For Alissa Cooper Stein, taking a position at Audible as a senior manager of software development in July 2019 was more than just a smart career move. She also felt a personal connection to the spoken-word entertainment and audiobook service.
“My grandfather was an avid reader, but when he lost most of his sight, he turned to mailing audiobooks on cassettes back and forth from the Library of Congress,” says Cooper Stein, who was recently promoted to a software development director and whose favorite listen is Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. “Audible has made audio content more accessible and I love how I can use software to solve everyday problems.”
After 10 years working for a federally funded research and development center, Cooper Stein—who has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in computer science—was excited about the chance to directly contribute to a consumer experience with Audible.
Here, she talks about being a female leader in tech, a new Audible product she helped launch, and what she likes best about the company culture.
Tell us about your career journey, and what led you to your job at Audible.
I started my career right after college and spent 10 years at the same company. I had the opportunity to dive into various domains, such as cybersecurity, mobile security, and biometrics, where I implemented proof-of-concept efforts or solutions for many different sponsors. Over that time, I transitioned from being an individual contributor to leading tech development teams to leading technical strategy for projects.
Through these transitions, I also got the chance to grow my personal management skills by working as a group lead or manager for departmental employees; mentoring or coaching them in their career path and skills. After a decade in Massachusetts, I wanted to move back to New Jersey. Even though I loved creating solutions for the government, many times my projects were for a specific set of users and I felt that I wanted to get the expertise in productionizing a more public product to millions of users.
What attracted you to work in software development, and specifically at Audible?
I’ve always loved problem solving. No matter how big or small the solution, I feel that software development, independent of the domain, can help someone do their job or make whatever someone is doing easier. What I love about Audible is that the mission of our product is more than just “entertainment.” I love how our product can help someone who may learn differently, or may have difficulty accessing content through traditional reading methods.
What are you responsible for in your role?
My role consists of a combination of personnel management, project management, and technical guidance. I am responsible for supervising and guiding the career path and growth of engineers, and managing the technical direction and strategy of the products and services that my team owns. Specifically, my team is responsible for a variety of different services and pages on our website, such as tools for search engine optimization, the library page on the web, and the services that power our reviews. I also meet regularly with each engineer on my team to help guide them in where they want to take their career and provide feedback and suggestions to help them in their chosen career journey.
What are you working on right now that excites or inspires you?
Recently, I got the opportunity to be part of the effort to launch Audible Plus, which gives members access to more audiobooks and podcasts (including Audible Originals). The whole company was aligned to this project and it was exciting to collaborate with others from all parts of the organization—marketing, product, data analytics, and tech—on the new features and capabilities that would help provide a better experience to our customers. I believe that this new experience aligns with what our customers want. I’ve always believed that when you’re working on something that you feel will be successful, solves a problem, and improves users’ experiences, you do your best work and enjoy that work.
What has been the key to your success working in software development, an industry where women are often underrepresented?
Over the course of my career, I’ve tried to be honest, be myself, and take advantage of opportunities that are in front of me. I’ve found that you’ll be most successful when you’re working on something that you enjoy doing, so it’s important to be interested and believe in the work or mission. I’ve also found the most success relying on and utilizing my strengths. I like to talk to people, get to know them, be honest, and try to always bring energy to a team or meeting. And lastly, don’t doubt yourself.
What changes do you think would help encourage more women to enter the tech field?
I think continued early access to technology and understanding and examples of what can be done with it will help encourage more women to enter the tech field. I also think it’s important to have women who are in the tech field continue to do outreach as role models and a network for younger women. At the end of the day, I believe that the earlier we expose kids to the different fields within technology, and the earlier we can get them excited about STEM, the more likely they will be to enter the tech field.
What skills and traits do you think are necessary to be a leader in technology?
Being a leader in technology requires both people management and technical expertise skills. You need to have good communication skills, and I have found being transparent with others has helped me succeed in my career. You also need to know how to fail fast. You want to promote innovation and trying new things, but you need to know when it is time to pivot to a different solution.
What contributions have you made as a tech leader at Audible that make you the proudest?
One contribution I am proud of is having helped drive data privacy and increased security measures for our customers. I came from more of a cybersecurity background and though I didn’t think I would use that as much in my current role, I’ve really enjoyed being able to bring some of my expertise to make an impact for our product and our customers. Getting the opportunity to dive into our third-party tags and helping to make an impact in both the security of our website as well as the user experience, such as page load time, has kept me passionate about the work I do.
What is the company culture like at Audible?
Audible is an extremely collaborative and caring culture. Everyone is kind and respectful of others, and is always willing to help someone both inside and outside of work. Everyone cares about each other’s goals and ambitions. I think this comes directly from our Activate Caring People Principle. Now more than ever, as we’ve all been living through this pandemic, I’ve seen the empathy and caring of each person.
What are a few of the professional development opportunities you’ve enjoyed the most at Audible?
One professional development opportunity that I’ve enjoyed is Leadership Insights, where various leaders in the company, not just technical leaders, come and talk about their background and the career path that they have taken. I think it helps not just gain insight into skills or experiences that you may want to work on, but also helps you understand career paths or options you may not be aware of. At the end of the day, it’s interesting to see the different paths people take and the choices that they make. I have found that I’ve related to some of these leaders’ decisions and thoughts, and it helps give me the confidence that everyone has a different journey and it’s not always a clear-cut decision.