For software engineer Kat Bajno-Atkinson, joining OpenSesame’s engineering team has meant the opportunity to grow her skills at every turn. She was hired two years ago while finishing her final year of college and promoted within 12 months. Since then, Kat has continued to accelerate at a pace she’s setting. “My skills are always challenged, but I have my team’s support. I know I can take on any task in a sprint — iterating quickly on software — even if it would take someone less time,” she said. “I’m always given the time and opportunities to learn what I need to take on a task and own it.”
Briefly describe your role.
I am a software engineer on the Core team. The engineering department is responsible for building and maintaining the software and hardware behind the OpenSesame platform. My team focuses on the authorization and authentication system, our content player, and large refactorings to the system.
How did you get into the field you’re in?
Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve always loved computers. I had my first taste of programming in fifth grade when I taught myself how to modify HTML & CSS to make MySpace layouts. I eventually had a subdomain on someone’s site and distributed these layouts to others. I stopped programming over the years and got more into graphic design. When I went to college, I decided to give computer science a try since it involved constant learning and problem-solving. I haven’t looked back. I applied for a position at OpenSesame as an associate software engineer, and the rest is history.
What has been the best part of working in your role?
Working with my team is the best part of my job. We work closely and spend most of our days pair programming, whiteboarding, or tackling an issue together. I love the variety of problems I get to solve. I might be working on an emergency issue one day and re-architecting our course zip extractor the next day. Later, I could be in discussions about how to get our new identity management system implemented.
How has OpenSesame changed since you’ve joined?
We’ve grown so much. When I joined, the engineering group was one large team. Then we split off into two groups, and now into seven. I’m excited to see us continue to multiply. It allows us to focus on specific parts of the system and not get distracted by other areas. It makes you feel like you can make a big impact in those areas.
How has your career grown since starting at the company?
When I started my job here, I was in my final year of college, and I switched from going to school full-time to working full-time while finishing up my degree. I was promoted within the first year from an associate engineer to a mid-level engineer. OpenSesame leadership has always encouraged me to learn and grow with the time and resources I need. My skills are always challenged, but I have my team’s support. I know I can take on any task in a sprint — iterating quickly on software — even if it would take someone less time. I’m always given the time and opportunities to learn what I need to take on a task and own it.
In what ways have you been supported by the OpenSesame team or culture?
The ProDev allocation is fantastic. Getting five days of PTO and a week’s salary allows me to access growth resources I wouldn’t otherwise. I’ve had the opportunity to go to conferences and gain training to grow my technical skills and interests. I also had the chance to be in the first cohort of our Leadership Skills Development Program. It’s been incredibly valuable in growing my leadership, coaching, and team-building skills.
If you feel comfortable, give a glimpse of life outside of work; where do you get your energy, or what do you enjoy?
I love spending time with my husband, our two cats, and puppy. I love yoga and dance. Movement is important for my sanity. I also enjoy camping, hiking, and being out on the water. My husband and I spend a lot of time playing video games. It helps us connect with others and provides a sense of community — which is especially important during the pandemic.
What advice would you give to new OS hires?
Know that you are in control of your path here. The company provides so many resources and opportunities for growth; you just have to be willing to take them. Also, don’t be afraid to speak up. You are empowered to make an impact.
Do you have a motto or personal mantra?
My personal mantra, as cheesy as it is, “Everything happens for a reason.” It’s been my mantra since middle school, and I always come back to it. It reminds me that when life knocks me down, I just need to keep moving forward. I will figure it out, and everything will be okay.
What is your favorite course in the OpenSesame catalog?
The Ted Talk: How you can use impostor syndrome to your benefit by Mike Cannon-Brookes. He shows how typical it is to have imposter syndrome is and how to leverage it.
How has your OpenSesame team maintained a sense of community through the pandemic era?
Our leadership doesn’t shy away from acknowledging the [pandemic] situation or other hard moments. They are focused on the health of employees, both mental and physical.
They’ve done a great job with resources like morning meditation and afternoon stretching sessions, and our virtual Friday meetings. There’s a big focus on our people and mental health and taking the time you need to make sure you’re okay. At the beginning of the pandemic, we were offered a stipend to buy home desks. During the Oregon wildfires, OpenSesame helped individuals on our teams. Each month a different department plans a fun event. It makes you feel a sense of community. It’s not all business.