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July Employee Spotlight: Alex Downey
I had a hunch that Alex Downey, our support engineer, would be fun to interview - and I was right. Even though I haven’t worked with Alex very much, I have gotten to share several hilarious morning coffee shop discussions with her and I was lucky enough to work in her Hackathon group last month. After checking out her team bio, I was curious to get to know her better and to get some dirt on what it’s like to work in the sales pit.
What really stands out to me about Alex is her get-shit-done attitude. She is one of the first people in the office every morning and sometimes the last one to log off at night. Whether she’s cracking jokes over morning coffee, troubleshooting issues for the account managers, or managing the work flow for our products, Alex always has a great attitude. Take a look at what her supervisor, Beth Donnelly, had to say about her:
"Alex is great to work with, she is such a hard worker. She is open to any challenge and welcomes feedback. We asked her to move to a new role that needed filling and she did so with enthusiasm that was only matched by her work ethic. She is a pleasure to work with and has been a great member of the RNL team." Director of Product Management
I got the chance to sit down with Alex and learn more about her life outside of work and her family, including her beekeeping skills. Also of note: This employee spotlight includes spoilers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. How did our conversation go from beekeeping to Star Wars, you ask? Read on to find out.
Jana: Thanks for letting me interview you! I asked a few people about you, and I heard you have an amazing son, JJ. So what’s his favorite thing right now? He’s seven, right?
Alex: I can’t believe it but he’s actually almost nine. He’ll be nine on the 27th of August. Right now he’s really into a lot of things. He’s into Ghostbusters and Star Wars.
Jana: The original Ghostbusters?
Alex: Yeah, we saw the new one and he liked it, but he wasn’t that crazy about it. He likes the original Ghostbusters. For a while there, that was his morning jam - we’d have to listen to Ghostbusters every morning. It was so funny. Now his jam is back to Babymetal. He’s quite a character. He goes through these phases where he’ll really love one or two things.
Jana: And he loves Star Wars, too? Who is his favorite character?
Alex: Yeah, he’s really into Star Wars right now, too. He’s been into that for over a year now - which is the longest he’s ever been into something. He likes the new bad guy, Kylo Ren. He also really likes Hans Solo, but he called him “Hans Zolo.” Actually, he kept calling him that because he couldn’t say “solo” very well. It was funny because we went to go see the movie on my birthday and he’d already seen it, so he was already giving away that “Hans Zolo” was going to die. Wait, have you seen the movie?
Jana: Yeah, I’ve seen it. No spoilers for me, you’re good.
Alex: Oh good. I’m sure almost everyone has seen it but I’d hate to be the spoiler.
Jana: We can put a spoiler alert in this, just in case.
Alex: Perfect. So he was telling everyone that “Han Zolo” dies. And nobody knew what he was talking about. Even though I know he mispronounces things sometimes I was like “okay, I don’t know who that is, great.” Then we’re in the movie theater and we get to almost that part and finally it clicks that he was saying Han Solo, so I turned to him and I was like “did you say Han Solo dies?” and he was like “shhh! Just watch the movie!” So then I was bummed and I only had like a minute to prepare myself for him to die.
Jana: Oh no! RIP Han. He was at Robotics Camp recently, right?
Alex: Yes, he actually really liked that. He wants his own robot. I’m trying to inspire him to learn how to code or go into development. He’s very technical. He figures out a lot of technical things before I do. Like, I got the Alexa for Christmas here, and I brought it home and he knew exactly what it was. He got it going and started talking to it before I did. He’s very smart. So I thought maybe he would get into robots and then maybe he could build a robot and develop or write code to make it work. I think he’ll be really interested in that.
Jana: Nice. There are so many opportunities in that! And he does sports too? And you help coach?
Alex: Well, I don’t know if I would say I coached. Maybe I helped the coach, but all the coaching glory is hers. I don’t have the patience to coach! But yeah, I helped a couple times. The coach was a little overwhelmed because there were a lot of kids - and it’s really hard to get kids to listen to you. I helped out by splitting the kids up in soccer, but I don’t know anything about soccer at all. It was fun. I like participating and being involved in whatever JJ does.
Jana: Did he like when you were the coach?
Alex: Sometimes. He liked it when I was helping the other kids, but not him. He wants to do his own thing. He really wants to play basketball too, but we’re not there yet. He has played baseball and soccer. He has a favorite soccer player and I have no idea why because we’ve never been to a Sporting KC game. But he has this favorite soccer player, Dom Dwyer, who he likes everything about. He talks about him all the time. We went to go get his hair cut the other day and he was like “I want the same haircut as Dom Dwyer.” I Googled him and I was thinking to myself you’re not getting that haircut. So I was like “that looks like the haircut you already have!” and he was convinced so, he got the same haircut that he already had.
JJ and Dom Dwyer’s matching haircuts.
Jana: Nice. And you guys got a dog this year?
Alex: Yeah, we got her in January. She was actually my grandparents’ dog. Her name is Bella. She’s a really good dog. I think the correct term for her is Husky Inu. She’s part Shiba Inu and part Husky. She’s very pretty, she has one blue eye and one brown eye. She’s really funny - she prances and it looks like she’s dancing. And she doesn’t bark - she just talks. She talks to JJ all the time. He’s her little human. JJ loves her. She’s really patient with him, which is really good.
Jana: That’s too sweet.
Alex: Yeah. We took her to the groomers yesterday and she cried the entire time until we picked her up. Then she was all happy. She acts like it is such torture to go get a bath.
Jana: Does she have a lot of hair like a Shiba?
Alex: Oh my goodness, we are constantly vacuuming and cleaning everything up. It’s ridiculous. And I won’t shave her, because I think they look ridiculous like that. But even right after she’s done at the groomer she still has a ton of fur. So we’re still vacuuming and cleaning. We go through a lot of lint rollers.
Jana: Well at least JJ will learn how to clean at a young age.
Jana: So your boyfriend’s name is also Alex. Does the name thing get tricky sometimes?
Alex: It’s really funny. In high school my last name was Porter, and his last name is Potter. And we went to the same high school together. He was actually class of ‘05 and I was class of ‘06. So whenever he’d get called to the office, they’d call me instead of him. We’d pass each other and I would be like “It’s for you this time, not me.” It was really funny. We connected again on Facebook actually.
Jana: Did you guys hang out much in high school?
Alex: No, we never did. We just knew each other because we had such similar names. My last name changed to Downey after my dad adopted me, my brother and my sister, but then he had already graduated so it didn’t matter. It’s funny to tell everyone that story because everybody was already confusing us back in high school because of the name thing, and now everyone confuses us still. They have to call him ‘Big Al’ and I’m ‘Little Alex.’ His middle name is Lynn so I actually have friends that just call him Lynn.
Jana: That’s awesome. I also heard that you’re a hobby beekeeper, which is fascinating to me. How did you get involved in that?
Alex: It was my grandpa’s thing. He was a beekeeper. He passed away in December. I helped my mom clean out their house and their building, because my grandma was in the nursing home. And my mom was like “well I guess we should just take up beekeeping because he has all this stuff.” My grandpa was so into it that he had tons and tons of beekeeping stuff. Some of it we haven’t been able to use. Some of it we accidentally gave away because we didn’t know it was for beekeeping. My grandpa built everything himself. He never wanted to go buy it so he would do it all himself, and we have all of the stuff he made. I didn’t realize how cool it was until we went to a beekeeping class and some of the people that were at the class actually knew him.
Jana: What! Your grandpa was kind of a big deal at beekeeping.
Alex: Yeah. He had actually presented some stuff and they knew about the things he built. He actually built one of the extractors himself, which are like a crazy contraption that you use to get honey out of the combs with. And it spins really fast. I think he took a motor out of a fan to do it. He was really DIY. Alex got to be the one to actually use it, because he’s taller. I had to stand up on a stool just to look in. It’s huge. It’s really interesting. I’ve learned so much about bees that I didn’t know.
A honey extractor.
Jana: Can you share some knowledge with us? About beekeeping or honey?
Alex: All I can really say is that beekeeping is a lot harder than it looks! It takes a lot of patience and dedication.
Jana: Has JJ done any beekeeping with you?
Alex: He’s shown interest in it, but I don’t think that will last. He has such a fear of things like that, he’s so anxious. I think it would be a good way to try to help get him over some of that fear. But it’s a big positive that he’s shown interest in it. Other things he’s too afraid and he’ll say “no” right off the bat. I think because he knows about it he’s not too fearful of bees, he’s more afraid of things that aren’t controlled. Since he knows about beekeeping he feels like honeybees are controlled. He sees me go up to them and knows that if I’ll be fine, he’ll be fine. It’s wasps he is really scared of. I probably add a little to that anxiety because I’m scared of wasps, too.
Jana: That’s sweet that you help him be brave.
Alex: Yeah, well I wish it worked for everything. He’s scared to death of storms. He’s terrified of rain, he’s terrified of clouds. It could be sunny and there could be one cloud in the sky and he’s afraid a tornado is going to pop out of it. I hope he gets over it eventually.
Jana: So you were working in QA, and now you’re a support engineer. What’s your favorite thing about the change?
Alex: So far I’ve liked everything about it. I’ve liked having more responsibility. I feel like I’m still on the struggle bus of trying to transition from being a QA to letting some of that responsibility go. And just having less control of that and more control over what’s going through the board and what’s being worked. So I think that’s been a hard thing for me to let go of. It’s hard to let go of something you feel like you worked so hard trying to maintain. There’s been so much going on, I feel like this change has come right at a time when things start piling up quickly. It can be chaos. But I feel like I handle it pretty well. Andrea has been really great about helping out, too.
Jana: What’s it like working down in the sales pit?
Alex: Loud. Everyone is always on the phone. Chris sits right behind me and I hear all of his phone conversations. He’s very convincing and I can feel myself being persuaded by the things he says. And some things I’m like what is he talking about? He says “revenue” all the time and it reminds me of those calls from telemarketers about making revenue working at home. It cracks me up. I had never heard any of those conversations before working in the sales pit. I also sit with the account managers though, and their conversations are way different. It’s interesting to be in between both sides.
Jana: So you’ve worked here for a little over a year, right? What brought you to Red Nova Labs?
Alex: Yeah. Honestly, I was looking for something different. I was living and working in San Diego for seven years doing medical billing. I absolutely loved it then. It was emergency ambulance billing, so you got to see a whole bunch of crazy things. That was my first job out of medical billing school. I worked my way up to acting lead. I was doing a lot of different projects and I was on a project management team. It was really interesting jumping from project to project and seeing things all the way through. It was interesting to see all the reports come in. People do some really dumb things to end up in an ambulance, sometimes I would laugh a lot. Of course, sometimes it was sad, too.
Jana: So what made you switch to QA?
Alex: When I moved back here I was put on the most boring projects and tasks. It wasn’t for me. The reason I liked it in San Diego was because I was doing so much and the company was so fast-paced. By the time I got to Kansas City I was really burnt out. I wanted to do something different. I did some research and found Red Nova Labs. I didn’t even think I had a shot at all. But I put in my resume and I got an email from Beth Donnelly actually. I was so excited. I was like yes! I love this place! And they have Red Bull! At the time I was such a caffeine fiend that after I found out about free Red Bull, I was sold. I was like they have Red Bull AND it’s free?! At the time I was buying it all the time.
Jana: That’s amazing. Free Red Bull was all it took to win you over.
Alex: Exactly. I even double checked. In fact, I’m pretty sure I asked that when they walked me around. I was like, “..and the Red Bull is free, right?” On my first day when I got coffee at The Grind, I did the same thing. “Is this free, too?” Because it’s so unbelievable that it’s all free. So yeah, I was sold on the caffeine. I love all caffeine. Especially Red Bull and coffee.
Jana: I was told you also love crime shows.
Alex: Oh yeah. I love Criminal Minds and I love Law & Order SVU. When I was in high school, my passion was becoming an attorney. I was actually going to go into the Navy to become an attorney, but it didn’t work out. I became a mom instead. But I was still determined I wanted to go to school, and instead of going to law school I decided to go to medical billing school. I kick myself a little bit for not going back to school while I was in CA because I did have the opportunity to do that, but I didn’t.
Jana: But you were at a really fast-paced job, and had a little boy. You were so busy already.
Alex: Well that makes me feel a little better. But yeah, I gave up on law school because it was full-time. I couldn’t quit my job to go to law school. So I thought well maybe I will be a detective. That was my plan B. Well the only way to be a detective is to go to school to study criminal justice and be a police officer first. You still have to have like at least 1-2 years of police officer training before they will let you move up to detective, even with school. So I passed the written exam, and I got all the way to the physical. Turns out I can’t run. I couldn’t keep up even at a slow jog.
Jana: Really?! You see so many police officers that don’t look like they could pass any physical exam.
Alex: Yeah, after you pass it they let you do whatever. They don’t care if you can’t run after the test if over.
Jana: Of course. So why do they even make you do the physical test?
Alex: To make sure you are able to chase after criminals on foot. But yeah that dream went down fast. I realized I couldn’t run. I run as fast as a cow, and cows don’t run. Even the thought of running makes me tired. So it wasn’t going to work for me. I ended up having to put my resignation in through the academy after I found out I was moving back here anyway. But I have not tried to pursue that ever since. Instead I’ve just really been pursuing everything here. And being here has shown me that here’s a lot I still want to learn. My job is very interesting. I try to tell people what I do and when I talk about it I seem really smart to my friends because they don’t know what I’m talking about. So sometimes it’s fun to talk about because I could say something wrong and they wouldn’t know it. I really want to pursue more here and learn more here. Being a detective is still a dream of mine. Maybe someday it might happen.
Jana: Well at least now I know who to go to when there is an unsolved mystery in the office. Future prankers, be warned.
Alex: Resident RNL detective? Okay. I’ll take it.
Jana: We’ll ask Beth about changing your job title.