JetRockets Interview
Margot Worsley
Margot Worsley • Aug 12

JetRockets Interview

by Margot

Natalie Kaminski is a co-founder and CEO of JetRockets - a custom software, web and mobile application development firm located in Brooklyn, New York. Before founding JetRockets in 2009, Natalie spent a decade working in the software development industry in several companies, large and small. Natalie lives in Brooklyn, with her husband and two daughters, ages fourteen and seven. When Natalie isn’t building new digital products, she enjoys running, travelling and eating good food with great wine.

Margot: Hi, Natalie. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat today. To start us off, could you just tell me a little bit about yourself and your career journey?

Natalie: Of course. So, I have been in the software development business since the late '90s. I got my first job in 1998 when I emigrated from Israel to the United States -- Minneapolis to be precise. My first job was to work for a company called Guidant Corporation, and we helped solve the Y2K issue. I don't know if you're old enough to remember what it was, but the world was supposed to fall apart on the eve of the 2000s.

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Margot: I was born in 2001, so I just escaped that!

Natalie: Well, a year before, everyone believed the world was supposed to go extinct. It didn't, luckily.   When you structure a database, you have to consider how many characters you allow for the year field, right? Everything until that moment was done with two numbers, with 1991, '92, and so forth. Then, as we were getting closer to 2000, people have realized, ‘how are we going to distinguish between 2001 versus 1901?’ They realized that they needed to update all of the databases, so all of the software systems worldwide would be able to handle four-digit years. That was the big Y2K problem. So, that was my first project, and I was excited to be part of it. I was able to land my first job as a software developer, and from that point, my career has progressed. I quickly realized that I did not want to do programming, per se.

I love the idea of using technology to solve business problems.

I love the idea of using technology to solve business problems. I felt that having gone through every single role within the software development lifecycle—specifically, software development, quality assurance, testing, business analysis, and project management—for the first ten years of my career. By the end of those ten years, I learned enough to go out on my own. That's when Jet Rockets was born. The idea behind Jet Rockets was to apply technology to solving real-world problems. It always fascinates me how you can take any issue and consider how can we automate it? How can we make it less error-prone? How can we make it more user-friendly? There are so many ways to go about it.

But the result is always exciting. I love my job and doing what we do as a company. My specific role within the organization is, of course, business development and account management. But I'm also very closely involved in the actual vision, in the business analysis aspect of things. To be able to speak to a potential client who approaches us and says, "Hey, I've got this awesome idea, do you think it's good?" is already an exciting part of the journey.

Margot: That is incredible. Clearly, you've been in that kind of startup innovation ecosystem for quite some time. What is the biggest change you've seen in that industry across the last 20 or so years?

Natalie: Well, there are so many changes. We can start with the approach to software development. In 1998, everything followed the waterfall model. The waterfall model implies that you spend lots of time documenting and thinking through ideas and the architecting part of the software. You document everything—every single change goes through another set of documents, and so on. I used to joke that it took us six months to plan something that required one month to build. By the time it was ready to build, we had to take another six months to rethink everything. Projects used to take forever. By the time they finished, they were irrelevant.

It could have been because the business pivoted, or other realities had changed. People were surprised that, ‘we just spent all this money, but we have a solution that does not work for us.’ The biggest advancement for software development is definitely the move towards the agile development process, which allows for ongoing changes, to run short sprints, accomplish short-term goals, and then go back and rethink, ask if you are still on the right track or not? 

Also, the field got a lot younger. In the past, you looked at who the programmers were. In my first job, I was 18, but I remember everybody was in their 40s at that point, with a programming degree or engineering degree. Now you have an 18-year-old coding prodigy coming up with solutions, and the field is very age-diverse. There are 18-year-olds, and there are 50-year-olds, and they all work together, effectively respecting each other's opinions. That is refreshing to see.

The gender gap has diminished. It hasn't gone away, by any means. 

The gender gap has diminished. It hasn't gone away, by any means. I think you have more men in the field than women. It's just how it is, unfortunately. But the rise of many women-led organizations has definitely contributed to girls getting interested in tech and the world becoming so much more tech-oriented. It is setting up our kids to think in terms of technology from the first day they can understand what's going on. I've got two daughters, and I can tell you I never had to teach them how to use a computer. I never had to teach them how to use an iPhone; it comes naturally to them. Partially because those products have been designed to be user-friendly, with human behaviour in mind, but also, it's part of who they are. They can't imagine not having any technology. They can find their way around any website, any platform with a few clicks; they know exactly what to do. I think that allows us to expand the type of people who enter this field. 

Margot: I couldn't agree more, and it's a fascinating point you raised there about the growing diversity of people in this industry because startups, at their core, are there to solve problems. We can only solve them effectively if we're solving them for the greatest number of people. If the greatest number of people are involved in solving that problem, then that's how we'll do it. 

Natalie: It's also about different perspectives, right? As we know, men and women are different; we have different perspectives on things, see things from different angles, and solve problems differently. Our team is very diverse, and we all work together. Sometimes, you can see how the same problem is being approached very differently. But the solution is somewhere in the middle.

Margot: Definitely. And, you know, that's something that we're trying to do here at Bright. If you look at so many of the big tech companies, it could be argued that the same problems are coming up repeatedly because the same type of person is running all of these companies. Having someone like Taryn at Bright's helm means that some problems are being solved in different ways. 

What do you think can be done to bring more young girls into tech and software engineering because, as you say, it's changing, but it's still such a male-dominated field. When I look at, for example, a university for people who study computer science compared to people who study the history of art, there's a huge gender imbalance. What do you think we can make young people think that they can go into any field regardless of their gender?

Natalie: The first thing that comes to mind is to lead by example. Both of my girls know exactly what I do. The older one is not as technically inclined. She's more of a humanitarian, and she loves reading and journalism. I think that's where she might go. But we never know, right? I think leading by example is important, and highlighting those examples in the news, in the media, about successful women-led businesses, be that a service company like Jet Rockets or a brand-new startup that came up with a life-saving technology led by women. And I think it is being done now more and more.

Also, I recently listened to a podcast— I cannot recall the name; forgive me. But the whole premise was that the way sciences are taught in universities and schools is aimed more towards men than women because men and women perceive information differently and process knowledge differently. We have to improve or maybe change the way we teach some of those classes to women to become more women-oriented. I'm not saying we completely change it, but maybe meet somewhere in the middle. 

Margot: That is fascinating because I was at an all-girls school. It was a strange experience in many ways, but one thing I'm grateful for is that I never had a pre-conception of what a boy's subject or what a girl's subject was. I perceived physics in the same way I perceived English, for example. But when I talked to friends at mixed schools, it was clear that, for example, at A level, the economics class was full of boys, the maths class was full of boys, whereas other classes were full of girls. There must be a reason why that is. It's probably just the way that it's taught and perhaps the way that it's marketed.

Natalie: I think we're teaching maths the same way we used to teach it 100 years ago, but 100 years ago, women had a different position in society. Maybe it made sense then, but it no longer makes sense, and we have to revisit the way certain subjects are taught to the general population of children and young adults. Like I said, leading by example, a better education system, and expanded opportunities early on and later on in their careers. I meet many founders, both men and women, and there are certain patterns in the way they behave when startups reach the fundraising stage in their journey.

... if you are a male, the investors don't care so much that you're not the technical founder, they're very forgiving towards you. They're like, "All right, that's fine, you'll figure it out."

If you have a startup, but you're not a technical founder yourself and have no technical background, perhaps you're working with a vendor, such as Jet Rockets, who serve as your tech partner. They are your interim CTO, helps you develop your product, and you start raising money. I see it repeatedly that if you are a male, the investors don't care so much that you're not the technical founder; they're very forgiving towards you. They're like, "All right, that's fine, you'll figure it out."

However, if you are female, you're not technical, and you're working with someone like Jet Rockets to be your interim technical partner, investors always perceive that you're not a technical founder as a problem. It is always raised during investor meetings; they ask questions like, "How are you going to do it without the technical partner?" It's just my observation; I haven't done any studies on this whatsoever. It's just something that I have seen when working with many founders on both sides. I think that has to change. The same standards should apply across the board, regardless of your gender, which I think will create a pathway for more female-led startups and service companies in the technology world.

Margot: That's really fascinating. Now, a slightly more general question. When you think back on your career, what is one thing that particularly surprised you, that maybe you learned something huge from?

Natalie: That's a tough one because I feel like there were so many lessons. One lesson that I've learned is that if you are a person who is inclined to have their own business -- because you have to be inclined to do that, -- you have to have a certain risk tolerance. You have to understand it's not easy to run your own business. I advise people to start early, don't wait. I feel like I've waited too long, and I don't know why I had to. 

In the first decade of my career, I gained all of this experience, which I am now applying in my business. On the other hand, I should have started earlier; I should have taken the leap earlier. That's not a regret; it's just an overall observation that I now share with many people I talk to: if you have an idea, if you want to be your own boss, if this is a career goal, go for it don't wait. It will never be a good time, and there will always be some hurdles. So just go for it. 

Second, choose your battles. It's perfectly okay to let the client go sometimes. If you have a challenging client to deal with, it's okay to let them go. It's okay to admit that you cannot make this client happy no matter what you do. It's time to say goodbye. I think, especially as women, we often try to find ways to navigate differences and avoid conflict. It's just something that is part of our nature. Sometimes, we tend to sacrifice our time, our stress levels, everything we can just to make somebody happy, and it's okay not to do that.

Finally, work-life balance is super important, and the lesson I've learned is that you have to let go of guilt. 

Finally, work-life balance is super important, and the lesson I've learned is that you have to let go of guilt. As I mentioned, I am a mother of two kids, and I've run my business since my older daughter was three. There were times when I had to sacrifice time with my children to do something for work. There were times when I had to sacrifice a conference to spend time with my children, and the key to be able to do that is to let go of those guilty feelings and say, "It's okay. I'm going to go to a conference, my kids are going to be fine," or vice versa. I always remind myself when I think about my business that I'm not saving lives, per se. I'm not a doctor, and I'm not sending people into space. There's nothing that can happen in my line of work that will result in disaster. So, I don't need to stress out about every single thing. Manage your stress, allow yourself to make mistakes and allow yourself not to be 100% perfect.

Margot: That's a great set of lessons. Finally, what’s next for Jet Rockets? Where do you see yourself jetting off to in the future?

Natalie: That is an excellent question, and I have been thinking about it for the past year. We've gotten to a point where we have 50 employees. Our pipeline of projects is quite steady, everything is going great, and the question has come up repeatedly, what's next? 

We are always kind of going between different options. There are a couple of natural next steps. We could just continue to grow and become this huge consulting firm. The second option is we productize: come up with our own product and have a division of a small service organization versus a product organization. That comes with its own set of difficulties and challenges, which we have considered.

There is a third option of staying exactly where we are because that is okay. If you're comfortable, it is perfectly fine to stay exactly where you are sometimes and just improve upon the quality of work, as well as the quality of life. Those are the three options we are considering, but we have not made the decision. It's an ongoing battle, and to help me answer that question, I've actually been accepted into an executive MBA program, which will start six days from now. I'm going to have a year to see if I can figure it out. But my goal is to take Jet Rockets through the executive MBA as a use case and see where I land. 

Margot: I can't wait to see how all of that goes. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk today, Natalie.

Natalie: It is my pleasure. Thank you so much for the opportunity.

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Margot is a lusophile + hispanophile + bibliophile.

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