Q&A with Alumni: Alexis Weill
Feb 8, 2018
MS&E MS, Class of 2016
Meet Alexis Weill, an MS&E alum who is currently a Senior Product Data Analyst for Lyft. His goal is to improve the company's product offering through data insights.
"Being an MS&E alum provides an individual the ability to think with a multidisciplinary perspective, which helps in adapting to many situations and learning new skills quickly over time."
Why did you choose MS&E?
As an undergraduate, I was interested in both engineering and business, so I decided to study Industrial and Systems Engineering. This interest grew through my college years, which prompted me to reach out to a friend that was enrolled in the MS&E program. After chatting with them about their great experience in the program, I decided to apply. One of the biggest draws was the breadth of courses available, which contrasted with the rigidity of my undergraduate studies. In MS&E, I was able to take classes ranging from traditional industrial engineering, entrepreneurship, computer science, to business, both inside the MS&E department and outside.
What does it mean to be an MS&E alum?
As careers are becoming multidisciplinary, you have to reinvent yourself throughout your career continually. The job an MS&E student obtains after graduation could be dramatically different from the one that they will be doing in five or ten years. Being an MS&E alum provides an individual the ability to think with a multidisciplinary perspective, which helps in adapting to many situations and learning new skills quickly over time.
How does your time at Stanford impact what you do now?
When I entered the program, I had no idea that I would be working in data after graduation. It wasn’t until I took a course in data science that I realized how powerful data could be. The classes I took at Stanford provided me with the skills necessary to make it in that field. Analytics is at the crossroads of business and engineering, so in retrospect, it feels like a natural fit based on my interests, but it was not apparent at the time. As a product analyst, the computer science classes help me communicate with the engineers, while the business courses help me evaluate the impact of projects. Stanford developed my intellectual curiosity by empowering me to own my learning experience. That curiosity has pushed me to learn more about facets of our product and industry. The MS&E program is very flexible, and you have the ability to learn anything, so you quickly learn that even if you don’t have prior experience in an area, you can learn it. This still resonates with me when I am faced with a new problem.
Was there a particular class or professor that really stuck with you?
This question is a hard one, as I've been fortunate to take a number of amazing classes with world-class professors. The first course that comes to mind is MS&E 273 (Technology Venture Formation). One of the reasons I came to Stanford was for its reputation in entrepreneurship, so I had been looking forward to taking the class since I applied to MS&E. I decided to take it my second year, so I would have a strong enough foundation to take full advantage of that coursework. MS&E 273 was as much about learning than it was about doing - and a lot of the learning came from doing. We had a fantastic panel of teachers, outside speakers, and mentors. We learned about the different steps involved in starting a venture but also, just as importantly, how hard it was. The class taught me to “make it happen,” because when you are an entrepreneur, there is no one to tell you what to do or how to do it, you just have to figure it out and make it happen. Even working for a company, I still try to think like an entrepreneur.
Can you tell me about the work you are doing now?
I am a Senior Product Data Analyst. In my role, the goal is to improve our product offering through data insights. No two days are alike, since my work ranges from deep dives into specific areas, to working with our engineering team to set up or interpret the results of an experiment, to planning for the next quarter with our product managers. Even when I think that I have my week planned out, one data insight could completely change my priorities, since I constantly try to focus on the most impactful work, regardless of whether it was planned or not.
What inspires you most about this company?
What attracted me to Lyft was the industry. Ridesharing is a fascinating industry that is both continuously evolving and data-driven. As an analyst, this means that I am right in the middle of it and that our findings help shape its future. It is still early on for ride-sharing, especially when considering trends such as the decrease in car ownership and the development of self-driving technology. In 20 years, this industry could be one or two orders of magnitudes larger than it is today.
What advice would you give to a current MS&E student?
Take advantages of your time at Stanford to explore different subjects and keep an open mind to all opportunities available. Most students come in with an idea of what they want to do when they graduate and end up following a completely different path. Give yourself that opportunity, and you may be surprised to find a passion in an area you never considered. For example, throughout my time at Stanford, I considered many careers but I ended up in one that I had not considered previously: data. But when I learned about the opportunity at Lyft, it sounded like the perfect fit based on my skills and interests.
Can you offer some words of wisdom for MS&E alumni and students interested in pursuing a career similar to your own?
First, you should figure out if that industry is the right fit for you. If possible, I highly recommend doing internships. This opportunity will provide you will valuable experience and give you a taste of what that role is like. But there are other ways to get relevant experience to boost your resume in your field of interest: relevant courses, personal projects, volunteering, etc. You can also learn some of the hard skills outside of the classroom. For example, there are many courses online that teach the different skills used in data roles.
Is there anything you would like to say before we end?
Don’t lose your curiosity when you leave Stanford and start your career. It is easy to get into a routine, get good at what you do, and get comfortable. But I think that in this fast-changing world, you should strive to constantly be learning and keep tabs on the changes in your industry and beyond. You never know when and where the next opportunity will arise.