FSQ Faces – Alicia Donovan Brainerd, Director, Engineering

We are excited to welcome Alicia Donovan Brainerd to Foursquare as a Director of Engineering! Together, we’ll learn more about Alicia and her extensive experience in this edition of FSQ Faces.

Can you tell us about your background and experience in the tech industry, and how it has prepared you for this new role?

My journey through the tech industry has been exciting, from the hustle of startups to Salesforce. In the early days, startups were my playground, where every challenge was a chance to innovate and every setback a lesson in resilience. Entering the realm of Salesforce, I found myself navigating a landscape of scale and complexity, where precision and excellence were the guiding principles. I never lost my roots, infusing every decision with a spark of creativity and daring. So, when asked about my background, it’s a story of highs and lows, a blend of innovation and adaptability that has prepared me for any challenge that comes my way in this new role at Foursquare.

What inspired you to pursue a career in engineering, and how did you find your way to this role at Foursquare?

With life’s twists and turns, I found myself initially drawn to the path of journalism, but fate’s gentle nudges led me to engineering based on an unpaid internship in journalism. It was at Avery Dennison, where I learned Lotus Notes and where passion with engineering blossomed. Each line of code spoke to a passion I never knew I possessed.

After a serendipitous conversation with Wade Wegner, the Global Head of Product at Foursquare, where we reconnected over shared past experiences, I found myself unexpectedly drawn to Foursquare’s mission. Wade’s passion for innovation and his heartfelt recounting of the company’s journey resonated deeply with me. As he painted a vivid picture of the team’s vision and values, I couldn’t help but feel a surge of excitement run through me. The opportunity to contribute to such a dynamic and purpose-driven environment ignited a fire within me, and I am thrilled to be a part of Foursquare’s journey and hope to make a meaningful impact.

What qualities do you believe set exceptional engineering teams from the rest, and how do you bring those qualities to life within your team at Foursquare?

Exceptional engineering teams radiate with a spirit of collaboration, empathy, and innovation. They communicate openly, understanding that true connection fuels creativity and drives progress. Teams approach challenges with empathy, recognizing the humanity in every line of code and every decision made. Through a lens of possibility, they innovate fearlessly, knowing that every idea holds the potential to transform the world. Together, they share diverse perspectives, each thread contributing to their collective success. In the ever-changing landscape of technology, they remain adaptable and resilient, embracing change as an opportunity for growth. With unwavering dedication to quality and a commitment to excellence, they lead by example, inspiring those around them to reach new heights.

Collaboration is critical when it comes to engineering. Can you share a memorable experience where effective collaboration led to the success of a challenging project?

Collaboration is the guiding light of any engineering project. I can remember a time when tensions were rising and deadlines looming, we found ourselves at a crossroads, grappling with conflicting ideas and looming doubts about how to move a project forward for our customers. Yet in that moment, we paused and grounded ourselves. As egos dissolved, a transformative energy permeated the room, paving the way for an exchange of ideas. Through genuine listening, mutual respect, and unwavering support, we transcended our limitations and co-created a solution that surpassed our expectations. This experience reaffirmed the profound truth that in the realm of engineering, true success is not merely the culmination of technical expertise, but rather the alchemy of collaboration, empathy, and shared vision.

What advice would you give to women in tech looking to advance to the next role?

I would encourage women to embrace their inner strength and resilience. Acknowledge the fears and doubts that may arise along the way, but do not let them hinder your progress; instead, use them as catalysts for growth and empowerment. Surround yourself with a supportive network of mentors, peers, and allies who champion your aspirations and believe in your potential. Cultivate a mindset of continuous learning, staying attuned to the latest advancements and emerging trends within the industry. As you navigate the challenges and obstacles that may present themselves, remember to lead with authenticity, compassion, and integrity. Champion diversity and inclusion within your teams, amplifying the voices of underrepresented individuals and fostering a culture of belonging. Seize opportunities to showcase your leadership abilities, whether through spearheading innovative projects, mentoring aspiring engineers, or advocating for meaningful change within your organization. 

And above all, prioritize self-care and well-being, nurturing your physical, mental, and emotional health as you pursue your professional ambitions. By embodying these principles and embracing wisdom, women in tech can chart a path towards fulfilling their aspirations and ascend to leadership roles.

When employees join Foursquare, they’re always asked to share a fun fact. What would your fun fact be?

I coordinate my closet by sleeve length + color and cannot live without music at all times!

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