Coding for a cause – building technology that boosts student wellbeing
In our first Operator Spotlight for the new year, we meet Lorenzo; one of the wonderful Folks behind Komodo. A member of the Folklore family since 2021, Komodo is allowing schools to proactively monitor and support student wellbeing through surveying and data analytics.
Lorenzo and his tech team are building tools that give every student a voice when they need it most, and empower staff to intervene and take the guesswork out of wellbeing management. He shares the highs and lows of coding for an early-stage startup, along with a bunch of tips for anyone considering a move into this space.
What's your startup story?
I started at Komodo during my second year of University. I hoped working tirelessly for a summer as an intern on Komodo's mobile app would land me a job. It was far-fetched at the time, but it worked! After graduating, I stayed with Komodo throughout my studies and worked on the technical side of the platform as a full-stack developer. A couple of years ago, after a few ups and downs, I became the only developer at Komodo. While this was undoubtedly one of the most challenging moments in my career so far, it was also a forming moment that consolidated my love for the world of startups and made me more resilient as a developer and, most notably, as a person. I am lucky to have Dana, a fantastic software engineer, as part of the team.
Our development team is currently focusing on a range of features such as upscaling our architecture to support the growing number of customers, presenting users with wellbeing analytics reports, and launching a new product. So we have an exciting roadmap ahead of us, and I look forward to contributing to Komodo's growth!
What does a day to day look like as a Lead Software Engineer?
My days start with an espresso. As an Italian software engineer, the stereotype could not be more accurate. The rest of my day focuses on developing code, helping team members, discussing releases, and planning new features for the app.
One of our main traditions is lunch altogether. Since the beginning at Komodo, we have been spending lunches talking to each other and laughing. It's a great way to feel closer to the people you work with.
What kind of impact are you hoping that Komodo will have?
Some habits are natural, and people tend to do them daily. Talking about mental health still needs to be at that point in schools. With our work, we can make this a normality. In a few years, kids will request check-ins with staff members, be aware and capable of expressing their wellbeing concerns, and ultimately discuss their problems with staff and amongst each other. I hope they will do all this with the same nonchalance and serenity they do with every other activity during their day. I hope to bring a culture of change and improvement around mental health in every school.
Is there anything that people need to know about building an early-stage startup as an engineer? Any there any particular highlights or lowlights?
Developers can sometimes have a tendency to become attached to the code they write. At Komodo, when we decided to pivot into school wellbeing, many projects I had poured hard work into became secondary or useless. This moment was tough on the development team, requiring us to reconsider the platform's purpose and try to salvage or change large parts of the codebase. However, this was the best decision ever made at Komodo.
It is essential to understand that our code is a tool, not the final goal. Of course, we need to hack away and pour our souls into the day-to-day work, but we also need to make big decisions without our previous achievements holding us back.
Receiving positive feedback from staff members of students regarding Komodo is the most significant highlight. It reminds everyone in the room why we do what we do, giving us more power to keep doing it.
The lowlight of working in a small company with less financial stability is that sometimes you might have amazing people depart due to economic changes. This happened multiple times in our journey, and it has never become easy. The nature of a startup is ‘high risk, high reward’ and this is all part of the rollercoaster!
Do you have any tips or resources for people who are hoping to land an engineering job at a startup, or launch their own?
1. Don't be afraid to ask dumb questions, or for help. Other people's opinions are less important than understanding what is happening at a specific time.
2. Force yourself into challenging work. Try to mix fine-tuning your technical skills with picking new ones, take over projects where there is an excellent part of the unknown, and make sure to include upskilling in your day-to-day workflow. All this will help you develop a mindset that thrives and sees challenges as opportunities.
3. Surround yourself with great people.
Also, some cool (a bit nerdy) readings I enjoyed are:
Whether you’re looking for an engineering role or another startup opportunity in the new year, have a browse of our job board and join the waitlist for this year’s Chapters: short, immersive experiences for future startup leaders.
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