What is your current professional role and how did you get here?

I’m the Chief Product & Technology Officer for Ruby Receptionists (@callruby) a provider of technology and remote receptionist services to 7000 small businesses across North America. I came to Ruby after a career in technology, starting from my first job post college as a software developer for Hewlett Packard, to my most recent 10 years in product management for companies like AAA and Ancestry.com.

What was the first app you worked on and what did it do?

The first app I “worked” on was actually the final project for my graduate degree, way back in 2000 when an “app” was really just leveraging text messaging in interesting ways. The “app” was a way for college clubs to coordinate student events and activities through text and calendars on the phone. A bit of a stretch to call it an app, but we did see that the future would be mobile. The first real app I worked on was actually a complete rebuild of the app for Ruby Receptionists customers, back when I joined Ruby in early 2015 as the VP of Product. At its initial launch at the end of 2015, the app allows customers to manage their calls, messages and voicemails, update their call handling instructions for the receptionists, as well as basic account management functions. Today, the app integrates with customers’ calendars and contacts, allows customers to turn their Ruby service on and off through app, and to make calls that show their business number as the caller id and not their personal cell phone number.

What went well? What could have gone better?

It was a massive rebuild of an app, from the back-end data structures, the services, the front end and user experience. What went well was that we got it out for our deadline by the end of the year, and 2 years on, over a third of our customer base uses the app regularly, relying on it to help them manage their small business. What didn’t go well is that we provided customers a lot of detailed options for temporarily changing their call handling, and while we solved some customer problems, we actually made the experience much more complicated for the most common scenarios, and on top of it, that section had a couple of bugs that we didn’t see until we got the app into production and had real customers using. We definitely could have done a better job of understanding what the primary use cases were for that feature and in getting better data to test the feature against before releasing it to customers.

At App Camp, we emphasize that it’s important to have interests outside of tech and to take breaks from looking at screens. What are some of your interests outside of tech? What do you do when you need to take a break from work?

When I need to take a break from work or from the screen, I go do something physical and outside, like going for a run, or walking our dog. Being in nature (even if that just means next to the trees in the sidewalk) and moving really helps me to reset and clear my head. It often is how I come up with a solution to a problem I’ve been working on or an idea of a new approach to try.

Why do you support the goals of App Camp?

I was extremely fortunate as a young girl because my dad, who was a software developer himself, encouraged my interest in computers. From my first programming class as fourth grader to my undergraduate degree in computer science at UC Berkeley, I never thought I couldn’t or shouldn’t be in tech because of my dad. Supporting App Camp is a way for me to spread the type of support I got to other young girls who might not be lucky enough to have a father like mine who encouraged my interest in computers in programming. And, selfishly as someone who often hires people in tech, it’s also a way to help build a pipeline of diverse talent in tech, which is incredibly important to foster innovation in an organization.

What do you recommend to those who want to support more diversity in tech?

For employers looking to hire tech talent, I recommend that you review your open positions to determine just how many of them really need 5+ years of experience. Most employers have a bias to find people who can ‘hit the ground running’ and so look for lots of years of experience. But in tech, that really narrows your applicant pool to the people who have been in tech the longest, which tend to be white men. If you can open your search to include those with less experience, you are likely to get a broader set of applicants that are more diverse. Additionally, if you hire someone with less experience, you are hiring an employee who has more opportunity to grow within in your organization, and stay with your organization for a longer part of their career, which pays off in engagement and in lower hiring costs over time.

 

If you aren’t an employer, you can support more diversity in tech by supporting organizations like App Camp, and encouraging any interest in tech you see in young girls. You can also join local organizations, like PDXWIT or national organizations like Tech Inclusion that support diversity in tech, as a member or as an ally if you fit the majority demographic.

How can technology be a force for good?

One of my passions is looking at how technology, which inherently removes the human element, can instead be used to expand the reach of human connections. I am a big believer in the human connection as key element to good, as in our increasingly automated world, it is easier and easier for us to isolate ourselves and stagnate in our thinking and experiences. Real, meaningful human connections help foster growth in our thinking and innovation, all of which drives good. It’s a challenge to use technology in that way – to expand real meaningful, human connections – but when you can find ways to do that, it is incredibly impactful.

You can find Katharine on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Help more girls learn software development. Contribute to the App Camp For Girls Indiegogo fundraiser, get a cool perk, and enjoy the feeling of having helped the next generation of software developers.

Ben Brooks, MartianCraft
Stephen Hackett, Relay FM