Season 4, Episode 4
Alexandra is the Vice President of Marketing at CodeSee, where she drives the go-to-market strategy for Maps—a code visualization tool designed to help devs navigate and understand their code in the context of the codebase. She’s made a career of creating compelling tech brands and marketing the results, including work for Intellectual Ventures, Microsoft Ventures, and Veritas Technologies among others. Her love for STEM is expansive, and she believes everyone has a right to a voice in our shared technological future.
Welcome to Data Brew by Databricks with Denny and Brooke. The series allows us to explore various topics in the data and AI community. Whether we’re talking about data engineering or data science, we will interview subject matter experts to dive deeper into these topics. In this season, we’re going to focus on connected health and how data and AI augment and improve our daily health. While we’re at it, we’re going to enjoy our morning brew. My name is Denny Lee. I’m a developer advocate at Databricks and one half of Data Brew.
Hello everyone. My name is Brooke Wenig, Machine Learning Practice Lead at Databricks and the other half of Data Brew. Today I am pleased to introduce Alexandra Matthiesen, who is VP of Marketing at CodeSee and an avid runner. She runs the length of the US every year.
Hi, it’s awesome to be here. I really appreciate you both inviting me to be a part of this episode.
Awesome. So to kick it off Alexandra, can you talk a bit more about what is CodeSee?
I would love to. CodeSee is the company that gainfully employs me and makes maps. Maps are interactive code diagrams. They’re automatically generated, so you just commit to a GitHub repository and they sink to the code base with each commit so they’re are always up to date. Our leading goal at CodeSee is to help developers gain easier, faster code base understanding. Today’s code bases, they’re incredibly complex. They’re ever evolving and many of them are massive. Developers have to gain a sense of familiarity with that code base if they’re stepping into a new project, but that learning is something that they’re actually facing every day, even after onboarding. Maps is designed to solve that problem, to help developers gain a sense of familiarity with a code base and even maintain that familiarity as the code base evolves, which is what it does, right? Code is constantly evolving.
And so, you’re the VP of Marketing at a tech company. Can you share a bit more about some of the misconceptions people have when they think about a marketing department or a marketing team?
I couldn’t stop smiling right now if I tried. That question is so good. Let’s see … misconceptions about marketing. I’ve been marketing in the technology sector for the entirety of my 15-year career and something I constantly hear is my product doesn’t need marketing or my service doesn’t need marketing. Every time someone says this to me, I can’t help but think, “How do you believe you decided to purchase the laptop you’re using or the phone that’s in your pocket or the shirt you’re wearing or the diet Coke you’re drinking?” As much as we want to believe that we have free will, a lot of it is guided by marketing.
I guess the reason why I think people want to believe that their product or service doesn’t require marketing is because we often maintain this misconception that marketing is trickery. That there is some element of artifice in it. But if you’re doing marketing right, and specifically marketing to a tech-focused audience, and even more specifically to a developer audience, there is no trickery. Marketing is alignment. You are truly just aligning your product to the interests and needs of that audience when they are seeking a solution to a specific problem.
Marketing when done well should really just be information sharing in a strategic way that makes sure you are providing the information a developer is seeking to solve a problem they have that supports their interest and needs. Ideally you’ve designed your product with great intention and intelligently so that it effectively addresses those interests and needs. A developer audience is going to know when they see what they need and want. Hopefully, it’s your product.
That is an excellent explanation of the importance of marketing. I really do appreciate it, especially considering I work with marketing a lot and I’ve never heard it so succinctly. I’ll eventually be able to speak. But so really appreciate that explanation. But I did want to shift gears just a little bit because you did mention running. Or Brooke mentioned running. But I really want to dive right into that. How did you get into running for starters?
Good question. Actually, funny thing, I just listened to a podcast in which Angela Duckworth and Steven Dubner explained that one of the most common responses to somebody asking a question in an interview is, “Good question.” So can we all pretend I didn’t just respond with “good question.” It’s hate to follow those patterns. Got to break the patterns. Running, let’s see, it started when I was really young. I just always enjoyed the feel of running. There is a sense of freedom in it. I remember that even from a very young age. The sort of encompassing bodily experience of running at breakneck speed down a street. When I went into elementary school and junior high, I took on cross country and track, and experience running in sort of a more programmatic capacity in that way. And then continued a little bit of that in high school, but focused on some other things, one of them being cheerleading. I also did dance. Things that were sort of, I guess, a little more traditionally effeminate, whatever that means.
Then when I graduated, I stepped back into running in a very real way. At the time I was dealing with a lot of anxiety at the start of my university experience, and started running again daily, and started with just four laps around the local track. Then started taking on more lengthy road runs and got to a point I am today where I run between five and 15 miles every day. I can comfortably say from about the point of 18 on I’ve … but right now I’m actually on a pretty intensive streak. I think today will be run 1,283 in a row, no days off at all.
Whoa, that is impressive. Okay, so I’m going to curve it back to data since you’re able to tell me 1000, I’m sorry, 1,283. Wow. Okay, so what kind of tech do you use when you run? I’m just curious. How do you track it? Is it old school? Like check a box on a paper calendar, your Apple watch. I’m just curious. What’s the context for you, at least?
I love all things tech. I have to check myself before I wreck myself. I am that person that will see all of the potential applications, all of the potential wearable tech, the internet of things, and want to try it all. As I’ve matured, I’ve realized that simpler is a better approach for me, particularly when it comes to personal data awareness and tracking. I think data can be something that is very grounding. It can propel people to continue a positive pattern, for example. We’re starting to see a lot of that where some of these wearable devices are encouraging people day over day to continue activity.
For me, if I’m not careful, that can take on a compulsive nature so I have to be careful about that. Right now I wear the Apple watch and have been for probably five years now. Obviously link that to my iPhone and track through the Native Activity app on Apple. I know that there are a ton of really cool other applications out there and cool wearable devices that offer more comprehensive data tracking. But for me, that additional data can be a little bit distracting if that makes sense, and perhaps worse, a little bit, it can take me off my path.
I know Denny’s super interested in the tech. I’m more interested in how have you avoided getting injured for 1,283 days?
I always run at least five miles, but I do allow myself, on the days when I’m feeling, for example, especially tired. We all have just off days where we’re not feeling as physically well as we normally do or would want to. On those days, I’ll allow myself to just put in five miles. Then I have days where I feel exemplary and exhilarated, and when I step into my run, I’ll want to do 15, 20, 25 miles easily. I think that self-awareness is the reason why I don’t get injured. Just understanding how I’m feeling in any given moment, especially as I step into my run, and making very intentional decisions throughout my run. So if I step into the run and I’m just not hitting my stride, I won’t push myself to 10 miles if that was my goal when I first started out.
That’s some really good advice. I know for myself, if I have an off day, I might just not work out at all. But just instead lowering that target and having that threshold, for you it’s five miles, for me it might be a little bit less for running. But I’m very of curious, what is your goal? I know you said you’re on an intensive training schedule. Is there something that you’re training for? Is there a certain number of days you’re trying to run in a row to break a record?
This is kind of funny. When I first started tracking no days off, it was certainly with intention, but the intention was really different. When we did the pre-production for this show and talked through this, it was really helpful for me to go back into that mental space and contemplate. What was it like when I started doing this years ago? Because it’s been over three years now that I’ve been running daily.
When I first started out, the goal was simply to test my physical bounds. You often hear people say that you need off days. Days when you don’t run; when you rest. I had never physically felt that need. I always felt the desire to run. Maybe not 15 miles, maybe just five, but I still felt it every day. And so, I wanted to test my physical bounds.
But interestingly after about 90 days in, something shifted. Which is interesting because they also say that it requires 90 days to create an effective mental pattern and drive to pursue a habit. And so, it could have something to do with that. But after about 90 days, it became more of a commitment to my mental wellness. I realized this really lovely shift in my overall person and personality and it was undeniably tied to daily running. I think more clearly. I sleep more soundly. I think I even enjoy my food more when I run at this steady rate. So it started out as personal physical test and now it is very much a commitment to my mental health.
That’s actually really eye-opening. Thanks for calling out the thing about the 90 days for a habit, because let me, just for myself personally, I still remember when I first started cycling earlier last year. You’re right. It probably took me about three months to finally get into the groove. I just had to sort of force myself to do it. Because I’d be sitting on the couch. I don’t want to move. Then basically it’s like, “Okay, no, you have to do it. You have to do it.” Now it’s almost the exact opposite. It’s like, “Hey, you’re injured now. You probably want to stop cycling.” So, good call up with the 90-day habit concept. I’m just curious then, to make it more interesting, at least for me personally, and you can probably tell me that, “No, no, you’re just a wimp.” Do you listen to podcast? Do you listen to music in order to be able to continue running like that? Because at least for me, and this is where I fully admit my weakness here, I can’t run without music blasting.
Let’s see, I started out listening to music. Then I quickly realized it was this delightfully-focused time when I was thinking in a different fashion. When I’m running, I think in this very linear fashion. So if I’m contemplating the work day, for example, somehow in the midst of my run is when I’ll have that aha moment. I’ll often find the solution I’ve been seeking to a problem I’ve been navigating. Do you ever experience that, Brooke? Because I know you’re very active too. Do you ever hit mile three or four or five and suddenly you just get it?
For me, that’s on the bike, so it’s going to be more like mile 10, 20, 30. I used to be a runner, but similar to Denny, I would always run with some music. But cycling, I always do without music or podcast or anything. I think I have the same experience you do of you’re disconnecting from a screen. You can take a step back. It’s like how some people like to take long showers. We can’t do that anymore with a drought in California, but that’s just a time to disconnect and not have any agenda for your thoughts.
Yeah, exactly. What I realized, I guess, in that more linear approach to thinking is that it was a perfect time to engage audiobooks. I started years ago listening to audio books and podcast on my runs. Comically there are some audio books I’ve listened to three, four, five times over the course of the last few years, just because I find that every single time I listen to them I hear them a little differently. I take in the information a little differently. It’s a wonderful time to learn. I worry too, though, that a part of that is this pressing feeling that I have to be incessantly productive. So while I’m sitting here justifying it to you, please know that I’m also wholly aware that part of it is that mindset that like, got to be productive every moment of the day, including when I’m running.
Do you ever find that you get so into an audio book or a podcast that you’re listening to and then your run comes to an end for whatever the reason may be? Then as soon as you get home, you just continue listening to it? Or do you try to refrain yourself and say, “No, I can only listen to this book while I’m running”?
If I’m really into something, I’ll definitely keep listening. But it’s interesting you ask because I’ll bet a majority of the time I feel a strange kind of inexplicable need to turn it off and mark the close of my run. If it’s music, I absolutely turn it off. Music is something that I engage in activity, either when I’m walking or running or driving. How about you? I’m interested to know, Brooke. How does that … do you stop whatever you’re listening to when you arrive at your home, for example, or your destination?
Where this question comes from is throughout the pandemic I got really into Zwift. It’s an online platform for cyclist. There’s also runners on it, but I use it for cycling. Denny joins me as well and we do virtual rides together, some other folks at Databricks. And so, generally if I’m riding in the evenings it’s, “Okay, I can watch Netflix only if I ride the bike while I watch Netflix.” That way I’m not sitting on the couch, watching Netflix and feeling bad. But if I’m on the bike and I start watching Netflix and it’s been an hour and a half, I’m like, “All right, this has been a good ride. I want to keep watching.” I have to restrain myself and say, “No, this is going to be the reward for tomorrow, if I bike indoors.”
Denny Lee 17:05
I’m with you and I’m guilty of doing almost the exact opposite, which is I’ll just continue riding in order to be able to of finish the episode that I’m watching. Whatever show on Netflix, usually I’m watching the serialized stuff, not as many movies for exactly this reason. Because I do feel like, “No, no, I can just cut myself off right now,” it’s after a one hour show. But then it’s like, “Oh wait, this next episode’s going to be really good.” So then I’ll just keep riding. That’s why I end up getting injured because like, “Dude, you didn’t drink enough water and you’ve been cycling me for three hours straight.” Okay, minute enough at a really low speed so it’s okay. But still that’s stupid, right?
Here’s a question. Do you ever have a phone conversation while you’re cycling?
Only while indoors. If I’m riding on Zwift, that’s the time where I’d call relatives. If I’m just doing a chill recovery workout. They can usually tell my heart rate’s a bit elevated, maybe around 120, 130. But if my heart rate’s above that doing zone three, zone four efforts, there’s no way I’m talking to anybody unless they’re actively doing the efforts with me and they’re equally out of breath.
Brooke is always so excited when she calls us. She will go unnamed, but I have a friend who will call me when she knows I’m running. I think it’s because she’s just looking to emote. So she’ll truly like, sometimes I’ll leave and say, “Hey, I’m going to go on mute.” And she’ll just talk at me while I’m running. That’s friendship, right?
I would’ve shift gears a little bit, back into the tech world for a little bit, but do you actually see that love of running that you have here and the parallels with that within the context of the marketing tech world that you’re in? Is it a true just disconnect between these two worlds or do you feel that the one could feed off the other? You already alluded to the mental health break, but by the same token, you get my drift. I’m just curious, do you see parallels nevertheless?
Totally. One of the things about running or any activity that you take on, any hobby that you take on, is that there’s iteration in it. Every run, every cycle experience is a little bit different. I think for a lot of us, when you’re an athlete and you’re training day over day, you’re always going for that slightly different feeling. After a while, I don’t even know that the run or the ride is especially better. There’s no valence to it. It’s just, was it a little different today and how? Especially like for me, I’m doing it every single day. That’s absolutely present in marketing. Every single day, if you’re doing it right, you are iterating, and you are iterating driven by data. Most marketers I know today, particularly those in the tech sector, particularly those in a highly tech-connected space like developer tools, like we are with Code Z maps, ideally, everything you’re doing is driven by data. And so, it necessarily iterates along with your audience. Humans, we are constantly evolving and the data we produce is constantly evolving.
What kind of data do you track when you run?
Right now, I only track calories expended. Let’s see … minutes above a certain heart rate. Let’s see what else. Through the Native app on Apple, the activity app, I track move streak. How many days in a row have you hit that peak number of calories and miles run? I tend to be pretty careful about how much I track though. I found that, again, it can start drawing me in a way that can, I guess, focus me in a capacity that I don’t love. I don’t know if that makes sense.
I know what you mean. I felt that same way with Strava actually. With Strava, I was able to get QOMs, queen in the mountains on the descents. But I was never good enough to get them on the climbs. I found that I kept optimizing. All right, I’m okay. Going slow up the climb, as long as I go fast on the descent. I took myself off Strava, this was many years ago, and told myself I wouldn’t go back on until I’m ready to actually be competitive and focused on the climbs. One of these days I’ll get back on Strava, but I definitely know what you mean by the data can be detrimental. Part of the reason why I went off is there was a fatal bike crash in San Francisco where somebody was competing for a KOM, a King of the Mountain in San Francisco. Blew through a red light and hit an elderly person who passed away. And so, that was my rationale of this data’s incentivizing people in not necessarily the best ways.
Absolutely. There’s this aggressive, competitive nature to some of it that makes me uncomfortable. It’s funny. I realize I didn’t answer your earlier question, Denny. You’d asked, “Do I have a goal?” I don’t. Initially, I did. Brooke, to your point, initially I did. I was sort of driven by the desire to reach that perceived goal and now I don’t with great intention. For me, the data I capture is data that allows me to simply see in a diagrammatic fashion that I did the good thing for myself, that I had the run again, and committed to myself in that capacity again. That’s really satisfying versus comparing actual performance. I just want to know that I’m taking the time to care for myself in a way that feels right and is effective and productive.
I love that you’ve established this pattern of running every day. Do you have a regular cadence for when you run? Evenings, mornings, regular route, how do you keep yourself self- motivated?
Yes, yes, and yes. I run in the evening, always. That’s with great intention for a few reasons. One, just hyper basic human reason is that I tend to eat around one meal a day. That was a graceful way to just say I eat one meal a day. I always have to run after that meal. At that point I’m feeling the energy, the verve of having just had a delicious dinner and I’m ready to run. But then, I guess, the mental component of that is that it allows me to create a notable break between my work day and the close of the evening. And so, I enjoy my dinner. I prepare for my run, and I hit the road. So I’m always running in the evening.
I’m very particular about the route I’ll choose. If I’ve had a really full day, a long work day, I will probably choose a route where I am not intersecting with any cars or at least as few, like hitting as few intersections as possible, and that has wide sidewalks. I know myself. I will not be as focused on the actual run in that moment because I’m worn. I’m mentally worn. So I try to remove as few potential dangerous variables as I can. But when I’m feeling really in it to win it, really energized, I’ll take a ton of different paths across the city. I am in the heart of Seattle, Washington. I live in the Queen Anne neighborhood. I’m just a few blocks from the Space Needle, to give you sort of an idea of where that’s located. Right in the heart of the city. I am very intentional about my route. Just making sure that I’m reducing the potential danger that you naturally encounter when you’re running or cycling every day.
Because I’m a fellow Seattle-ite so I had to ask questions. Then, I’m just curious if you had a particularly long day versus do you choose … because Queen Anne is quite hilly. I’m just curious, some days you’re going to forget it. I need the flatter routes to deal with things versus I’m energized. So I’ll definitely take all the hills just because Queen Anne can be quite a pain.
I think it might be the highest peak in the city of Seattle, and this is a city that has a lot of hills. People are going to hate me for saying this. I love hills. I do. There is actually something strangely therapeutic about closing my run, going back up Queen Anne Hill. It’s kind of like, finish hard and I love that. If it’s a day when I am really, really worn at the close of my run, there’s even something that’s just sort of physically recomposing about trotting back up the hill. Again, even that is my cool down, I love that feeling.
And so, I’ve got to ask, how do you end the night with a run and not with another meal?
Oh my gosh, that’s a good one. Because a lot of people do. They’re really hungry after they eat. Strangely, I’m not. But I am really thirsty. So here’s the fatally human response. I have to be really careful about how much water I drink because I’m just a couple hours from bed and nobody wants to wake in the middle of the night having to use the restroom. So we can align that statement to all of the things one would naturally want to cut out of a podcast, but probably shouldn’t because it’s pretty entertaining.
I was probably going to make some jokes that we would have to cut out of the podcast. I’ll stick to not doing that at all. But I’m just curious then, from your perspective, for example, did you try initially … because for example, as a cyclist, especially during Seattle summers, I love cycling in the morning. For me, five o’clock in the morning is the best time because it’s cool enough to start the run. It won’t be hot during the day and there’s nobody on the trail, which is awesome. So I don’t have to worry about running into people or anything like …
I don’t always do the Burke-Gilman, but I definitely do that. My favorite part is always going across the 520. That’s just my favorite part of the ride always. To your point, all the hills from the East side that I have to hit, and so going up the hills are awesome. But I’m just curious, did you ever start trying to, instead of end the day with the run, beginning of the day with the run, and it charges you up for the work day? Or do you feel that it didn’t help you basically?
For the last, probably five, seven years, I start the day and open my laptop. The thought of not being able to do that even in this moment causes me mild anxiety. I start the work day so early and just alive and in it, wanting to work. Those really early hours are when I work most effectively. A lot of my work is composition and strategy. The early morning hours just feel right for that. Whereas, for me running is something that I do to decompress. It’s very meditative. That’s how it works out for me in terms of my physiology and how I experience it mentally. But I know a lot of people who, the best way start any day is in cardiovascular activity.
I have the same dilemma you do. I’m most effective at everything in the morning, whether it’s working out or working. And so, I often start with working, especially if I’m on the West Coast. If I’m on the East Coast, I’m ahead of other folks, I generally will start with the workout. We only have a few minutes left. I was just curious, if you could share any advice that you have for folks who maybe want to get into running, be more tech oriented with how they track their workouts, maybe not just for running but just in general connected health and connected fitness.
I love the idea of goal setting, which is where data comes in beautifully and easily. Data and capturing data through something like an Apple watch or even your iPhone. I mean, as much as I want to encourage people to buy more tech and wearable tech, which I love, most of our devices have the ability to track at least, like, your steps. If you input personal health data, you can often track potential expended calories and things like that, and miles walked or run. I think that setting simple goals for oneself is a really nice way to work thoughtfully with data.
And I like the idea of people, all people, feeling that sort of health data and data tracking is accessible to them. Fortunately, companies like Apple and in the Android ecosystem as well, they have designed those applications so that they’re pretty human-centric. I know folks who don’t wear wearable tech and take advantage of them all the time and love them. So I guess one thing I would advise is that, check out what capabilities your device has, even if you don’t want to have and wear a wearable device like an Apple watch or a Garmin watch.
There are a ton of really cool apps out there. I don’t personally use them, but I know a lot of people who really enjoy them. Then, try to engage different forms of media if you can. Music is really enjoyable, but again, I’ve found that runs offer a really cool opportunity to learn something new. And so, I’ve often listened to even really technically-complex literature while I’m running, because it’s sort of a different mindset and it works really well for me. I know Brooke, you’re not totally in love with audio books generally, you had said, but I do think that there is probably a form of literary content in audio form that is accessible to everybody and could be enjoyable. I have found that that’s a way to create a delightful experience and then ultimately a pattern in activity.
I still love paper books far too much. I check out my books from the library and that’s my meditation is reading before bed, not running before bed. But I’m sure many of our listeners would be super curious to know, how do you actually carry your phone when you run? I know when I was doing a lot of running, I would have an arm band. How do you carry your phone?
I have surprisingly wimpy arms and so most arm vans don’t fit me. I discovered years ago, this really cool wearable apparel … wearable apparel, that’s a bit redundant. But it is a band that you truly just step into. It’s elastic and it’s called a Flipbelt, and it’s cool. It has these embedded pockets and it holds anything that you put in there, your keys, your wallet, your phone. It holds them closely to your body just with tension through the elastic nature of the belt. It’s the best device I’ve found. I’ve tried a few different things like this, a few different arm bands, things that are adjustable, putting content like my phone keys, wallet into pockets. I love the Flipbelt. Nothing moves around. I know it’s there. It feels secure. I highly recommend people try it out. It’s a cool device.
I wish you were sponsored by Flipbelt because that was an amazing spiel for the product. But going back to what you had said earlier about advice, just kind of going reverse chronology here, I really like that advice of set a goal for yourself. I think that’s a really nice message to leave everybody here with. I know Alexandra your goal is five to 15 miles every single day. You’re on day 1,283. For other folks to start that habit, perhaps starting a bit on a smaller scale and establish that habit and then build up.
Totally. I mean, my gosh, it can even be as little as 15 minutes a day. How accessible is that? Just 15 minutes a day. Everybody can do that. For those of us who are already doing cardiovascular activity every single day, what’s something that you could do additional for 15 minutes a day? It doesn’t have to be activity. We can use incremental, accessible amounts of effort and time to create really awesome new patterns in our lives and track them.
Love that. Exactly, exactly. Going back to the whole data and tech theme and tracking them. I just want to say thank you so much for taking the time to join our podcast today to talk about running, connected health, marketing, and all the different ways that those intersect.
I really appreciate it. Thank you both for having me on and being so delightful.