After 15 years of developing software and mobile apps for companies, Anna Billstrom started PickAxe Mobile – where her team builds functional mobile prototypes for entrepreneurs. Anna is a mobile developer (iOS, Android, Mobile Web), software engineer (Rails, Java), and database architect. She holds a degree in English from Reed.
Anna started coding in math class when she was 12 and never stopped, despite getting a degree from Reed in English. She worked in the Dot Com as a Java software engineer. She then specialized in CRM systems, for numerous Fortune 500 corporate clients such as Microsoft, Disney and WellsFargo. She built an Android/iOS open-ended game – the “Draw Something” for Karaoke, and started consulting for companies who quickly wanted to functionally realize their business ideas.
Today, Anna provides the engineering support and technical architecture for Pickaxe Mobile.
How Did You Get Your Current Job?
It wasn’t planned. It was just recognizing what I was already doing – I had a few contracts with friends helping them realize their business ideas in mobile. I worked with a favorite colleague to do brainstorming, product ideation and UI/UX flow. At a certain point, I suggested we just do this legit. It all was pretty natural. There are so many business ideas without a CTO, and since we love mobile, we can help guide them to their first customers, and first funding. It’s all about presenting a mobile product that you can demo, and use.
It varies day by day. I work form home, or cafes, or co-working spaces. I review my meetings for the day, have a 9am scrum with my co-founder that usually lasts an hour. We’re splitting our time now between sales/marketing and development. In the afternoon, I try and turn off social networks/email and dive into code. That will continue past dinner. Many times there are meetups or social, or social-business meetings in the evenings. I love this area for the amount of free learning, meet-ups and just quantity of people interested in cool stuff.
I try to do a regular day, 8 or 10 hours, which is hard when you’re working from home. The work hours vary depending on client workload. We have a lot of face to face meetings, or Google Hangouts, during the day. I end up walking downtown for meetings maybe 2-3 times a week.
Favorite Part of Working in Tech?
I really love invention. I also like nice people. So when I get to work on cool ideas with nice people, I’m in my happy place. I feel like, as a woman in tech I have this unique perspective on areas of improvement, untapped ideas and emerging customer demographics. Diverse teams make the best brainpower. Some fears are that we’re being homogenous or myopic in our tech wants and ideas.
Getting out of the comfort zone and truly challenging what technology can provide, that’s the interesting bit. Recently, I was at a meeting on homelessness between nonprofit providers and technologists, and it was very uncomfortable, and yet, some of the ideas and energy that came out of that was some of the best I’ve experienced in a long time.
Advice to Your Younger Self?
Nothing is rocket science; everything is learnable. I see that in others all the time- the lengths they do to avoid learning the one basic thing they need to learn to make their dream happen. Instead, they think it’s too hard, or impossible. It’s just not. There are learning curves, sure, but there are also tons of resources to learn. Giving yourself freedom to fail. Because you need to do something badly, sometimes, to do it well eventually.
First Experience in Tech?
My mom had a Apple IIe – the kind of computer where you inserted one floppy (when they were floppy) to run the program, another floppy to save the file. I figured out that I could type over the menu options and put silly things in there. I felt very powerful. Of course, they were all swear words. To put it in context, I was about 11 years old. Doing my math exercises on the computer was an a-ha moment, understanding how programming languages worked, and feeling like there were a lot of possibilities.
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