Alex Sinson of Paperless Parts: “Have humility”

Think of the big picture while tracking the little details — To best onboard our customers, we need to always think of what the customer wants to do and what the timeline is so that the customer can succeed. However, without paying attention to the small details and understanding where the customer is in his or her […]

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Think of the big picture while tracking the little details — To best onboard our customers, we need to always think of what the customer wants to do and what the timeline is so that the customer can succeed. However, without paying attention to the small details and understanding where the customer is in his or her onboarding journey, it’s hard to set the customer up for success.

As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alex Sinson, Customer Success Manager at Paperless Parts.

Alex is a recent graduate of Trinity College, where she studied mechanical engineering and environmental science, and was valedictorian of her class. She recently joined Paperless Parts, a startup that provides software to help manufacturers modernize and grow. As a customer success manager, she works with new customers to implement the software and modernize their quoting process. In her spare time, Alex loves hiking, running, cooking, and spending time with family and friends.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Thanks for having me! I went to school at Trinity College, where I majored in mechanical engineering and environmental science. I heard of Paperless Parts, the manufacturing software company that I joined in August 2020, while attending college because the company was founded by Trinity alumnus Jason Ray. As I was completing my coursework in mechanical engineering, I got in touch with a former classmate who works at Paperless Parts and learned about the company, its digital platform for manufacturers and the supportive work culture. In my initial conversation with Jason, we discussed if I wanted to be in an engineering role or work directly with customers. I realized that I could best lend my engineering and interpersonal skills as a customer success manager to help customers with their challenges or issues with the platform. The technical experience and problem-solving skills from my time studying mechanical engineering has enabled me to have more in-depth and technical conversations with customers, as well as common ground in engineering.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

At Paperless Parts, we work with manufacturing shops across the country — for example, last week I worked with shops based in California, Florida, Colorado, Texas, New Hampshire, Idaho, and Wisconsin. One customer I work with ended up being based down the road from where I grew up, and it’s one of our bigger shops. It was really cool to see that connection between my hometown, the manufacturing industry, and my job.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

It’s common for entry-level employees to have trouble with adjusting to being a part of the full-time workforce, and what that entails. For example, on my very first day at Paperless Parts, I realized that I didn’t have my work email login, which is critical when working remotely. Since I started in August 2020, most of the staff was remote, so I couldn’t easily turn to someone at another desk to ask for help. I ended up texting a colleague, and the issue was quickly resolved.

Since then, I’ve learned that when issues arise, you should always reach out for help — especially at a startup. We’re all wearing different hats, and it’s great to know we support one another.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

The culture at Paperless Parts is a huge reason why I joined the company. Every person is extremely curious and passionate about the work that we’re doing, and we’re all motivated towards both our personal and company-wide goals. We’ve also become good friends both inside and outside of work — for example, a group of us would go to an ice rink once a week after work to skate around and hang out with each other, COVID-permitting. Having that outlet outside of work is great.

Part of our culture also focuses on transparency, so that each employee at every level of the company knows what is happening with the business. Each Friday, we have a company-wide meeting to talk about the status of the business and what teams have on their plates. Before my very first meeting, Jason encouraged me that if I had questions or ideas for how to improve the company, to raise them right away. I knew it was a genuine sentiment, and it was nice to feel that even though it was only my first meeting, I was being encouraged to use my voice.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Currently, the entire customer success team is re-thinking the strategy about how we onboard manufacturing job shops, catering our process to each unique shop to make it efficient and valuable for every customer. I love learning from and working with our customers to ensure that they get the most value out of the platform as quickly as possible. By catering each onboarding process to specific shops, we can ensure each one gets value out of our software more quickly, which will ultimately help them win more jobs and grow their business. It is very rewarding interacting with customers every day and seeing the impact our team’s work is having on each customer and the industry in general.

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?

Obviously, the status quo right now is that men outnumber women in STEM. To change the status quo, it’s important that we expose young girls to STEM and show them role models they can look up to who are working in the field. Showing young girls what they can do in STEM and getting them excited will be key to equalizing the field. Right now, we also need to make a conscious effort to educate, recruit and promote the women who are working in STEM and show that the work they’re contributing is meaningful.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in STEM or Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?

During college and talking to female friends in the field, two challenges that continue to come up are being underestimated and the need to be friendly or agreeable. Even in my classes, it felt as though sometimes people were surprised when women knew the answer to an equation, and it felt like they were skeptical of women’s work or abilities. There is often unspoken pressure for women to be friendly and passive — if a woman pushes back or takes control of a conversation, it’s seen as a negative trait.

I haven’t had these experiences at Paperless Parts — everyone is treated with equal respect, and we’re all open minded to listen to what others have to say. However, to solve these challenges at scale, we need to place more women in the field. Over time this will help change people’s perception of women’s STEM capabilities, but this is also on managers and leaders to acknowledge that this unconscious bias is happening.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech. Can you explain what you mean?

Building off of my response above, I don’t think women need to be friendly all day, every day at their jobs. Women can, and should, take charge in conversations or push back when needed without being labeled as negative or bossy.

I think another myth that is damaging is that women in STEM or tech can’t be feminine — the assumption is that they have to be “one of the boys.” Women should be allowed to express themselves in manners that are comfortable for them.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM or Tech” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Be fierce — As women, it can be seen as a negative, but being fierce is all about being confident. Women shouldn’t be afraid of demanding the respect that they deserve.
  2. Have humility — Even though I’m new in the workplace, I know it’s important to be curious and learn from everyone. Each member of the team is still growing and learning, and everyone is valuable.
  3. Relationships matter — Leaders should remember that they can’t build an effective team if people aren’t taken care of. I played hockey in college and served as captain. I knew it was important to foster good relationships off the ice, so that we could work as a better team on the ice.
  4. It’s okay to make mistakes — This goes for both leaders and members of the team. Leaders should create an environment where people can make mistakes and give themselves slack when a mistake happens. Otherwise, no one will be able to grow.
  5. Think of the big picture while tracking the little details — To best onboard our customers, we need to always think of what the customer wants to do and what the timeline is so that the customer can succeed. However, without paying attention to the small details and understanding where the customer is in his or her onboarding journey, it’s hard to set the customer up for success.

What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?

Beyond the five leadership lessons above, it’s critical for women leaders to build diverse teams. One question that someone posed to me early in my career at Paperless Parts was, “Would you want to work for them?” That has stuck with me and reinforced the notion that building the right team is paramount to achieving long-term success.

What advice would you give to other women leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

I would tell other women leaders to have humility and create an environment where mistakes are welcome — two of my leadership lessons. With larger teams, I think it’s more important for women to be fierce and confident while still fostering relationships with those on her team. This way, women can build trust within their teams and empower team members to think big and keep the big picture at the forefront of everything they do.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There are so many people who come to mind, the first being my parents. They’ve both been extremely supportive of all of my endeavors. My grandma has also been really supportive — she’s also the most intense feminist I know! As a kid, she would read me books and change the main character’s name (which was usually a boy’s name), to my name or other girls’ names, helping to cement the notion that girls can do anything boys do, too.

When I was in school, I also had a close female friend that studied engineering with me, and we would help each other study, speak to companies at job fairs and even practiced handshakes with each other to show our confidence. It was refreshing to have her in my classes and to take on the engineering patriarchy together.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I’ve always been passionate about the environment, which is one of the reasons why I majored in the subject in college. While still in school, I worked over the summers in a National Forest, where a big part of my job was teaching kids and adults about the surrounding environment, how nature all fits together and interacts, and little things they can do to protect it. I loved teaching people of all ages and backgrounds and sharing my love for the outdoors. Inspiring others to love and protect the environment was incredible, and I hope to continue doing so in the future as the pandemic lifts and climate change continues to affect our future.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I’d start a movement to get young girls access to STEM and the tech industry more broadly, especially girls who might not have computer science programs at school. Part of overcoming the status quo is ensuring that everyone has access to programs that create excitement and curiosity about STEM. For example, I first dreamt of becoming an engineer in seventh grade when my team won our school’s Rube Goldberg competition. With this movement, I’d be able to help young girls see their potential in a field they may not have necessarily considered before.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

There are two quotes that immediately come to mind:

  • “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” This quote from Mark Twain has stuck with me, especially when it came to making decisions that would be deemed “risky.” With this perspective in mind, it’s been helpful to make plans and bigger decisions.
  • “Do one thing every day that scares you.” My grandma introduced this quote to me, as it was one of her favorites. It reminds me to be in the moment and embrace the fear as a motivation to do things I may not have thought to do.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

I’d absolutely have to go with Michelle Obama — she’s an incredible leader and role model. I’d love to be able to sit down with her and pick her brain on leadership, being a woman in a male-dominated environment, and fully owning her role and who she is!

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