As Box gears up to hire one top-notch software engineer every fortnight, its director of web application engineering Kimber Lockhart discusses why she is stressing the importance of computer science to students.
Kimber Lockhart entered Stanford University as “an undecided major, excited about entrepreneurship, but not sure the right path to take there.”
During her first year, almost by accident she started an introductory class on computer science.
“I discovered it was an incredibly creative field, with almost unlimited entrepreneurial potential,” comments Kimber Lockhart, Director of Web Application Engineering at Box.
After making the decision to try her hand as an entrepreneur in 2007, Lockhart co-founded Increo Solutions, serving as its CEO. Aiming to revolutionize the way people work with documents online, Increo took venture funding from Draper Fisher Jurvetson in 2008, two months before she graduated from college.
“We actually moved out of the dorms and into the office on the same day. I remember the day of graduation, my parents helped me carry these gigantic whiteboards into a tiny office. The next morning, we started our first day of full-time work on the new endeavour,” she recalls.
In 2009, Increo was acquired by Box, with Lockhart becoming a key member of the Box engineering team, working furiously to integrate Increo’s preview technology with Box’s core product.
“We completed the integration in a record-fast three months, and started delivering a better experience to Box’s users in early 2010,” she comments.The visionary behind Box’s product and platform strategy, which is focused on incorporating the best of traditional content management with the most effective elements of social business software, Box’s CEO and co-founder Aaron Levie is also a young entrepreneur.
Originally created as Levie’s college business project with the goal of helping people easily access their information from any location, the company was launched from Levie’s dorm room in 2005 with the help of CFO Dylan Smith.
“Box is all about enabling companies to collaborate on content in the cloud,” she explains, with the company combining “IT-friendly security with a top-notch end user experience.”
Helping more than 10 million people to access and share their content from anywhere since its inception, Box has clinched a string of accolades. Recently named as a Leader in Gartner MarketScope for Enterprise File Synchronization and Sharing 2013, Box also appeared on Business Insider’s 10 Best US Tech Companies to Work for in 2012.
Starting out at Box, Lockhart was a Software Engineer by title. However, she worked on a number of different initiatives, including a redesign of sharing and collaboration on the files page, running user experience tests, and measuring and reporting on the value of its free user base.
As Box’s Director of Web Application Engineering since May last year, Lockhart runs the web application engineering team, consisting of 50 people, the largest engineering team at Box. The team holds responsibility for “the experience when a user logs into Box through a web browser, including much of the core code for files and folders that gets used no matter how you access Box.”
“My role is all about teambuilding. With a goal to hire one top-notch software engineer every two weeks, interviewing and optimizing how we interview takes a tremendous amount of my energy,” Lockhart comments.
“Once we have them here, I’m in charge of building a well-structured and effective organization those engineers are proud to be a part of,” she adds.
The main changes Lockhart has brought to the company have been “building a team of 50 excellent engineers and creating a place where the like to come to work every day.”
“I’ve also been deeply involved in the Box user experience, running user tests, redesigning key workflows and overseeing a rewrite of the entire box user interface,” she adds.
During Lockhart’s three and a half years at Box, the company has grown from 40 employees to 700. “With that kind of organizational scale, everything changes,” she says.
“Processes that worked when you sat within ten feet of the rest of the engineering department break down when people are out of earshot. The challenge of my role is to figure out systems to run a productive, forward-facing organization that people enjoy being a part of,” she comments.
Lockhart’s team have recently completed new projects including Box Embed, a new HTML5-based framework making it easy to embed the entire Box experience anywhere people work, such as on their websites, forums or blogs; Contact Discovery, enabling users to discover contacts within their corporate networks who are also using Box.
Since the idea to enter the tech field first crossed her mind, Lockhart has been involved in efforts to increase the representation of women in the sector, and “aside from all the practical reasons to increase diversity in technology, it just didn’t feel right that I was one of few women in class.
Lockhart was featured in she++: The Documentary, a short film released in April, which “showcases industry leaders talking about the issue of underrepresented women in tech, and encourages young women to consider technology.
According to the documentary’s website, there was a 79 percent drop in the number of first-year undergraduate women considering computer science between 2000 and 2009, even as products such as Facebook, Twitter, and Angry Birds started making technology ‘cool’ again.
Written and directed by recent Stanford University graduates Ayna Agarwal and Ellora, the documentary collects research and inspirational pieces of Silicon Valley’s unsung heroes to “galvanize us to explore our potential as ‘femgineers’.”
Technology leadership is an extremely exciting career path, and it’s such a shame more young people don’t consider it as a career option, she says. “Few other industries have such broad applications and are changing the world at such a fast pace.”
Knowing the earlier students are exposed to computer science, the more likely they will consider it as a career path, Lockhart is working with a number of other Box employees on a call for colleges to recommend incoming students have some computer science classwork, and publicizing existing online resources for students whose high schools do not yet have the ability to offer computer science classes.
According to Lockhart, “promotion decisions in technical fields are often more well-considered and fair than other industries. Google, for example, handles promotion decisions through an unbiased promotion committee.”
At Box, any individual can request they be considered to move into a different role, regardless of what their manager thinks, she explains. “Processes like this aim to reduce the effect of any one person’s bias, in favor of more careful consideration by a group. In general, this results in decisions that are fairer.”
“What good is fair, though, if women aren’t actually getting involved in technology in the first place? What good is equal consideration for promotion if women don’t put in a request to be considered?”
She reveals that most of her current entrepreneurial endeavours are ‘intrapreneurial’ initiatives she started within Box.
“I’m currently working on an initiative to get new Boxers (what Box calls its employees) up to speed with the company, culture, and code base as quickly as possible. And, of course, we’re always working on new, industry-leading additions to Box’s offerings, which we’ll tell the world about over time.”