“It Takes a Village” | Alumni Award for Excellence in Mentoring: Alexander Diaz
UW Department of Communication Alumni of Distinction 2018 Alumni Award for Excellence in Mentoring:
Alexander Diaz (B.A. 2012)
Driving forward with agility, enthusiasm, and a sense of discovery as Uber’s Marketing Program Lead for the Pacific Northwest, Alexander Diaz does more than wrangle together new and creative marketing campaigns. Throughout his career, Alex (as he is known to his friends and colleagues) has worked across a wide range of industries — from startups to Fortune 500s — focused on go-to-market strategies and tactics for products and brands.
“What gets me excited about communications is the personal element,” Diaz says. “I spent a lot of my earlier life travelling, spending two or three years in different locations all around the globe. Eventually I landed at the University of Washington, where I was elated to discover this entire field of study that defines how I naturally operate.” He grins broadly, “It’s this idea of ‘connection,’ and why we do what we do as storytellers; it felt like I was studying, as an undergraduate, how I grew up.”
Diaz cites Professor Gerald Baldasty’s careers-course as “one of the best classes I have ever taken.” Along with a small group of his peers, Diaz learned how to craft his first resume and business cards, prepare for informational interviews, and design an online profile and portfolio. “It was a very intimate class,” he explains. “During each session, Dr. Baldasty would make us sit in a circle, and we would take turns presenting our personal elevator pitches.” Diaz’s smile twitches, “And then he critiqued us; it made me think about how I wasn’t doing enough, but it also showed me that there were opportunities to do more.” He laughs, sitting back in his chair. “Honestly, I had a rough start because I was over-eager. However, Gerry took me aside and provided me with the structure I needed to move forward.”
In addition to his coursework, Diaz says other student experiences influenced his career. “I started participating in case competitions as a sophomore, which exposed me to a variety of scenarios outside of the classroom.” In these events, teams leverage their unique skillsets to develop well-rounded solutions to established business problems. “These competitions showed me how challenging ‘real-world’ situations could be,” recalls Diaz. “They forced me to network, to be uncomfortable, but also how to be better.” Diaz also credits his involvement in programs outside of the Department for providing him with more opportunities to grow as a community organizer. “I joined UW AMA [the UW chapter of the American Marketing Association] and eventually became the Vice President, because I wanted to change some of its focus,” he says. “I wanted to invest more resources into those elements that I believed offered the best value; not just the ‘how-to’, but the ‘why’ of these concepts.”
After graduation, Diaz pursued a career in brand-marketing. His past projects have included Xbox One’s platform launch, Twitter‘s Ad Suite growth, and launching Uber in 25+ cities. “Working for Uber has been really rewarding, because it’s not just another rideshare brand,” Diaz states. “It’s an innovative product that speaks to the American Dream; it provides the means for anyone to go where they need to go, to do what they want to do.” He continues, “At Uber, I really enjoy marketing something that benefits the user beyond a one-time engagement. The organization is also committed to positively contributing to the communities we service.” Diaz cites Uber’s partnership with Seattle Pride, and the resulting “Drag Shows on Demand!” initiative. “We know that Pride is an important aspect of Seattle-culture, and we wanted to create a program that celebrated its significance to the city, and to Uber’s LGBTQIA+ employees,” he says. “Instead of giving Seattle Pride a lump sum, we collaborated on a fun, Uber-powered experience, which benefits members of the LGBTQIA+ community.” The program’s mechanics are simple: on Pride Day, users in Capitol Hill, South Lake Union, or Downtown Seattle can use the Uber app to “summon” one of Seattle’s beloved drag queens to come to their location and perform a short show and pose for photos. These images are shared on social media with a special hashtag, #RidewithPride, to “spread the love.” Uber then donates the proceeds generated from the social engagement to non-profit partners like health clinics that work with the LGBTQIA+ community, or towards free rides for those needing access to the facilities.
“I strive to be human-centric in my work,” insists Diaz. “I believe it should be a requirement of any business or technology to integrate the needs of people into its design.” He explains how utilizing this type of thinking encourages companies to approach business problems through the lens of others’ experiences. “It forces us to be empathetic in a world where we are often discouraged from doing so, and ask uncomfortable questions to produce something of real value.” He chuckles, “It’s also a very ‘growth-mindset,’ because you learn quickly from your mistakes, thanks to today’s immediate-feedback-loops.” From his own mentors, Diaz has learned the power of embracing one’s mistakes. “It’s easy to mess up and blame circumstance,” he says, “but it’s completely profound for someone to be disciplined enough to say, ‘I messed up, and here’s what I’m going to do better.’ Discipline is what separates emotion from getting results,” he adds, “if you’re not doing something correctly, it’s discipline (studying, training, or market research), which gets you there; ‘you don’t wait until the Olympics to get into Olympic form.’”
In all of his endeavors, Diaz’s goal is simple: drive brand and product growth, success, and results through compelling, actionable marketing. “I’m obsessed with growing things,” he says. “I like letting something flourish; helping people move from ‘ground-up,’ to scale, to launch, and then beyond.” Diaz admits that one surprising insight he has gained through experience is how often one’s degree does not directly correlate to one’s job. “There have been so many times when I’ve had to do things I never have before,” he muses. “Part of my role at Uber has been launching the service in areas where its value is still largely unknown, like Montana. Since it’s necessary for my team to travel to these regions, I’ve had to manage our budget in such a way that we still have enough money to effectively advertise.” He smiles, “We ended up renting this Airstream trailer, slapping a large Fathead-produced ‘Uber’ logo on its side, and driving it around the state. Our team then met-up with potential drivers in Walmart parking lots, onboarding them before the formal launch.” He laughs, “No, as an undergraduate, I never pictured doing that. I also did not know that I would go to city council meetings to present why Uber is important to a community’s wellbeing.” Diaz’s communication education has also given him opportunities to capture and use the stories of others. “There was one University of Montana student who came up and thanked us for bringing Uber to the region, because it provided an alternative to driving while under the influence,” he recalls. “A member of his family had died as a consequence of drunk driving, so he was very serious in expressing his gratitude; for him, it wasn’t about Uber’s ‘cool tech,’ but how the organization gave his community a safer option for getting home.”
Beyond his “day-job,” Diaz has channeled his passion for community contribution into membership on the organizing committees for numerous TEDx and Startup Weekend events, as well as having served on the board for the Puget Sound American Marketing Association. Currently, he is a mentor for students within the Minds Matter Seattle chapter, and as a member of the UW Communication Department’s alumni board. “I’m committed to ‘being the person you needed when you were younger,’” Diaz says. “I was the first member of my family to go to University. When I arrived in Seattle, I had no contacts, no friends, and no one who could relate to what I was going through. However, when I recall my early personal ‘wins,’ I realize that there was always a mentor pushing me and facilitating my engagement.” He smiles, “It just didn’t occur to me, until after graduation, that I couldn’t have navigated those waters alone and been as successful.”
Diaz says that although it’s easy to appear as a one-man success story on social media, his mentorship experiences have taught him that it really does “take a village.” In his opinion, mentorship is about elevating individuals to those standards into which they should already be. “When I’ve spoken with my Mind Matters mentees about challenges they’re facing, it’s not problems with formatting their resumes,” explains Diaz. “It’s usually something much more personal, and as their mentor, I help them work through those issues.” He sighs, “There’s a misconception, especially in this country, that someone can only become really successful through the failings of others. It’s just not true. Everyone grows by building on what others have shared with them, whether its lessons-learned, mock interviews, books, or meeting up to discuss what they’ve already done. It takes so little effort to help people,” he concludes, “but it’s so valuable when we do.” When asked what his favorite lesson has been to impart to mentees, Diaz pauses. “It’s taken me some time to learn it,” he begins, “but it’s really important for us not to depend on inspiration as our only motivation. To quote the famous photorealist Chuck Close, ‘Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.’”