Alex Cappy

Prior to joining 3D Hubs, Alex Cappy was most recently a Digital Expert Associate Partner at McKinsey & Company where she applied her expertise in operations to help companies launch and scale up their digital ventures.

Cappy started her career as a Supply Chain Analyst and Program Manager in the US, before completing her MBA at Wharton. She then joined McKinsey & Company in 2011, where she worked in the New York and London offices. After 3 years in this role, she joined Uber’s London office to become Head of Operations for the UK, leading the team through a period of exponential growth. During her time in England, Cappy also worked for Deliveroo where she was appointed as Head of Supply Operations.

As she sought to further develop her career elsewhere, Cappy found herself in Amsterdam where she first worked for the bike-sharing company ofo as a General Manager, Digital McKinsey, and now 3D Hubs.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

In total, my tech career has spanned three countries and four industries.

Working in operations in a tech company turned out to be my perfect fit, and that’s what I do as COO at 3D Hubs, an on-demand global manufacturing marketplace. I love using technology to solve problems, whether it’s giving the customer a better solution or building efficient operations. The problem-solving aspect of it gives me a ton of energy.

The industry has changed a lot and I feel lucky to be part of this period of history. I was part of the first generation to have internet at home, starting with AOL when I lived in the US and MSN Messenger when I lived in Italy.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I came into my career in tech over time. For my undergrad, I studied Economics and Psychology. The only overlap between those two were a lot of statistics classes, which I loved. That has always stuck with me. Data helps me make sense of the world.

Later, I was working as a consultant at McKinsey & Company and did a lot of work in supply chain and digital sales channels – back when not every industry was selling online. In 2014, I made the jump to Uber in London, where I was leading the operations team.

I always wanted to do something tangible – with a real-world product. Working in Operations was the perfect mix of being data-driven, solving optimisation problems, and immediately seeing the impact of my work. Operations teams in digital companies move even faster than in more traditional companies, which makes me love it that much more.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

In my career, change was the only constant. Some may find it unsettling or even challenging, but I’ve consciously embraced it, ‘surfing’ the wave and making the best out of every opportunity.

I feel like I’ve seen the evolution from digital businesses mainly being e-commerce or sales channels, to entire products and new industries in their own right. In non-digital businesses, IT teams are becoming Product teams and are more central to the strategy than ever. I still remember when my first employer decided to use Salesforce and the idea of being in the “cloud” was so novel that you always used quotation marks (and a careful inflection) around “cloud”.

It’s an exciting time to witness, and even better – to be a part of the change!

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

I am extremely proud of the way we grew Uber in the UK, and of setting up the first centralised country operations team there. We brought a great service to customers, and flexible income to people who didn’t have it. More than that, I’m proud of the team I built there. I look at what all of my direct reports and hires are doing now, and I’m absolutely inspired. I’m excited to see the impact they’ll have on the world.

I also think 3D Hubs is at a similar inflection point. In the next few years, we’ll see just how much impact we can have, by bringing such a great service to an industry in need of change. We’re just starting to see the potential of distributed and automated manufacturing.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

I’m lucky in that I’ve found a career path that I truly love. I don’t work hard because someone is forcing me to, I wake up wanting to solve the interesting problems I get to address every day.

I’ve also had a couple of really stand-out mentors throughout my career. My first female manager taught me to draft a list of my accomplishments and give it to her before my performance review. She always told me: “Blow your own trumpet, because no one else will do it for you.” I think it’s a great practice, and as a manager, I’ve come to appreciate it for different reasons. I need help remembering everything my team members have worked on!

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

It’s helpful in all industries, but in tech especially, it’s very valuable to know what other teams in your company do and how they like to work. I’ve seen too many cases of teams being misaligned just due to a lack of understanding.

For example, if you’re on the “business” side of the organisation, take a basic coding class! (I suggest starting with python :)) Attend a sprint planning meeting and demos. It helps if you know how your Engineering team does their planning, and you can even ask how they prefer to work with you. (spoiler: most developers do not appreciate you dropping by their desk unannounced, so don’t do it!)

If you’re on the “tech” side of the business, you’ll be that much more powerful if you’re plugged in with your company’s strategy and operations. You can shape your roadmap to deliver maximum impact, make infrastructure/design decisions that are more likely to be future-proof, and have the satisfaction of knowing what you’re solving and why versus just cranking on tickets.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

One is our own self-perception. Several studies have shown that women perform worse on mathematics tests when they are reminded of negative stereotypes about their abilities. So for starters, let’s stop talking about these things like we’re worse at them. We are not. That starts in early education.

Another is that there are still slight biases in the workplace. People can be more comfortable hiring and working with people who are like them, and when you come from a starting point of having more men, that can be a challenge. Honestly, it hasn’t been a huge factor in places I’ve worked, but you certainly hear a lot of cases. And I can say that I’m probably more inclined to hire women than a man in my role would!

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

Women need a space to be themselves and learn without being afraid to ask “stupid questions”. That can be hard to do in a room full of men who always seem super confident. We can create those forums for each other to build confidence and teach women that they are just as capable as the men in their field.

There is currently only 15% of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

I’d start at the beginning, honestly. In schools, we can tackle biases around how we educate women in the sciences. No more saying men are better at them, no more giving disproportionate attention to students who happen to be louder. Feature female scientists prominently, even though there are fewer to discuss due to the historical context.

Starting at the university level, we can address the “bro” culture that can make tech inhospitable to women. Stereotypically, women are known to be more social creatures, but our teaching methods can celebrate the “lone wolf” stereotypes in these fields, rather than encouraging and celebrating group problem solving – which is a huge part of my job!!

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

There are a couple of books I’ve read that take the guesswork out of networking, something I would naturally avoid. There’s the classic “Never Eat Alone,” and a very practical short one called “The 20-minute networking meeting”.

I also highly recommend Ben Horowitz’s books “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” and “What You Do Is Who You Are.” Besides being full of valuable lessons, they also give some insights into the real-life experience of working in a start-up.

Finally, if your company organises events for women, go to them! It’s great to build that network and spend time with other women informally. I have an amazing group of female friends that I met when we started at McKinsey together. 10 years later, we always have each others’ backs, personally and professionally, and it’s amazing to have women in my life who I can turn to with tricky career questions.