How Alex Keeler’s Early Love of Computers Helped Launch a Promising Career
It’s unlikely that anyone who knew Alex Keeler in his younger days would be surprised that he has carved out a career in the technology sector. The 2013 LSU computer science graduate took to computers from an early age, even repairing them in his Kingwood, Texas, neighborhood for extra money during high school.
“I always knew I wanted to do something with computers,” he says.
Keeler’s father gave him a second-hand laptop in fifth grade, which he promptly turned into a vessel for computer games like “StarCraft.” His father eventually grew tired of assisting with repairs when the computer broke down, so he suggested Keeler research how to perform fixes on his own.
“I did and I learned all the Windows XP settings, and I learned how to Google things when I didn’t know what to do,” he says. “That’s what got me into computers. Then I became the go-to computer guy for my extended family.”
Today he is a software developer for an industrial firm in the Houston area, leveraging his skills to create custom applications that are important components of the corporation’s operations.
HOW MUSIC LED HIM TO LSU
Keeler’s interest in computers prompted him to take a programming course in high school — an introduction to Java — which piqued his interest and later allowed him to test out of his first computer science class at LSU. “I had the right type of attitude about it and I guess it came pretty quickly to me,” he says.
Keeler also took an interest in band, focusing on the baritone horn, an instrument he knew he wanted to continue playing in college. He visited several universities with strong band traditions, and landed a full scholarship after meeting with LSU’s band director. It was an opportunity too good to pass up, he says.
His musical ambitions were nearly disrupted when he failed to win a baritone horn spot during tryouts for the Tiger Marching Band. But his disappointment was short-lived, because the band director offered him a spot as a tuba player. “I played tuba all four years and never went back,” he says. “I loved it so much and made great friends with all the people in the tuba section.”
Keeler went on to play the hefty brass instrument in the Tiger Marching Band as well as the symphonic band, a concert band for non-music majors. He says his time in the band transformed his college experience and helped him create long-lasting friendships.
“That was my fraternity — the band,” he says. “I made fast friends and they’re still my friends to this day. I would not have had as good of an experience if it weren’t for the band.”
EXPLORING A RANGE OF CAREER INTERESTS
At LSU, Keeler chose to specialize in software development because he wanted to explore digital media, game design and artificial intelligence — all of which were possible through electives under the software path. “I was able to get a digital media minor without any extra classes,” he said.
During his final year of school, Keeler took a part-time position with the IT department in the College of Business — and he also started interviewing for jobs.
After mulling over multiple offers, Keeler accepted a position with Praeses, a software-development and services firm in Shreveport, where he remained for two years. Keeler eventually moved back to the Houston area and landed a position as a global applications developer with Flexitallic Group, a manufacturer and supplier of industrial gaskets.
These days, Keeler is part of a two-person in-house software development team at Flexitallic that built and maintains a custom application that the company’s sales representatives and engineers use to determine which gaskets are needed for certain operations.
Users input all the specifications for a gasket — such as materials, style and dimensions — and the software determines how to build it, how much material to use and how much it costs. The application then creates the part in the company’s manufacturing database. Keeler, who does most of his programming in the .NET programming framework, also supports software in other departments, including applications for finance and a QR code system to track gaskets.
‘START MAKING THINGS’
Several years of work experience and job hunting have given Keeler perspective. He is adamant that computer science students, whether they’re in high school or college, should start making websites and other applications as soon as possible to make themselves more marketable when they graduate.
“Don’t just do what they tell you to do in the classes,” he says. “You need to start making things that are useful. Because when you make a website, you're utilizing all your training, from the client side all the way down to the database.”