FutureStack Speaker Spotlight: Julia Grace (Tindie) and John Kleinschmidt (CURE International)

Futurestack is only a handful of weeks away, and we wanted to give you a glimpse into the brilliant speakers that are slated to talk at our first-ever user conference.

Today we’re talking to Julia Grace, Head of Engineering at Tindie, and John Kleinschmidt, Director of Technology Development at CURE International.

Julia GraceAt Tindie, Julia writes Python (and the occasional JavaScript) every day. In her prior lives she was CTO of a 500 Startups company, Product Manager at a mid-stage startup, and Research Engineer at part of one of the world’s top User Experience Research groups at IBM Almaden Research. She hold a BS and MS in Computer Science with a focus on distributed systems. She spends her “free time” half-marathon running, mentoring female engineers at the Hackbright Academy and sits on the board of the Computer History Museum.

Q: What first got you excited about technology?

I’ve always been someone who is deeply curious and interested in everything; my friends and family will tell you I’m always asking questions. Whenever I see something I immediately want to know how it works, and then how to modify it to do something different (or something I want it to do). As a kid I used to play video games on my first generation Nintendo and at some point I wanted to make the video games do other things. When the Nintendo eventually died my father got me an old, used Commodore 64. That, coupled with a BASIC programming book I checked out from the local library, and I was hooked.

Q: What recent advancement do you think will transform the future of software?

Access to computers when I was kid was largely very limited. I’m very lucky that my father (a physicist) always encouraged me to study math and science. He was able to find ways for me to fuel my interest in programming, be that through having a computer in the house or encouraging me to go to the library to checkout books on how computers worked. If I never got that Commodore 64 I wonder if I would have become an engineer.

Today you can start writing Python programs on a Raspberry Pi for a fraction of what buying a computer in the 1990s cost. The implication is such that computers are increasingly available to people who might not have previously had access. Even if someone doesn’t have the means or understanding to set up a Raspberry Pi at home, schools and other institutions can provide access to their students and patrons. The net benefit is a greater exposure of computers and programming to people of whose gender or ethnic background or socioeconomic status previously prohibited them from participating.

As this newly programming-aware generation ages, a more diverse group of people will be studying computer science, and the homophilous teams in software that you see today will hopefully be a thing of the past. Thus software will not just be made by a small subset of the world’s population, but instead by diverse peoples with better understanding and exposure to the challenges faced by groups other than just those who write software today. New role models will emerge, as will new solutions to age-old problems previously overlooked by software.

Q: What is the biggest challenge you face in your work today?

There are so many; working at a startup is like asking for someone to throw you a curve ball every single day. Something I am faced with every day is that the line between brilliance and insanity is often much finer than we think. For your company to succeed, you need be the visionary that solves the problem in a way that most think is totally crazy, or wrong, or will never work, but that you know deep down is the right thing to do.

I’m continually honing my ability and the ability of those on my team to spot the truly brilliant ideas and not accidentally or haphazardly dismiss them as infeasible, too tough or just too ludicrous. We are like salmon swimming upstream; amazing things await if we can make it, but its’s a tough journey where we are continually tempted to go with the flow, blend in, agree with widely-accepted points of view. Silicon Valley is one big echo chamber where we all read the same articles, use the same tools and if you want to do something that really “disrupts” an industry you have go against the flow, and that is very difficult.

You can find Julia on Twitter here.

John KleinschmidtJohn is a seasoned enterprise web application developer that loves working on the cutting edge of the ever-evolving web. He cares about UI and performance and thrives on coming up with solutions that push the limits of what’€™s possible. When John isn’t cranking the web to 11, he enjoys spending time with his wife and kids in Harrisburg, PA.

Q: What first got you excited about technology?

I think the idea of being able to create something out of nothing but computer code really got me excited about technology. When I was in middle school, the school I was attending bought a DEC PDP-11 minicomputer that took up a small room. I built a flash card math program for it that ran on these VT-100 terminals with really rudimentary graphics. It was my first taste of creating something out of nothing, and it has hooked me for life.

Q: What recent advancement do you think will transform the future of software?

The availability of offline support in modern browsers. It may sound strange to talk about offline as the future of software, but let me explain a little further. Cloud computing has become the de facto way of delivering apps, but it has traditionally had one limitation: you need to be able to connect to “the cloud”. Offline support in browsers allows us to get past this limitation. In the US, connectivity to cloud apps is pretty good, but if you explore the mobile landscape you quickly realize that even in areas with good connectivity you are not always guaranteed to be online. Worldwide connectivity varies even more so, and here is where the real opportunity for transformation lies.

By using the offline support built into modern browsers, developers can now deploy cloud apps to the poorest internet connection in the world. For example, in most countries in Africa less than 1% of the country has access to broadband connections. Offline support gives developers the ability to reach that 99% with poor internet connections. This opportunity provides a whole new customer base that wasn’t previously available via traditional solutions.

Q: What is the biggest challenge you face in your work today?

I think the biggest challenge I face is finding time to implement all of the awesome that is available at our fingertips. When you really examine the capabilities of a modern browser, there are endless possibilities of what you can build for the web.

You can find John on Twitter here.

The future is coming sooner than you think, so don’t forget to register for your own spot at FutureStack. Follow our conference posts on the blog and at #FS13 to hear from our speakers and get sneak peaks of the what we’ve got planned.

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