Creativity & Beneficial Blindfolds  

photograph by Windy Yeager

Alysia Andrikopoulos is an independent woman if there ever was one. She’s well educated, well traveled, and has worked for companies like Apple, Visa, and Google, to name a few. Considering everything she’s achieved, you may wonder how she made it all happen. To Andrikopoulos, her Wyoming town (of only 600 people) felt very egalitarian, a place where gender and titles didn’t matter. This led her to feel that men and women were equally capable of doing any job. She developed an admiration for inventors and designers.

When I asked her how she felt about being a woman in a field dominated by men, she said: “It’s funny, but I didn’t notice…”

“Creativity is the biggest thing that we contribute to the world,” she says. She felt a strong pull to create something that would “improve the lives of others.” I was very impressed that she’d been genuinely interested in the experience of a profession instead of its titles and accolades. “I didn’t look ahead and think what do I want to be,” she says. “I thought what do I want to do.”

 Andrikopoulos’s desire to leave her creative mark on the world required that she become a ground breaker early on; her high school’s graduating class had only 14 students and out of those 14 no one else had gone to college outside of the state. But doing the unusual didn’t phase her. She went to Stanford and earned her BA in Product Design—a poetic combination of her passion for math, art, and engineering. After college, she worked at Hewlett Packard for 3 years. When I asked her how she felt about being a woman in a field dominated by men, she said: “It’s funny, but I didn’t notice, It’s kinda like when someone’s giving a presentation, you just look forward, you don’t really look around at everyone beside you.” From my experience, loads of people look at the other people sitting around them during a presentation (and at a myriad of other things). But Andrikopoulos’s ability to have beneficial blinders on worked wonders for her; she didn’t sit around comparing herself to others or worry about what they were doing, she looked forward and stayed focused.

She had the guts to live in the moment and not plan her life out—something I’ve only recently learned the value of.

 After Hewlett Packard, she worked at Apple as a product designer, and helped create the very first Apple track pad. When she got word that Apple might be doing considerable layoffs, she saw it as an opportunity to go to grad school. Though most of her classmates at Harvard Business School were graduating with jobs in hand, Andrikopoulos—an admitted a risk taker”—chose to and travel for the summer. She also knew that she wanted to work for a small company that wouldn’t be doing hires in advance, so (again) she did things her own way. When she returned from her travels, she immediately landed a job at a software company as a product manager.

 After leaving that company, trying to start her own business, and traveling some more, she returned to the U.S. to look for a job. Unfortunately, it was right after the dot-com crash, and people weren’t hiring. So she got in touch with an old friend who was working at Visa, and coincidentally he said he was looking for people like her. They were doing a skunkworks project, rebuilding the European authorization system used when you swipe your card. They hired her as the project manager. When the project moved to Europe, she networked her way into an opportunity at PayPal. And though she loved working there, it was short-lived, because another contact persuaded her to take a meeting with Google. Andrikopoulos’s been there now for nearly ten years, and has done some revolutionary things. When she was asked to join several engineers on a certain map-building project, she was delighted. This project was the culmination of so many things she’d wanted for her life—it was creative, fun, and challenging, and it allowed her inner explorer and inventor to shine.

Needless to say, I found Andrikopoulos inspiring, incredibly humble, and (as should be evidenced by the power of her networking) truly engaging to talk with, which is why she “never had to find a job on a job posting.” She stressed to me how important it was for her to have had a mentor, someone who really championed her. In addition to that, I came away with several observable life-lessons from my time with her. For starters, she had the guts to live in the moment and not plan her life out—something I’ve only recently learned the value of. She saw windows of opportunity, and whenever something felt intriguing she jumped. She was comfortable listening to her intuition and didn’t compare herself to others, which enabled her to confidently go against the grain. And last but not least, she was “always less interested in climbing the corporate ladder, and more interested in doing interesting things and contributing in interesting ways.”

In the end, she’s succeeded at all three.

by Jenn Schmukler


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