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Tech Spotlight

Tech Spotlight: Alex Johnson

The Abernathy Tech Spotlight series highlights black professionals working in tech, from freelance developers to non-technical founders. Complete this form to submit your profile.


What is your current role and where do you work?
I’m a Software Engineer at Expert System. Expert System semantic software solutions company headquartered in Italy. I’m working on a product called the Biopharma Navigator, which is a comprehensive discovery and analytics portal into the Biopharmaceutical space. Think clinical trials, patents, expert identification, competitive intelligence re: drug launch dates, etc. We have over 1,000 active users worldwide, including one of the largest Pharma companies in the world. It’s exciting work, never a dull moment because there is so much to do in so many different areas!

How did you get into tech?
My father is a tinkerer, and I remember helping him build a PC when I was five years old (133 MHz processor, whew!). Back then, the Internet was truly the domain of geeks and explorers, and had this exciting Wild West feeling that is hard to describe. By age 13 I had broken the family PC enough times to warrant getting my own desktop.

I purchased a book called “Teach Yourself the C Programming Language in 24 Hours”. After a couple of months of intensive studying, I became very discouraged and felt stupid because it was taking me so long to become an expert programmer. I more or less gave up and stuck to video games, but the light had already been sparked.

What project are you most proud to have worked on and why?
At a previous job, I translated a grad student’s machine learning algorithm from an R prototype into production-ready Java code. I love that intersection between research and real-life engineering.

What do you see as the most interesting technology on the horizon?
I’m really curious how online communication will evolve over time. With each new popular social network or mobile app comes a different paradigm for how humans interact with each other. This of course changes everything.

If you weren’t working in tech, what would you be doing?
An airline pilot. I have a childlike obsession with aircraft.

What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned in your tech career?
Never underestimate the social element of your work. There’s always a person on the other side.

What can companies do to create more inclusive environments?
The representation black people have in tech is really stark, and of course it’s a complicated issue. The most I can ask of a company is to create a level playing field. Start with recruiting and hiring fairly, and make sure that permeates all the way up. Things are better than they were in the past, but there’s still a lot of progress to be made.


The Abernathy Tech Spotlight series highlights black professionals working in tech, from freelance developers to non-technical founders. Complete this form to submit your profile.