Code2College #BlackExcellence2020: Esther Alexander, Silicon Labs

“My brother was allowed to come into the lab, but me and my two sisters weren’t. That made me more zealous so I wanted to learn more.”

This month at Code2College, we’re highlighting Black Excellence by interviewing one of our volunteers each week to learn more about their challenges, triumphs and what makes them amazing. For our second interview this month, our Executive Director Matt Stephenson spoke with Esther Alexander, the first Staff Software Product Quality Engineer at Silicon Labs and a first-year Code2College Mentor.

M: What was your first introduction to STEM?

E: My Dad was a Tech guy. He had a background in Mechanical and Electrical Engineering. He even had a lab at home, but me and my two sisters weren’t encouraged to come in to learn, while my brother was. That made me more zealous to learn about Engineering. In addition, I realized that I was good at math. So when my Dad started building a satellite dish from scratch, he actually needed my help with several of the calculations. Once, he realized that I could contribute became open to the idea that I had some skills that could lead me into a career related to science.

M: It almost sounds like Engineering was a forbidden fruit! What did you envision as your dream job then. I’d imagine it must have been close to Engineering.

E: I definitely wanted to be a scientist combined with something related to aerospace work. I wanted to continue conducting calculations for rocket projectiles and God knows why I didn’t end up in that. I wanted to go up in rockets, but at the same time I was afraid of flying. Studying the stars was what I loved as a kid. I guess what I’m doing now is close enough. *chuckle*

M: Can you explain what exactly you’re doing now?

E: I was brought on as the first Staff Software Product Quality Engineer at Silicon Labs 1.5 years ago. There are two main parts to my job: Software and Security.

When I joined, there were a few acquisitions of some software companies that had already taken place at Silicon Labs. And before I was brought on, there wasn’t a uniform way for how software development was conducted among the various software teams . I was hired to drive uniformity in the software development process which would lead to more predictability and customer satisfaction. I  worked to create a software quality policy company-wide . I also audit these teams and ensure that they follow these policies and investigate process issues any customer issues which have a root cause related to software. Another aspect of my role involves working towards security compliance and governance and assisting the Chief Security Officer in this respect.

M: It sounds like you’ve done some groundbreaking work in a short amount of time. I’d love to hear one quote that you come back to as a source of strength.

E: “This too shall pass.” Every milestone I made it through, I reflect and remember “oh yes, it did pass”. When I first came to the US, I only had one year of college savings for my degree. I was an international student and I couldn’t work. But I pushed hard was able to earn a spot in the honors program at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio and secured enough money through scholarships, the financial support of my parents and eventually an internship to complete my degree.

M: That’s a powerful one – and so simple. I can only imagine what other challenges you must have faced over the years. Our students are really fortunate to have you as a Mentor – why are you volunteering with us this year?

E: I believe in investing in the next generation. I know that I wouldn’t be where I am today if people hadn’t invested in me. And when I started my career it was hard. I moved here from St. Lucia and had no friends. I only had my cousin who lived in San Antonio for a temporary military assignment and she was only there for the first year of my college experience. So this mentorship for me is paying it forward to the next generation. I don’t want them to self-doubt. I want them to know that if I made it, that they can make it too.

M: This will seem out of left field, but what are you listening to right now?

J: Not at all – I was actually a music minor and did opera and jazz singing during my time at St. Mary’s University. I like listening to classical music. Music is what gets me. My go-to is serene classical music in the background. Like when life is crazy, I need to hear something relaxing or that tells a story. Whether its folk music or opera. It’s like ‘Frozen 2’ when she hears that song calling her.*chuckle* I have 2 young daughters. I also like ‘World Folk Music’ – have to add in the ‘World’ before Folk because I know that there’s a certain connotation for just ‘folk music’ in the States. 

M: Is there anything else that you think anyone reading should know? Particularly any of our Code2College students?

E: Life is not just about what you want out of it. It’s also about what you’re here to give. So many times we focus on “what can I get out of life.” Can I get this position? Can I get even more money? Ask the reverse: what am I giving to society? To the world? When you’re gone, what you’ve got doesn’t matter as much as what you’ve given.

Esther Alexander has served as a Staff Software Product Quality Engineer at Silicon Labs in Austin, TX for the past 1.5 years. She’s hails from the island of St. Lucia, West Indies and holds a Bachelors of Science Degree in Computer Engineering from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, TX and a Masters of Science in Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) from Georgia Tech. We’re proud to call her a Code2College Mentor.