Tech Leader Spotlight: Desi McAdam

via LinkedIn. 

via LinkedIn. 

Desi McAdam

CTO at Nanno

Last week, Code Talent caught up with startup co-founder and tech community leader, Desi McAdam. With 16 years of experience as a software developer, Desi has done it all, from product management to building and managing highly successful teams. We got the scoop on her new startup, passion for Denver, and home office specializations. 

What's your involvement in the Denver Tech community? 

I try to stay active in the Ruby community as much as I can. I'm one of the co-organizers for Denver.rb, as well as a co-organizer for the CTO school meetup here in Denver. I do general mentoring and volunteering, and I get involved as much as I can with Denver Startup Week every year. 

What are you currently doing in Denver? 

Up until August, I was the Development Director at thoughtbot, however, we decided to close the Denver office for a plethora of reasons. But, when I was still at thoughtbot I started working on an idea for a company called Nanno, which facilitates last minute childcare for parents—a problem that many have tried to solve but no one has gotten it quite right yet. So, when thoughtbot decided to close in August, I took that as I sign that I should be doing Nanno.

I also currently work with a company called Flexjobs, which is completely remote, allowing me to work from where I want or need to. The set up is great, and I really enjoy working with a team that understands and can navigate the industry-disrupting trend of remote work. 

What makes Nanno different than those before it?

 Well, the companies that have tried to tackle the childcare solution have only gotten aspects of it correct. For example, is one of the biggest ones out there—everyone knows about them, lots of people use them, but nobody likes them. They take money from everyone, for everything, and at the end of the day it's hardly better than searching Craigslist for a caregiver. More recent startups have tried different things, but none of them seem to be coming at it from the point of view of what parents actually need, which is why I think a lot of them aren't succeeding.

The other issue is that there's an interesting balance you have to strike between trust and efficiency that no one has gotten quite right. I don't know if we'll get it right either, but that's what we're trying to do. 

Why did you choose Denver? 

I moved out to Boulder about 4 or 5 years ago for a company that doesn't exist anymore. I ran into Chad, the CEO of thoughtbot, at a Ruby conference, and then a few months later we opened the Boulder thoughtbot office. We later decided that it would be better to move the office to the Denver area, due to the major upswing the Denver tech community was having at the time. I wanted to part of that upswing, I wanted to help create the Denver tech community rather than insert myself into an already built community. I though that Denver would be better for both the company, and for me, personally, because I could be part of molding the community I wanted to see. 

What's your favorite thing about the Denver tech community? 

Well, I'm very involved in the Ruby community here, and, for the most part, Ruby people are so kind—they always volunteer their time and are always willing to help others, which I really connect with. I also like the different code schools here, like Turing and G School. Places like Turing are affecting the community's diversity as far as attracting programmers from different nationalities, ethnicities, gender—or non-gender. They're helping our community become more diverse, which is creating a community I want to be a part of. 

I also love how big Startup Week is here. I try to do as much as I can during that week, to give back to the community. But, I have to say, one of my favorite aspects of Denver Startup Week is the vast range of different technology topics. We've got everything from financial tech to health tech to marijuana tech. It's crazy how many different opportunities are within the context of just one week. 

What's one thing you would improve about the Denver Tech community? 

The money. There just isn't enough coming in. We have tons of great founders and ideas but there just isn't enough to go around. I've seen many startups fail, not because their ideas weren't good or their technology was faulty, but because they just didn't have enough money to keep going. 

We also need more middle level companies, companies that are past the baby seed funding stage, but not quite like Xcel. There are tons of great programmers who could benefit from having a stable job that also gives them the opportunity to learn and grow. Right now, that's hard because we have tons of junior developers who are being pushed into startups that can't really support their learning needs. We have this imbalance in the tech community between our talent pool and the available environments for them. 

Outside of your everyday work, what projects do you like working on for fun? 

Most of my spare time is spent with my kids and husband. They're my world, and that's really what I spend most of my time doing when I'm not writing code. I'm also really passionate about the volunteering and mentoring I do, so I'll do that when I'm not working or with my family. 

As far as tech projects, I have to be passionate about something in order to want to code. So, right now, Nanno is most fun for me because it's something I'm really passionate about and I get to define our architecture. We just recently started using something called TrailBlazer, which is a framework on Ruby that allows us to build things in a more componentized way. It's been fun learning about that, learning how to use it, and not being forced to doing things the standard way. It's fun to pave your own way, choose your own thing. 

What's your typical workspace like and why do you like it? 

Right now my workspace is my home office, so I've got all the basic components you'd expect, the standard home-office necessities. Then my business partner, Liz, also has a desk at Thrive Workplace that I share with her. I enjoy working at Thrive for the social aspects of it, but I also enjoy that quiet space I get from working at home. The times we need to get together as a team we'll either work from Thrive or Liz's home, but for me, having a home office is really enjoyable when we don't need to be together in-person. 

For your home office, what set up have you found works best for you? 

Well, I still don't have it set up exactly the way I want. But when I started the process of putting together my home office, I really focused on everything fitting my body, style, height, weight, all that. So, when I started the process, I remember my husband telling me to "make sure to buy a chair that fits you." I didn't really understand that at first, so I did some research and turns out chair have sizes. As a small person, turns out I needed a size A Aeron chair—the standard is size B. Luckily, I found my size at a wholesaler here in Denver but it was the only size A out of hundreds and hundreds of standard B size chairs! So, I got lucky. But finding a chair that actually fit me was a big deal. 

After finding the right chair, the issue was my desk. The desk I have is set to a specific size, so I had to adjust my chair to the correct height for the desk, which means my feet don't touch the floor... So, my husband built me this platform for under my desk so that my feet can be level and my positioning is still right. 

Basically, the general idea to keep in mind is to set everything up tailored to your body, to protect it from the damage that sitting and staring at a screen everyday can cause. I adjust the font on my screen to avoid straining my eyes, I try to do the 20-20 tactic—for every 20 minutes you spend looking at the screen take a 20 second break looking away. I also use shortcuts to avoid wear and tear on my hands and wrists, and try to be aware of my posture. I've been coding for 16 years and it takes a toll on your hands, wrists, and eyes. It's better to pay attention to this when you're younger before things start to ache. 

What do you do when you get stuck on a project? 

It depends. Most of the time if I'm stuck I just need to walk away from it. So, I might do the dishes or the laundry—which is a big advantage of working from home. I can take 10 min to do chores around the house when I need a brain break. But if I just need a change of scenery I'll go out on my back porch for a bit, head to a coffee shop, or sometimes I just need to switch what I'm working on. 

What's the coolest technology you're currently working with? 

A lot of the work we're doing right now for Nanno is integration points with other services which is my happy space—mostly because I don't have to touch the front end very much. But I've been using TrailBlazer which is really cool because it offers a different way of thinking about things in the Ruby world than Rails. It actually addresses a lot of things I struggled with in the Rails world, so I've been getting really into it lately.