Episode #5 - Jamie Kent, Software Engineer at Parabola, Co-Founder of Women in Sports Tech
In this episode, we interview Jamie Kent. Jamie is a Software Engineer at Parabola. Parabola is an SF-based startup building products to give knowledge workers the capabilities of engineers. Jamie is a UPenn alum, Fulbright scholar recipient and all around badass person.
In our conversation we talked about how Jamie's Fulbright research project took her to South America, where she helped teach Chilean youths computer science fundamentals. We also got into how she transitioned into software engineering without a computer science background as well as the non-profit she co-founded called Women in Sports Tech, which aims to provide growth opportunities for women in the sports tech industry.
Alma Mater: University of Pennsylvania
Major: Marketing, Operations and Information Management
What is Parabola? (from Parabola)
Parabola was founded to help non-engineers reduce busywork and automate processes via an easy-to-use, drag-and-drop interface. By automating these processes, Parabola makes data easier to access and actually use, all without requiring spreadsheets or code.
We believe it will be increasingly necessary in everyone's day-to-day jobs to do what currently requires code, but we also don't think it's reasonable for everyone to learn how to code. Parabola helps fill that gap.
Parabola is backed by Matrix Partners, Merus Capital, AngelPad, Abstract Ventures, and individual investors. It is headquartered in San Francisco.
(abridged and edited for clarity)
How did you end up in Chile doing research with the Fulbright grant?
Once I heard that the Fulbright Scholarship was an option I started writing grant proposals. At that point I had started working at my first tech startup so my proposal was about teaching computer science in Chile in public high schools.
I knew Chile was really trying to build their tech sector and attract entrepreneurs from all over the world. My proposal really focused on building talent in Chile and getting high schools set up so they could introduce programming to students from a young age.
How did you pick up the technical skills you needed to transition into software engineering?
I realized in Chile that I wanted a set of skills that could come with me wherever I went, like a portfolio or a GitHub profile. I ended up doing freelance web development in Chile after I was done with the research to build a portfolio I knew would help me get a full time engineering job when I got back to the states.
During that freelancing period I was taking online video courses on how to build things in React. I was studying computer science fundamentals and building a portfolio website showcasing all the freelance web pages I had built.
How did you find the engineering job search when you were back in the states?
Coming back to the Bay Area and looking for an engineering job without the degree was scary. It seemed like there weren’t that many junior engineering roles. I think there’s a huge fear around hiring junior engineers, like they’re going cost the company a lot of money and make mistakes.
Which, given my background in education, I know that people can learn these skills so that was frustrating initially.
In some of the technical interviews you’ll do great, in other ones you’ll tank completely. The trick is to just do a lot. I used Cracking the Coding Interview. I liked it because It’s not just tricks to get you through answering the problems, it’s about structuring your interview answers properly and walking your interviewer through your thought process.
The technical interviews are scary initially, but it’s just practice. And there’s a huge demand for engineers right now. So although it is intimidating, you can get interviews, and eventually something will work out.
What was the inspiration for the nonprofit you co-founded, Women in Sports Tech (WiST)?
A year ago, Marilou McFarlane approached me with her idea which was to start a nonprofit that would be aimed at providing growth opportunities for women in sports tech. Since I started working on it I’ve only seen the need for organizations like this to grow. But I said yes, I was in Chile at the time, and I worked on the technical side of Women in Sports Tech. I built the website, the jobs portal, helped design the logo, and contributed to investor pitch decks.
Since then it’s had really great product-market fit in the sense that we’re not doing any marketing but we have new people signing up every week.
One of the big initiatives is our fellowship program. In our first year we offered three fellowships to two girls in undergrad and one in graduate school. They received $5,000 to do a project at a company that was tech related.
We see this as opportunity to get these girls in and get them experience which can fuel their career.
2019 WiST Fellowship applications opened this week on January 15. Apply here