early exposure to technology. The two returned to Cambridge, Mass. for Alfred’s MBA graduation. (Photo Courtesy of Andre Alfred)

Alfred’s previous leadership roles were at companies including Capital One and Microsoft. He earned his MBA while working at Microsoft, flying to Boston every other weekend.

Moving from engineering into management jobs with fiscal responsibility, and work in the cloud particularly, Alfred wanted to better speak the language of the new roles. He felt like his IT undergrad degree wasn’t going to cut it.

“I saw it as a limit to my career and growth in the cloud business specifically because it is capital intensive — like running a utility for the world,” Alfred said. “There is a mix of tangible assets, plus all the development work as well. That mix requires some significant business skill, in my opinion.”

Andre Alfred, senior director of compute operations in Oracle’s Global Business Units division. (Oracle Photo)

Now, with increased awareness and concern about racial injustice that was sparked by the death of George Floyd and public protests, Alfred is stretching again as a leader. He’s working to support conversations with employees to talk about their experiences around stereotypes and marginalization.

“If we can just acknowledge that there is a problem and collectively not feel persecuted for bringing that up, we can have some progress,” he said. “Just allowing that conversation to happen without any fear is important.”

We caught up with Alfred for this Working Geek, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.

Current Location: I am based in Redmond, Wash. with my wife Sally and three children. We have been here since 2011. I am originally from Lafayette, La.

Computer types: Work: Lenovo 6 Core 3.7ghz Xeon and Toshiba Dynabook i7

Personal: Multiple Surfaces, HP Chromebook, Sony VAIO All-in-One

Mobile Devices: Samsung Note 10+

Favorite apps, cloud services and software tools: OneDrive continues to be a lifesaver as it lives longer than my devices do. DreamBox Learning keeps my kids entertained and educated at the same time.

Andre Alfred’s work-from-home space includes personal memorabilia and photos that help ground him. (Photo Courtesy of Andre Alfred)

Describe your workspace. Why does it work for you? My workspace is 100% at home now, and recently we remodeled and incorporated a work/study area in my bedroom. It is a built-in desk that doubles as clothing storage. There’s shelving up above that allows me to store pictures and memorabilia of my family, achievements and literature that has helped me become who I am. It gives me a quiet and comfortable spot to focus on my job and academic career.

Your best advice for managing everyday work and life? Develop a daily routine and don’t compromise on it. That is much easier for me to implement without having the commute to worry about. Take control of your calendar and don’t let it overwhelm you. That has gotten easier for me as I have moved up in responsibility over the years, but I do think that it is possible to set limits. Hold your leaders accountable for setting the right example.

Your preferred social network? How do you use it for business/work? LinkedIn is my favorite, especially these days. Seeing people openly share their professional struggles lets me know that I am not alone. I also enjoy supporting my network whenever I can. Being an African American in the workplace, and typically the only one, it is encouraging to see the support for Black Lives breaking through on platforms like LinkedIn. Culture doesn’t stop at the door of the workplace and it is an important for corporations to take it seriously.

Current number of unanswered emails in your inbox? Thousands! However, they are mostly automatically generated reports. I keep them as a reminder of what I need to automate.

Number of appointments/meetings on your calendar this week? 34! Plus six hours of virtual classes at George Washington University for the doctoral program I’m in on Saturdays. 

How do you run meetings? I believe in work being fun. I always try to break the ice in the first five minutes with some light banter. Running a large engineering and operations team for critical services for so many customers and industries is stressful for my staff. I try my best to be a leader that is approachable, focused on our future state, and assisting my staff on the journey.

Everyday work uniform? T-shirts and jeans with a fancy Zoom virtual background that I made myself.

How do you make time for family? My uncompromising routine includes dinner with the family. We regularly take long weekend trips as well whenever possible to explore the Pacific Northwest and Canada.

Best stress reliever? How do you unplug? Long walks. It gives me time to process my thoughts about work and current events.

Andre Alfred and his son enjoying some biking time together. (Photo Courtesy of Andre Alfred)

Book on your nightstand (or e-reader)? Most of my reading time is consumed by homework! However, I have been sharing book recommendations and excerpts of James Baldwin’s work and why it is important to understand the perspective of being Black in America.

Daily reads? Favorite sites and newsletters? My favorite nerd publication is arstechnica.com. Otherwise I am a subscriber of Seattle Times and I donate to their investigative journalism fund. I also am a board member of a non-profit online publication called The Current which covers news in my hometown.

Night owl or early riser? I am a night owl but have trained myself to start at 5:30 a.m. Monday through Saturday.

Where do you get your best ideas? Through conversations, particularly with my staff. In operations, it is very common that the difficulties that engineers go through are directly related to customer experience. Making their jobs easier and supporting them to build new tools and innovate around their job satisfaction ties to a better product.

Whose work style would you want to learn more about or emulate? I have great respect for many leaders, but I do not idolize anyone in particular. I believe and have been trained that effective leaders are authentic. Learning the scientific basis behind what motivates people and what they expect leaders to provide is very important. Understanding the concept of culture and how your individual actions as a leader impacts culture is fundamental.

Why this Oracle exec turned to academia to help climb the cloud career ladder Why this Oracle exec turned to academia to help climb the cloud career ladder Reviewed by TechCO on 7/12/2020 Rating: 5

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