Founder Spotlight: Francisco Calderon – CTO & Co-Founder of ScholarJet

361
Francisco Calderon
Photo Courtesy of Francisco Calderon

What was your journey like to where you are today?

I came to the United States from the Dominican Republic (DR) with my mother and brothers when I was 11 years old. My mother decided to send me back to the DR at the age of 14 to live with my father because of the rising crime in the community. I went to a vocational high school in the DR until I was 18.

At the vocational high school, I picked computer science as my concentration. I learned how to code in Visual Basic and realized that I really like to write code. I was not a good student, but I found it fun to write code. I got a scholarship from a community inspired by the Free Software Foundation, which at the time was called Dominican Free Software Foundation. This scholarship gave me the opportunity to learn Linux, Java, and MySQL. When I made the switch from Windows to Linux, I could never go back because I loved it so much. At that point, I figured out my passions and I wanted to pursue Computer Science.

When I came back to the United States, I got my Associates degree in Computer Science at Bunker Hill Community College. I then went to Northeastern University (NU) on a full-ride for a degree in Computer Science. I love the co-op program at NU and the people I met there were great. I graduated this May 2018 and started working at ScholarJet full-time. It has been great working on building the product at ScholarJet and I enjoy supporting the customers who use our product.

How I joined ScholarJet?

About 2 years ago, Tuan Ho (CEO of ScholarJet) approached me at a Scholarship Town Hall organized by Opportunity Scholarships and Outreach Programs (OSOP) at NU. Since Tuan was a scholar like me, he came up to me and said: “Hey, I have this cool idea and I’m looking for a developer. What can you do?”. I said that I can build anything, but I have to think about it first. At the time, there was a lot of discussion about the diversity gap in the technology industry. A big thing about NU is diversity. Most Latinos I knew at NU worked at dining halls and the people I can relate to were not students. The impact I wanted to make is to help students pay for college. I decided to join ScholarJet knowing that it was a great opportunity to make a dent in the diversity gap for the technology industry. Fun fact: I did another co-op instead of graduating because I really wanted to stay and play Squash at NU. After that final co-op ended, I transitioned to ScholarJet full-time.

You wrote an article on the technology used in the ScholarJet platform, what advice would you give to students interested in learning these technologies?

The advice I would give to students interested in learning these technologies is to have a pet (side) project. For my pet (side) project, I built a web application. You will find problems and learn so much by having a pet project because it is different from working in an isolated environment. When you are working on a webpage and not connected to a backend, you will not realize the number of problems that will arise in an isolated environment. Having a pet project that is full-stack is the best way to learn these technologies. Even if it is a small project, it will still be helpful.

For students, that are applying to scholarships on ScholarJet, they would not realize the technologies that run the platform. The technology stack is impressive.

Always think of a website like an iceberg: as a user, you only see what’s presented in the browser, but there is so much more. What happens behind the scenes is special.

As the CTO, where do you see ScholarJet being in terms of technology in the next few years?

As we grow and get more users, as well as expand our development team, we would join some of the trends like microservices (software development technique). Right now, we use docker containers, but we do not use any orchestrating tool to easily deploy new micro services and scale. So using containers like [Docker], and orchestrating tools [like Kubernetes] is definitely on our list of things to adopt in the future. We will continue to use [Angular] to build features. We will also integrate with more services like various ATS (Applicant Tracking Systems) to help us provide more value to our customers and users.

Let’s talk more about the failures you had to endure at ScholarJet.

One failure we had is when we pitched at a startup challenged called the Husky Startup Challenge. It was over 10 ventures and we lost. It was bad for morale and obviously, no one likes to lose. But, we learned a lot from it and we did not give up. Our team believed in the idea and believed that we can help people. We then began pitching at various startup competition and ended up winning $70,000 in pitch competition money. We always fail, but you should always learn from those experiences.

There are also successes that may look like failures. For example, as an engineer, I try to make things work, but I do not really place an emphasis on how things look. It is important to think about how things look and the world of applications are changing. Focusing on UX/UI is really important in this age right now. I built a really ugly application and was able to prove that the concept worked. I don’t really consider that a failure, but my expectations of how it looked was not that great. ScholarJet then partnered with Scout (NU’s Student-led Design Studio) and this helped us a lot. It was a learning experience when we worked with Scout and the design you see today on ScholarJet is because of Scout.  

How did the team coming up with the name ScholarJet?

It’s funny. The name came up in the very early days. We wanted to create action-based scholarships instead of the traditional writing scholarships. We thought “Scholarships, wait ships are slow. What is faster than a ship? Hmm, a Jet!” Then that is how we came up with the name ScholarJet. At one point, we were considering changing the name, but we stuck with it.

What advice would you give to students in the STEAM field?

Always be learning. Never stop learning. Especially for Computer Science students and engineers. The tech field changes so fast, so it is important to be open-minded and try new things. Things might seem difficult at first, but as you soon as you try it, you can start the ball rolling. This is the best way to start learning.

Do you have any mentors you look up to and any influential figures?

I have a mentor that is now a Co-Founder and CTO of his own company. I love Elon Musk, his track record is great. But I think he should stay off of Twitter. Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates are definitely figures I look up too. Most of the people I look up to aren’t famous, most of them are in the technical field.

It is a Friday afternoon, and you’re looking back at a successful week. What accomplishments have you done?

This week, I did something special. Being an entrepreneur means that you have to wear many hats. It means that you might have to do something unrelated to your role. For one competition we’re having, we are trying to get as many students as possible. Tuan is busy pitching to investors and Joe is doing sales. So this week, I had to go out of my comfort zone. I went to Bunker Hill Community College this week and handed out a bunch of flyers and talked to students about ScholarJet. In terms of writing code, I worked on building features for a reward system on ScholarJet. Rewarding students on specific actions they do. It might sound simple, but doing it right is very complex.

Do students give feedback on the platform? In terms of the technical side?

We use Drift on our website which is a chatbot to help us communicate with customers. If a student took the time to ask about an issue with the website, it means that other students might have experienced the same issue too. But, I wished we had more feedback on the application. When I worked at Carbonite, a mobile app I worked on had about 60 entries of feedback every day. We’re getting some feedback, but not as much. Another way we get feedback is to approach the students and start telling them about ScholarJet. We can do user research and see how the users are interacting with the platform to improve ScholarJet’s services.

What accomplishments in your career are you most proud of?

One accomplishment in my career I am very proud of is my time at Carbonite. I did my first co-op at Carbonite, made a great impression and they asked me to stay part-time after my co-op was over. I stayed part-time for almost a year, and then did a second co-op, totaling almost 2 years. In this time, I learned a lot. From Android development, to iOS development, to microservices development. I also met great people, some of whom I’m still in contact with.

Any final words of wisdom that you would give out to the community and any shoutouts?

Definitely visit ScholarJet. We have some coding and sales competitions going on right now. Also, I’d advise students to read all the time. This is very important. A book I am reading now is The Hard Things About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz. I would recommend this book to everyone. Ben Horowitz co-founded a software company. Most of the books I have read were recommended by podcasts I have listened to. Right now I am also reading is Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull, who co-founded Pixar. I would recommend everyone to read because you can learn so much.

Taking risks is important too. When you’re on co-op or interning, work might be isolated, so you won’t be able to understand all of the problems. This is why pet projects are key to learning. Co-ops can help you get real experience and it also helps with communication. In my co-op, it was a scrum team and there was a lot of information flowing. Agile project management is getting more and more popular. It is important to learn how to work in a team.


Check out the Scholarships on ScholarJet: https://app.scholarjet.com/challenges/browse


Join Us

If you are a student or professional in the “Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics” field and you want to tell us your story email [email protected] or tweet @steamboston and let’s talk.

We help students & professionals in the Greater Boston area with career exploration and career advice, check us out at steamboston.com

Interested in reading more articles like this, then sign up for our mailing list!

Leave a Reply

avatar
  Subscribe  
Notify of