Alex Allain '02

Director of Engineering - Dropbox

A.B., Computer Science - Harvard University

They say that everything you need to know, you learn in kindergarten. While I don’t think that’s exactly right, there were two things I was introduced to in my first of 13 years at Newman that have been touchstones throughout my life.
The first is my best friend. I met Michael on the first day of Kindergarten when he called me Bradley, and I turned around and told him my name was Alexander, not Bradley. Despite this rocky beginning, we quickly became friends. Today, we work in different fields and different states, but whenever we get together, it’s like we never left. Any time I’m considering a major decision, I call him, knowing that he’ll have insight not just into the situation, but into what I really want.
The second is Newman’s motto: we learn to do by doing. When facing a challenge, it’s very easy to start spinning in a rut thinking about a tricky concept or putting off a project where it’s not clear how the whole thing will go. In those times, I think back to this expression. When I start doing whatever I’m struggling with, I find the exact limit of my knowledge. Once I’ve found that limit, I have a much easier problem to face - addressing that one gap, rather than all the theoretical issues that I haven’t hit yet.
In my current work, exploring entirely new product ideas at Dropbox, this lesson is all the more important. We’re tackling problems that nobody has solved - we can’t just think our way to a solution. If it were that easy, someone would have already created that product. The only way to be successful is to dive in, hit a challenge, look for a way around it, and repeat that learning process again and again. Every day, my team and I are learning to do by doing.
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