Kristin Smith is the CEO of Code Fellows, a digital trade school based in Seattle. Prior to joining Code Fellows, Smith served as Vice President of Supply Chain at Zulily where she oversaw the development of fulfillment processes, systems, and teams that were pivotal to the company’s rapid growth and sustained success. Prior to Zulily, she held several titles in eight years at Amazon.com, most recently serving as Senior Manager in charge of Product Management, Site Merchandising, and the Design teams responsible for Amazon MP3 and Amazon Cloud Player. She holds a Master’s degree in Operations Research and Industrial Engineering from the University of Michigan, a Master’s degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering from MIT, and a Master’s degree in Business Administration from MIT’s Sloan School of Management.
How has your life experience made you the individual you are today?
I always loved so many different things. I was good at math and in music. I liked the law and journalism. I liked theater and music but also participated in sports. My dad and my grandfather were both very well educated, hard working, and successful – and my whole family encouraged me to try everything, even if it meant I might fail. And I grew up in a very diverse area outside of Detroit. I think that the combination of this well-roundedness and the ability to break out of the paralyzing fear of failure has led to my being drawn to earlier stage companies and cross-functional, building roles. It’s also led to my being around so many different types of people and enjoying the diversity – of thought, of experience, of motivation, of life.
What have you learned from these highlights and challenges?
For all of the business, education, technology, and data in my background, everything comes back to people. If you can help people, create great places to work, build a team that works well together – then the possibilities are endless.
You also have to let go of the perfectionism or fear of failure to the point where you aren’t paralyzed. Instead, use that deep-seeded anxiety you might feel to better prepare yourself. Use the resources and data that are available to you to dig in and identify, analyze and understand where mistakes might be made – and then find ways to avoid them, so that you’re never at risk of failing in an unrecoverable way. Prioritize the things that you absolutely must do well, and be prepared to learn quickly and iterate on the other stuff.
You’ve recently been appointed as CEO of Code Fellows. What excites you about this opportunity?
This company is truly special. Coding is a sort of super power, and our instructors are like Yoda, training students how to develop and harness this super power. Seeing our graduates then go out into the world and get great jobs where they get to build cool things and feel extremely valued is so incredibly rewarding. I’m also excited to help companies, large and small, engage these builders and fill the seemingly endless number of open positions that are critical to an organization’s performance and growth. We are in such a uniquely gratifying position – and that keeps me motivated for the road ahead. . We want to continue to grow and scale so that we can bring this super power to more students and expand our universe of partner companies. I’m excited to work with the team to make this happen.
How is Code Fellows shaking up the coding industry?
Code Fellows gives people who have been teaching themselves from online courses and self-study – or who discovered software development through a class or two on campus – an efficient and practical way to become professional web and mobile developers, or improve their existing software skills and find a job. There are several paths to this, and we’re a part of a movement to offer an alternative to the traditional educational methods.
However, unlike others in our category, we offer a variety of course offerings that address the broad spectrum of student skills, training and experience levels. Code Fellows offers an 8-week Development Accelerator course for more experienced developers looking to accelerate their career. And for less-experienced students, we’ve introduced night Foundations classes and 4-week full-time Bootcamps . We do guarantee that select students participating in the Development Accelerator programs – those with previous developer experience – will be offered a job that pays at least $100k per year. It’s a very unique opportunity that I’d dare say is shaking up the coding industry.”
Why do you think coding is so popular, particularly as an important skill in the digital age?
Technology and coding is not just for tech companies anymore. There are still so many new products and skills that technology is central to – as even traditional industries that are not thought of as tech industries need software developers. Every business has a website, a mobile app, some systems that run things on the back end, and technology is becoming omni-present. Universities can only graduate under 60,000 computer science majors every year, and the gap between the number of new jobs in software development and the number of people who can do them is widening at an accelerating pace every year.
Eventually, coding will be part of the core curriculum for kids as they grow up, but until that time, Code Fellows and other companies like us are trying to help fill the gap.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
This is always tricky. I’m so fortunate to have an amazing family and great friends as well as a great place to go home to. Once I go home, I try to leave work behind as much as possible and focus on spending time with my family and learning new things (like wake surfing, which I finally figured out last summer) outside of work. It’s not a hard-and-fast rule, but I resist the temptation to be connected and monitoring everything that is going on when I don’t absolutely need to.
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have worked with some of the brightest and most inspiring people who have also become friends. Everyone needs a support system, and having a supportive, safe place to learn, get ideas, get coaching, and talk things through is so key to getting ‘unstuck’ or feeling confident enough to challenging myself. It’s also a great way to face my weaknesses and get help as I constantly try to improve.
As a mentor, I also find it inspiring at how much I learn from the people I am mentoring. If you truly listen, you can learn so much, even if you are supposed to be the coach. It’s really a great way to dedicate yourself because you are giving back and still getting so much in return.
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
The female leaders that I truly admire are the women I’ve gotten to see up close and in person. Jane Park, the CEO of Julep, is a good example – though I’ve only met her but a couple of times at Seattle-area events.. However, when you’re in her presence, you can’t help but be inspired. She’s such a positive person and a passionate leader with a driving desire to build things for the world.
Also, I once had the opportunity to take a class from Kim Crawford, the former Prime Minister of Canada. She ‘retired’ from politics only to teach at the Kennedy School, start an organization that helps to spread democracy throughout the world, and support women world leaders. She was so giving of her time and her experience just to her students, which was amazing given all that she had done and everything that she still had to do.
And then there are the women I’ve worked with – particularly in my time at Dell. Inspiring, smart, driven, well-rounded leaders – as well as great friends and terrific people overall.
Which words sum up where you have got to today?
Incredible. Inspiring. The best is yet to come.