German tax and privacy laws. 80-hour work weeks. Tracking “bad guys” through DNS. Cloud before cloud was cool. These are just some of the things Jenna Pederson has built her career in software on. At the core of it all, however, isn’t code — it’s people and the problems they need help solving.
This is A Workday With Jenna Pederson, Founder & Principal Engineer of 612 Software Foundry.
Tell us a little about your background and how you got to where you are today.
Before branching out on my own nine years ago, I learned that writing code was not about the computer and technology, but about the people using it. The first company I worked for was funded by the Department of Education, so learning the ins and outs of government, regulations, and the laws was important. The second company I worked for is the one “where I grew up” as an engineer. We worked with companies like Symantec, Microsoft, Mattel, and EA. We were doing the cloud before the cloud was a thing. We were doing dev-ops before there was a name for it. I learned what this all meant in the real world in the context of people and dollars. We were helping clients on the other side of the world, in different languages, currencies, time zones, and cultures. Turns out the 7-11 convenience store was more popular for payments than credit cards on the other side of the world. I learned how to track fraudulent activity by “bad guys” through DNS. I learned how unique and complex German and EU laws were in terms of taxes and privacy. And how frequently they changed. I was a software engineer who managed a few different tech teams.
All of that (and the regular 80-hour work weeks) made it possible for me to apply my knowledge and experience in other ways, to solve other problems, to help others grow their tech and their business. Today, I run 612 Software Foundry and work with entrepreneurs to help them solve problems with technology. I help them figure out what to build, help them build it, launch it, scale it, and help them with their tech teams. I love to empower people with knowledge, skills, and confidence to bring their idea to life through technology. I’ve been fortunate to be able to work alongside some amazing founders and developers making some real change in the world.
I am also very passionate about the tech community here in Minnesota. I have built communities from the ground up with Twin Cities Geekettes and Hack the Gap, creating space for those underrepresented in tech and entrepreneurship to come as their full selves. In 2016, I joined the Minnestar Board of Directors, serving the broader Minnesota tech community. It’s so much fun and insanely inspiring to be able to create more opportunities and to connect the various parts of the tech community because there is so much talent and innovation happening right here.
What time do you rise and shine?
Any time after snoozing my alarm three to five times. It really depends on my schedule, but usually around 7 a.m.
What do you usually eat for breakfast?
Some form of coffee, usually a latte, is required. I follow that with a banana or fresh berries and some vitamin D. The weekends usually involve eggs and bacon.
What’s the first work-related task you tackle each morning?
Coffee! That’s work-related, right?! I check in on email or Slack and then plan out my day by figuring out what my main focuses for the day will be.
What is your workspace setup?
My workspace is a moving workspace. For the last six or so years, I’ve worked out of co-working spaces, coffee shops, libraries, patios, my car at the top of a mountain pass, and national parks. I like the variety, most of the time I have the flexibility, and it gives me some inspiration. I work best when there’s some activity around me, but not the allure of household chores, so even though I have a home office, it’s not usually my first choice.
What’s the most interesting/fun/meaningful thing on your desk?
At the moment, it’s the urn with my pup, Lexi. She needs a new resting spot somewhere not on my desk, but for now, she keeps me company.
What’s one piece of tech you can’t live without?
It would be really hard to work without a computer.
What do you need to get done before lunch to feel like you had a productive morning?
I need to solve a problem to feel productive. It could be as simple as responding to a bunch of emails, identifying why something is buggy, or fixing that bug. It could also be having a conversation with someone about their problem and helping them to solve it.
What are you listening to these days?
Well, now that we’ve entered a global pandemic, I’m listening to a lot of MPR News. On a normal day, I start my day with The Current or a quick news podcast or Audible book in the car.
What is your current TV obsession?
I’ve been obsessed with medical dramas since “Doogie Howser” and “ER.”
What’s the last movie you saw and what would you rate it (out of five stars)?
“The Hunt.” I’d give it 3 stars out of 5.
What book would we find on your nightstand?
A pile of unread or half started books. A Kindle filled with actually finished books.
Cats or dogs?
The best part about living in Minnesota is…
Seasons and the great outdoors.
How do you fend off the post-lunch lull?
I’m usually more productive and in the zone in the morning, so I end up eating a late lunch. Knowing I have a shorter chunk of time between lunch and end of day is helpful.
What do you use to stay organized during a hectic day?
I use a paper bullet journal to keep me on track throughout the day. Writing down what I need to focus on each day is helpful for keeping myself on track. I also use an app called RescueTime that forces me to focus by blocking certain activities on my computer when I’m working. It pretty much yells at me when I mindlessly wander over to twitter. Another tactic that is helpful for me is to not leave my email app open all day. Way too distracting. So I check email first thing in the morning, usually once mid-day, and then again before the end of the workday.
What’s a recent work-related challenge you had to conquer? Walk us through your process.
My entire job is to solve challenges for other people. I enjoy diving deep into code and server logs and figuring out hairy bugs that can’t be reproduced. It’s like solving a mystery! Finding clues along the way, pulling out patterns of activity, tracing paths through code.
I also get to help teams improve their software development practices, from establishing agile development practices for new teams and projects to assessing current practices to building out automated test suites. I get to work with teams and individuals to figure out what they need to be more productive in building quality software and help them put those practices and tools in place. Getting to see the relief when a test fails (rather than it failing in front of a customer in production) or when someone sees the benefits to their team of doing regular retrospectives is pretty cool.
What’s one thing everyone could do to be more productive?
Start. Figure out your most important goal or task for the day and start it. It’s so much easier to finish once you’ve actually started.
What’s the last work-related thing you do every day?
Provide any end of day status updates and then make sure my code is committed and pushed off my computer.
How do you decompress at the end of a long workday?
Watch the evening news (though that’s not without its own stress these days). A little Wheel of Fortune. Go for a walk.
What time do you usually hit the hay?
Anytime between 9:30 and 10:30 p.m.
Photos courtesy of Jenna Pederson.
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