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Kathy Alexion, CIO at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, at the nonprofit’s annual holiday gala in 2018 with her husband Tim McDonald. (Fred Hutch Photo)

With a resume that includes Amazon, Microsoft, Hewlett Packard, Chase and others, Kathy Alexion confesses to being a “corporate soldier.” But her nearly three years at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center have revealed an extra element of professional satisfaction.

“I like the corporate world,” Alexion said. “But there’s something special about being in a nonprofit, that you’re doing good things for humanity.”

When she arrived at the Fred Hutch, as it’s commonly known, all of the organization’s 40-plus years of digital records were stored onsite.

“We had a lot of technical debt cleanup to do,” Alexion said. She helped lead the push to shift half of their data to the cloud, a digital leap that should accelerate the Fred Hutch’s cancer research.

Kathy Alexion with her daugther Lucy McDonald and husband Tim McDonald. (Photo courtesy of Kathy Alexion)

In January, Alexion was promoted to chief information officer (CIO) and vice president of information technology. Her purview includes network and systems engineering, the Project Management Office, enterprise application services, information security and business operations.

While she finds the work rewarding, Alexion said there’s a tricky tension that she has had to navigate. On one hand, the Fred Hutch is literally on a life-or-death mission to cure cancer, which creates a definite sense of urgency, she said. On the other hand, the organization has typically moved at a slower, cautious, academic pace. Her challenge is to bring some of the urgency of the bigger goals to the institutional culture.

Alexion will have the chance to highlight some of the Fred Hutch’s new tech initiatives and collaborations at the Hopperx1 Seattle conference on March 22-23. She’s the final keynote for the localized version of the annually-held, international Grace Hopper Celebration.

“It is a huge, renowned conference and I’m excited and honored to be closing it out,” she said, “and to be representing women in technology.”

We caught up with Alexion for this Working Geek, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for her answers to our questionnaire.

Current location: A wintery Fred Hutch campus on South Lake Union in Seattle

Computer types: When it comes to tech, I’m generally an equal opportunist and use both a PC and Mac

Mobile devices: iPhone

Favorite apps, cloud services and software tools:  Apple Music, Audible, OneNote, paper notebook with a pen (yes, those still exist!), a whiteboard

Alexion’s work space at the Fred Hutch until she makes her upcoming move into a larger space. (Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center Photo)

Describe your workspace. Why does it work for you? I’m in transition right now, moving to a bigger office. Currently my work space is cozy. It’s a cross section between tidy and organized chaos.

Your best advice for managing everyday work and life? For everyday work life, get the little stuff out the door ASAP or it piles up fast. Outside of work, know who and what matters and who and what doesn’t. Don’t waste time on stuff that doesn’t matter. Life is too short. Oh, and make lists! Lists always help with work and life management.

Your preferred social network? How do you use it for business/work? LinkedIn for business (love articles and happenings), Twitter and Facebook for news and social.

Number of appointments/meetings on your calendar this week? 50+

How do you run meetings? By clearly stating the meeting’s purpose, opening the discussion, guiding the discussion, white boarding if needed and ending with action items. It’s also important to follow up with action item owners to ensure things actually get done.

Alexion and her family. (Photo courtesy of Kathy Alexion)

Everyday work uniform? It depends on my day. Business attire for exec meetings, otherwise casual.

How do you make time for family? Let’s just say that boundaries are important. Without my family, nothing else really matters, so I definitely carve out a dedicated no-work, no-phone, no-laptop time. We travel, hike, watch movies, play in the snow, ride bikes, etc.

Best stress reliever? How do you unplug? Spending time with my 4-year-old. Who doesn’t love a good game of Barbies and doll house or breaking out the Candy Land board? Otherwise, you can find me running around on a soccer field, hiking or outdoors or spending time with my husband.

What are you listening to? Country singer Luke Bryan and Mexican pop singer Paulina Rubio. How’s that for a dichotomy!

Daily reads? Favorite sites and newsletters? There are so many, but I’m an HBR.com (Harvard Business Review) junkie and of course GeekWire.

Book on your nightstand (or e-reader)? “Dare to Lead” by Brené Brown.

Night owl or early riser? Night owl. Hoot hoot!

Where do you get your best ideas? Strangely enough, I get some of my best ideas on an airplane or late at night in the office. When I get away from it all, the ideas just start flowing in.

Whose work style would you want to learn more about or emulate? Richard Branson. He’s such an interesting, non-traditional guy.

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