Meet a Dragon: Vanessa Anderson
Meet Vanessa Anderson, Director of Engineering at Komodo Health. She shares how she got her start in software programming, what led her to her leadership role, and why flexibility should be a key value for companies looking to foster employee growth.
How did you get your start in an Engineering career?
My dad, a software systems manager, exposed me to technology at a young age — specifically computers and computer games. I often installed random things on his computer and experimented. My high school also offered a programming course, where I started learning about Java and building games. I went on to study computer engineering at the University of Pittsburgh. I was particularly passionate about software development and understanding the underlying technology. I have a puzzle-solving mind, so understanding those pieces was always important. But when I graduated, a lot of the feedback was, “Oh, you want to be a software developer? How come you didn't study computer science?”.
I eventually got my break at Teach for America, though in a non-technical role. We partnered with interesting organizations like Black Data Processing Associates, where I met people who were actively programming. I had a chance to take on a junior Java developer role, which led to a rapid succession of increasingly complex responsibilities early on in my career — I became a director at 22! Eventually I took a position at Time Inc., where I worked on the Big Data Team, while simultaneously getting my master’s degree in Computer Science and Interactive Intelligence at Georgia Tech.
What motivates you about working at Komodo as part of a healthcare mission?
One of the courses I most enjoyed in my master’s program focused on healthcare technology — its gaps, and the failings of legacy systems. There are not a lot of modern solutions for problems in the healthcare sector. Connecting to a mission helps drive me and motivate my work. So when a Komodo recruiter reached out to me in 2019, I realized it was a great fit, and I never looked back!
Love it! You’ve been at the company for three years. What has your professional path been like here?
I joined Komodo as a Senior DevOps Engineer within the Infrastructure Team, responsible for helping to ensure the uptime of our core products. We were a super small, three-person team. I quickly fell in love with Komodo because the company offered a lot of role flexibility, and encouraged me to take initiative to follow projects that interested me. This led to my promotion as Tech Lead of Infrastructure. Our team was growing — and I was growing with it.
After being involved with Infrastructure for a few years, I wanted to push my career to the next level. As we transitioned to an API-first platform organization, I pivoted back to the software development sector and started leading teams where I could have the most impact. I’m now the Director of Engineering, Management Services.
Given your previous experience, what sets the Engineering culture at Komodo Health apart from other companies?
Flexibility and openness. Many of the big-box companies are very controlled, very structured, and don’t offer much intellectual freedom. At Komodo, people are open to new ideas; they’re open to exploration and experimentation. We have a program called Dragon Quest, where people can go off, develop their ideas for what could bring benefit to Komodo. These ideas can end up becoming full-fledged products or processes that impact our success.
You have been very involved in our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives over the last year and a half. What has that involved?
As a woman of color, getting into engineering has sometimes been a unique challenge for me, but there are so many talented women and people of color, and it’s been really important to me throughout my career to bring more diversity into the tech community.
At Teach For America, we had a cross-collaborative team of folks involved in recruitment and retention, and now it’s my goal to have something similar at Komodo. I worked with Nicole Smith, our Director of Security, along with the backing of Laurent Bride, our CTO, to recently launch the Black Dragons Affinity Group. This group aims to separate “diversity” from “inclusion” and make a concerted effort to ensure that Black Dragons feel celebrated and included at Komodo.
Another core goal of this group is to partner with different organizations that serve minority communities to bring in a diverse set of resumes to help improve the diversity of our candidate pool. It’s essential that we partner with student organizations, for example, to provide young people opportunities for entry-level positions at Komodo. If we can reach people earlier in their careers, we can cultivate a sense of trust and build a sense of community.
A recent focus at Komodo has been nurturing our talented women in tech. How have you seen or experienced the impact of this initiative?
I’ve seen women promoted, supported and celebrated at Komodo. In my personal experience, I’ve seen that mission play out in the relationship I have with my direct reports; I try to understand how they think about our culture and make sure they feel supported., I see it as my responsibility to mentor and nurture fellow women within our Engineering organization.
You adopted an incredibly adorable dog, Megabit, in 2020. Can you describe the origins of his name?
Megabit is obviously named in honor of my computer engineering background. Bits and bytes, those are the things that speak to me! I’m a bit of a nerd, I even have BINARY tattooed on my neck! The "Mega" in Megabit is because he has a big personality and the "bit" is because he’s so small … so Megabit!
What do you like to do for fun outside of work?
A lot of my activities have been inside since the pandemic. I’m a gamer! I recently picked up the Oculus, a game-changer for gaming. You can do all sorts of visually engaging and very funny workouts. It transports you to another world, which was super helpful during the pandemic. I can’t stress it enough: When we were locked inside and saw the same four walls, Oculus allowed me to leave my home and explore. I also enjoy nature so I like to hike and take advantage of the California weather!
One last question: what are you most looking forward to in 2022?
I'm really excited for 2022! Our new CTO joined in 2021 and has brought a lot of intention and enthusiasm to the Engineering Team. I’m very excited for 2022’s roadmap and to go even further in automating where we can, to allow our human team to devote its time to solve more complex problems.
Personally, I’m really looking forward to hopefully traveling in the next year. It’s been a couple of years since I was able to travel so, thanks to Komodo’s hybrid work plan, I’m looking forward to living and working abroad for a couple of months. I’m eager to explore Brazil and Spain. I want to be somewhere where I can learn the language and be totally immersed in the culture.
Our dragons are a diverse bunch! Co-workers hail from places as far-flung as Belfast and Mumbai to the American heartland. The uniqueness and diversity reflected in our people make Komodo a stronger team, and we are all united around one common mission: to reduce the global burden of disease. Interested in joining the Komodo Health team?