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  • Writer's pictureThiago Assuncao de Faria

Alexia Wu - A Tech Journey of Resilience

From the bustling streets of Hong Kong to the canals of Amsterdam, Alexia Wu's journey into the tech world is nothing short of inspiring. Initially distant from the realm of IT, a twist of fate and personal relationships ignited her passion for computer science and data engineering. Today, she stands tall as a data engineer at Booking.com, having navigated the challenges of career transitions, imposter syndrome, and the intricacies of the tech industry.

Alexia Wu on a Dutch café

In her candid conversation for the Lovelace Series, Alexia sheds light on her transformative journey, the invaluable mentors who shaped her path, and the resilience she mustered to overcome obstacles. Beyond her technical endeavors, she emphasizes the importance of curiosity, adaptability, and the courage to voice one's opinions, especially for women in tech.


Now enjoy Alexia's story, a testament to the power of perseverance, continuous learning, and the importance of community in the ever-evolving tech landscape.


Q) Can you share a bit about your background and your current role?


2010 I moved from Hong Kong to Amsterdam, driven by love and pursuing a master's degree. Now, I am currently employed as a data engineer at Booking.com since March this year.

Q) How did you first become interested in technology, and what led you to your current role?


Due to my upbringing and circumstances, I initially lacked interest in IT. It only changed when my ex-partner Terry, an experienced IT professional, introduced me to the field by sharing his work and knowledge, which sparked my fascination with computer science, engineering, and mathematics.

Despite having a decent job at Microsoft, I felt unfulfilled and lost.

A severe back injury in 2016 and a year of sick leave made me reconsider my life. In 2018, I left Microsoft and decided to pursue a career switch to IT. I was inspired by Terry's suggestion and started studying mathematics, statistics, and computer science, aiming to become a data scientist.


After facing numerous rejections in job applications, a friend from Microsoft referred me to LINKIT's data engineer bootcamp. I pivoted from my original plan, joined the bootcamp, and completed it in 2020 amid the Corona outbreak.


Working as a data engineer consultant for several companies, including APG, ASML, and Spar, I gained valuable experience. However, due to the long commute, I sought a data engineer job closer to home. Thanks to a friend's referral, I secured a position at Booking.com.

Q) What main challenges have you faced in your career, and how have you overcome them?


First, Imposter Syndrome profoundly affects me, especially since I didn't study any IT-related subject. Working alongside experienced individuals often makes me feel inadequate; some have even directly expressed this to me.


However, over the last three years, I've learned to combat these feelings by focusing on my personal growth. Each day, I review what new things I've learned and see how these small pieces of knowledge accumulated over time, contributing to my overall expertise.

While imposter syndrome may still arise, this approach reassures me that I am progressing at my own pace and steadily gaining knowledge and experience.

A second challenge is Balancing Quality and Speed in Business Delivery: Striving for

excellence often leads to longer timelines than quick functional solutions. Balancing stakeholder expectations for rapid delivery with the aim for high quality presents challenges. Initially, I struggled with meeting deadlines due to underestimated task durations and limited expertise, resulting in tasks spilling over and perceptions of incompetence.


Reflecting on my journey, I find two strategies beneficial:

  1. Incorporating Time Buffers: It's a reliable practice to allocate extra time for tasks. This buffer accommodates my limited knowledge, experience, unforeseen bugs, system downtimes, and other issues that can impede progress. This spare time isn't for idleness but as a precaution against unexpected delays.

  2. Transparent Communication: When discussing task timelines and completion criteria, openly express concerns about additional time requirements. While compromises might be necessary, this approach fosters mutual understanding. Communicating concerns prevents task hindrances due to overlooked issues and provides evidential support for your standpoint.

Q) Who or what has been the most significant influence or support in your tech journey?


My ex-partner Terry, a dear friend, has constantly supported my IT career switch, providing ongoing teaching, unsolicited advice, and guidance.


Another person I owe a lot to is my ex-colleague and close friend Wenderson, an exceptionally talented software engineer. Since joining LINKIT, he has been my mentor, sharing his knowledge and continuously training me.


I am deeply indebted to both Terry and Wenderson for their significant influence

on my tech journey.


Alexia working over the shoulder of a team mate with two others focused in the back coding on a Macbook.
Alexia and team mates in a hackathon where they built an app, which users could upload an image, choose an art style like impressionism and outputing a painting like image.

Q) How have you seen diversity and inclusion evolve in the tech industry throughout your career?


In my relatively short time in this field, I haven't witnessed extensive evolution. However, most of the companies I've worked for are international and embrace good diversity practices. While women in tech remain a minority, there is a noticeable presence and not exclusively male.


At Booking.com, I admire their commitment to cultural and gender diversity. They prioritize making every voice heard and respecting all opinions, regardless of background. Even during my time at APG, where everyone was Dutch except for me, my team was inclusive and understanding.

They recognized my non-native status and made efforts to accommodate language barriers, ultimately finding effective ways to collaborate.

I feel fortunate for my experiences in the IT field so far. I've never faced discrimination, marginalization, or neglect based on my gender or Asian identity.

Q) How do you manage the work-life balance in the tech industry?


I'm still working on this aspect of myself. At the beginning of my career, I used to push myself to continue studying after work, despite feeling mentally drained. It was driven by fear and imposter syndrome, especially during the Corona lockdown when social activities were limited. My days became a repetitive cycle of work, eating, studying, and sleeping.


After the lockdown, I was able to find a better balance. I started going to the gym again and spending time with friends and my partner, which helped me take my mind off work and studying.

Since joining Booking, I've stopped studying after work because my job provides constant learning opportunities through the use of various technologies.

This clear separation between work and personal life has been beneficial, especially to my sleeping quality and mental health.


Q) What skills do you believe are most important in today's tech world?


Curiosity, ability to break down a big problem into smaller ones, courage to acknowledge their mistakes and learn from them, perseverance, and active listening

Q) Can you share a project or accomplishment you consider the most significant in your career?


This is an interesting one. Originally I wanted to skip this question because, in my opinion, I believe I haven't achieved anything notably significant in my career so far. However, my friends persuaded me to share this perspective.


My most significant achievement until now is transforming from a salesperson with no IT background or expertise into a data engineer at a top-tier company, with numerous obstacles along the way.

Note from Editor: I'm glad Alexia has friends to push her to answer this. Knowing Alexia, I find it crazy that she didn't consider anything she has done at three prominent players (ASML, APG, and Booking) to mention... it just shows how she holds herself to such a high bar. Alexia, you are amazing!


Q) What are your future goals, and where do you see the tech industry heading in the next few years?


In terms of goals, I aim to enhance my technical expertise and experience, progressing towards a senior role and, in particular, advancing my knowledge in areas like Kotlin, concurrency, and streaming solutions such as Kafka and Flink, along with comprehensive testing encompassing unit, integration, and system testing.


Looking ahead in the tech industry, I envision OpenAI evolving into an indispensable tool for simplifying complex subjects and vast information into concise paragraphs. While there are concerns about OpenAI replacing jobs, based on my usage experience, the tool isn't always 100% accurate, and it still requires human validation.

(OpenAI) I view it to become a facilitator that enhances efficiency and learning rather than a complete replacement soon.

Additionally, I foresee a rise in "analytics engineers" and the growing popularity of DBT. These engineers might come from data analytics backgrounds with fundamental SQL and ETL knowledge. Given DBT's accessibility compared to more complex tools like Spark, it can cater to diverse use cases without a long and painful learning process. Sourcing individuals proficient in SQL is much more straightforward than those with strong Spark expertise.


Q) What advice would you give other women considering a tech career?


If you find yourself in a situation like mine, lacking experience, brace yourself for a challenging journey. There will be rejections and people who are more experienced and knowledgeable than you.


Also, be brave and speak up. Just because you are the minority and may have less experience does not mean you should refrain from sharing your thoughts.

If you have questions, ask. If you disagree with something, say it.

Q) Let's continue the flow... who would you like to read on the Lovelace Series?


I don't have a name, but I'm particularly interested in the experiences of self-made entrepreneurs in the IT sector. I'm curious to understand the specific challenges that female entrepreneurs encounter during their journey in the IT field.

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