September 22, 2020
Hello my name is...

Kim Burgaard

• Director of Engineering at Fernish by ☀️
• Playing with my kids, drumming, hiking and skiing by night 🌙

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Hey Kim, care to share a little bit about yourself?

Hey, I'm Kim. I grew up in the country side in Denmark, and ended up in the US while working on a big international project, where the main contractor was located in Fullerton, California.

I play drums every night before going to bed because it's the only hobby I can really do while there's a pandemic going on and forest fires are making it unsafe to go outside. It's also incredibly therapeutic to hit stuff with sticks, and a good workout too.

Can you tell us what you do as a Director of Engineering at Fernish for those who are unfamiliar?

I manage, coach and mentor software engineers, provide technical leadership, and help translate company goals and priorities into software engineering goals and priorities.

How did you decide to pursue your specific career?

I bought my first computer, a Commodore Amiga 500, during middle school and wrote my first line of Motorola 68K assembly language in high school. Convinced I was destined to become a physics professor, I enrolled in Aarhus University with a major in physics and a minor in computer science. During my studies, I discovered computer science was amazing, and the reality of most advanced physics topics is doing a bunch of really difficult, and to me, unintuitive abstract math.

After a few years into my studies, I switched to a computer science major, and a math my minor, picked up internships and part time jobs on the side, and emerged with a masters degree in computer science. I went straight back to the company I'd worked for part-time during my studies, and a few years later I found myself flying business class to LAX and spending months at Embassy Suites in Fullerton.

Years later I spent a year and a half in Washington D.C. working for the same Danish company, but in their US sales office. They mostly did sales and smaller projects for various US defense organizations which I didn't have clearance to work on, but my company wanted to break into the US healthcare market starting with a product for emergency departments. Eager to learn something new, I jumped into a business development manager role completely unprepared and with everyone else on that team located in Denmark. I learned the hard way that it's really hard to get calls and setup meetings without connections and any kind of reputation.

While spending years traveling on business trips, I'd taken up photography as a hobby. I knew my time working as a business development manager was coming to an end because we weren't getting anywhere. I wanted to go back to California, but the company I worked for didn't have anything for me there, so I decided to take a huge leap, quit my job and start a commercial photography business. As a hobbyist, but having picked up a few commercial projects, I realized there's a lot of software for the creative and artistic aspect of photography, but very little for the business side -- managing customers, contracts, contractors, agreements, licenses, assets, and so on. So my idea was to work as a commercial photographer to really understand the business, then write software to support all the workflows to run a successful business. I spent roughly 40% of my time doing photography, 50% getting up to speed on modern web applications and building out the product, and 10% doing business development. 3 1/2 years later I had to concede starting any kind of business is really, really hard, and that I should have spent 90% of my time on business development. It wasn't all for nothing though. In hindsight I was able to reinvent myself from a veteran corporate defense software engineer, to someone up to date with React, Node.js, and responsive web sites. I would never have been able to get the next couple of jobs that eventually landed me at Fernish without spending that 3 1/2 years taking a huge chance on myself.

I knew the next job would be a stepping stone, and it enabled me to join a really exciting startup that was going to build a modern ticket platform to outperform Ticketmaster with technology. While there I got to work with a product manager, who soon after left to co-found Fernish with a friend. I stayed in touch with him and I was able to join when they had raised enough pre-seed money to expand the team

What made you interested in your field?

I had a childhood friend who had one of the first mass accessible computers, the Commodore VIC-20 and we spent a lot of afternoons playing cartridge video games. My parents were very frugal, so I spent years saving up for my own computer. For a few years, I just played video games and composed music, but a friend introduced me to programming in high school. Even so that was just fun and games, like implementing a fractal generator, and a text based premier league management game (buy/sell players and simulate outcomes of. soccer matches).

I picked computer science on a whim as a major while enrolling in college and discovered I had a knack for both the theoretical stuff, but also system design.

Any advice on how to stand out and get hired for those starting off?

Spend effort coming up with and working on interesting projects. Colleges and bootcamps have all institutionalized projects during their programs, and I see a lot that are all very similar. It's not easy to be original, but it's refreshing to see when someone has a project that isn't yet another simplified version of Yelp, AirBnB, Instagram, etc.

Emphasize achievements, and make it clear what your contribution was on group projects.

Experience from a past career can also be relevant. For example, a self taught software engineer on our team worked in finance. While coming in as a junior developer, we knew she came in with domain knowledge in finance that no-one else on the engineering team had.

3 Character traits that would make someone excel in your field

Curiosity: Always ask questions, wonder how something works, how other people solved a tough problem.

Empathy: Software engineers mostly create products and solutions for other people. It can be really difficult to understand the domain and challenges people in other careers and jobs face, so to succeed at creating solutions that end-users understand and get real value from, empathy enables you to spend the time and effort to listen and understand.

Collaboration: Software engineers usually have to collaborate with product managers, product designers, project managers, stake holders, QA, DevOps, operations, support, end users, and a plethora of other roles commonly found in companies small and large.

Most difficult thing about your job?

I find people management very rewarding, but it requires a lot of patience. As engineers, we get used to things like Test Driven Development that creates immediate results, but people aren't machines, so making progress on personal growth can take a series of conversations over a long time frame.

What would you like to say to your younger self?

Don't chase status and titles. Never be shy about sharing career goals, but focus your energy on becoming great at what you're doing here and now, and double down on things that excite you. If you find you're not growing, then find a place that will let you do that.

Best advice you've received/heard?

Don't worry about things you can't change. Early in my career I would worry about everything and get frustrated with things I couldn't change. A great mentor told me it was a waste of time and energy to worry about things you can't change, and while it was very obvious, I wasn't able to see that clearly for myself.

Any last thoughts, advice, or recommendations for someone who wants to learn about your craft?

The Internet has made it really easy to find a lot of sources with information. Unfortunately, it can also be difficult to figure out where to start, and tell good advice from less good advice.

I've found a good counter to that is networking and seeking out mentors. I have regular calls with peers and people further along in their career than me. I'm not the smartest person in the room, and there's a lot of stuff I would never be able to figure out on my own.

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