At age 12, K’Andrea Bickerstaff discovered that her grandfather’s unrealized goal had been “to attend MIT—the best school in the country.” Later that year, when Bickerstaff’s father got sick, “I asked my mom how I could help. She said, ‘Do well in school, so I don’t have to worry.’ From then on, I got straight As, and MIT was my long-shot dream.”
She earned an MIT bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 1989; later she earned a master’s and PhD in computer engineering from the University of Texas at Austin.
Now, Bickerstaff is founder and president of KenQuest LLC in Austin, a consulting services firm specializing in intellectual property, research, and design and business and project management. The company’s network of technical experts—engineers, scientists, professors, and technology leaders—offers expertise and strategy to clients across the country.
Bickerstaff’s individual focus at KenQuest is on projects related to components (integrated circuits, memory, microprocessors) and electronics and computing systems (cameras, printers, drones, TV/displays, wearable technology, mobile phones, and more). She has also tackled challenges related to networked storage, enterprise servers, and automotive technologies.
“I’m a bit of a people pleaser, so if I can help solve a problem, well, I enjoy that,” she says. “We do an investigation to find out if a patent is being infringed. The work is like solving a mystery, which is what I love.”
We do an investigation to find out if a patent is being infringed. The work is like solving a mystery, which is what I love.
Bickerstaff says that running the business, which she launched in 2005, has transformed her. “I am definitely more of a risk taker, much more willing to put myself out of my comfort zone, much more ready to step out and say yes,” she reflects. “Next, I’d love to launch a product company, software or hardware, in addition to KenQuest. Because I am surrounded by invention, ideas, creative people all the time, I’d like to move from analyzing others’ ideas to implementing some of my own and seeing them to fruition.”
Bickerstaff is headed north this month to attend her MIT 30th reunion. “I’m really looking forward to catching up with dear friends,” she says. “I’m eager to see the wonderful changes and growth around the Institute. And I’ve signed up to attend Tech Night at the Pops, just like I went with my mom back in 1989,” she says. Her mother, now passed, was the church organist. “As a graduate, I scraped together money to get floor seats to take her to the Pops that night. Neither of us had ever been. It was such a memory, just magical. I’m eager this year to go back."
“MIT is tremendous,” she adds. “It opens doors, left and right. It made me an excellent worker, trained me to solve problems, and prepared me to address whatever work comes my way. I wish for that experience to be available to kids, all kids, particularly minority kids.”
Bickerstaff often attends MIT alumni events, and for three years has been treasurer of Black Alumni/ae of MIT (BAMIT). “I love the opportunity to give back to the MIT black community because it was so nurturing to me. When I felt so alone there as a young kid, it was a community that helped me, and I knew I could make it through. We call BAMIT ‘the family.’”
When not cracking cases for her KenQuest clients, in her free time Bickerstaff enjoys puzzles of other kinds, from jigsaws to crosswords. An avid reader, she keeps books in the car, brings a few to a restaurant, and has stacks of them at home. “I love the thrillers and mysteries,” she says, “because I often can solve whodunit before it is revealed.”
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Photo: Jason Arbaugh
Slice of MIT