For Kishau Rogers, a love of technology starts with understanding the problems it can enable her to solve.
“I like the impact. I need technology to have some meaning behind the use.”
Drawn to the field of computer science while a college student at Virginia Commonwealth University, Kishau took her first job as a programmer when she was a junior in college and has been building software ever since.
“I worked primarily in the research, health, and social service space, using tech to create solutions to real-world problems. Being in that field allowed me to see the impact of the technology.”
She started her first company in the early 2000s, Websmith, to build custom software for other companies. Kishau ran Websmith for almost 15 years, designing software for numerous Fortune 500 companies. Her newest venture is a company called Time Study, a startup she founded in 2017 that uses machine learning and mobile technologies to help hospitals understand how employees spend their time at work.
“Our mission is to eliminate timesheets. There’s complexity in the healthcare space around how they collect data; it’s different from standard timesheets, because there’s different levels of stakeholders that want to know different things. Our thesis is that there’s enough data to automatically tell a story of how people are spending their time, using mobile technologies, machine learning, and data science, and categorize unstructured data in a language stakeholders can understand.”
She says that the same interest in problem-solving and impact that she found in computer science is what draws her to entrepreneurship.
“I like the idea of understanding a problem and its lifecycle completely. Studying CS, thinking about structuring solutions to problems really appealed to me, more than just hacking away at the code and creating things for the sake of it; ‘Hello world’ doesn’t do anything. Health and social services make it clear why the tech is needed, and it’s also very outcomes-driven, meaning that the conversations usually start with a vision and what impact do we want to see, and then you sort of reverse engineer it and determine whether tech can have a role in that.
Her guidance to others thinking of entering STEM fields is to identify problems they want to solve and then learn new skills with solutions to that problem in mind.
“I mentor a lot of people and I tell them to think more about the outcomes of what you’re doing, and less about the process. Sometimes we dive in with a vague concept of ‘learning to code.’ Figure out your reason for it. Think of a problem you’re interested in solving, then learn for the purpose of using the tool so that you can create a solution that you’re going to actually use. I find that a lot of people learn better when they understand why they need to know, when they feel they need to know it in order to solve the problem. Sometimes you want to learn a thing and your reason may not be the same as the person next to you. Someone may want to learn to code because it’s fascinating for them to see the function and framework. Someone else may want to learn to code for economic empowerment, so they can earn more money in their career and have more promotion opportunities. All these reasons are great reasons.”
Her desire to solve problems in healthcare and social services also led her to join the board of a technology nonprofit called Think of Us, a nonprofit building tech tools to help youth transitioning out of foster care.
Kishau’s guidance to young people considering computer science should be encouraging to anyone who wonders if they have enough experience, resources, or interest in coding for coding’s sake.
“I didn’t actually own a computer when I picked CS as my major. Computers were really expensive back then. My parents couldn’t afford to get me a computer in my dorm room. I would suggest surveying your resources: what are the environments that you can learn best in? A home office, a library, a coworking space, or a computer lab in your school.”
She is deeply passionate about mentorship, pointing out that we need to adopt a more expansive view of what it means.
“Mentorship for me is a two-way relationship. We use the term ‘mentor’ and ‘mentee’ and that implies the mentor can’t learn something from the mentee. You get mentorship where you find it, so if you ask someone for coffee, and you want to speak to them about your career, start by asking for feedback, keep in contact with the people you reach out to, and over time you build a relationship that becomes a mentor/mentee relationship. Start small and keep in contact with the people you consider mentors so that you can know about opportunities in the field, because that’s really where most of the magic happens, is through relationships.”
For Kishau, the combination of seeking and providing mentorship, identifying available resources, and learning through problem-solving have been recipes for fulfillment and creativity in computer science.