Employee Spotlight Series: Chris Leclercq
November 8, 2022
1. Tell us about yourself!
I started my career as a software developer and that is something I have always loved to do. When I first started at Kitu we were focused solely on embedded C development, and since then we have transitioned to enterprise level development in languages such as Node.js and React which has been great. I spent a lot of time earlier in my career in project management, which I love as well and has been very helpful at Kitu. I think what I like most is the sense of beauty you get from having things well organized, which is something you can find both in software development and project management.
2. What is your history with Kitu?
I spent the early part of my career working in much larger Fortune 500 companies, but eventually transitioned to working at startups. Rick Kornfeld (President & CEO of Kitu) reached out to me with this opportunity at what was Grid2Home at the time. It was in my wheelhouse of software development, and I knew I would enjoy the startup atmosphere after working so long in larger companies. I especially valued the ability to directly impact the entire company, how things moved much more quickly, and many more advantages of the startup culture. I was thrilled when Rick reached out, ultimately.
Even from the beginning of working for Grid2Home, one of the things that I appreciate most about Kitu even now is how employee-focused the company is by focusing on what's best for both the company and the employee. When I started, I was part-time for a while and was very appreciative that Grid2Home allowed such flexible work arrangements. I now try to be just as supportive with everyone on my team, focusing on how to grow individuals in a way that benefits both the individual and the organization. People on my team have started in software development and then moved to a database position or started development in Node.js and transitioned into embedded C. Kitu’s focus and commitment to growing great engineers is one of my favorite things about Kitu.
3. What has been the most fascinating or interesting project you have been a part of recently?
I always think back to the Avangrid project we did back in 2020 was one of the more fun ones. The project was partnered with a utility in New York, in a neighborhood with a set of residential home charging stations. All the participants were given the ability through our UI to set the current state of charge of their vehicle battery, how much charge they wanted to have when they left, and what time they would leave, all when they plugged in. We worked with Cornell on this project to design an algorithm that ran in our platform and took all that information from the drivers, and constantly changed the power level for each station such that it would flatten out the consumption curve throughout the evening.
The most fun part was designing the algorithm and looking at the data afterward. Once we started running the algorithm, we were able to identify interesting behaviors in how the algorithm, the charging stations, and the users behaved. For example, we identified issues with executing the algorithm consistently when there are cellular communication gaps, and user interface functionality that makes drivers more or less inclined to provide information. I enjoyed graphing out charging information and doing data analysis and thought the project was overall a lot of fun.
More recently we have started a couple new projects that similarly include an algorithmic component, but also bring in control of other distributed energy devices such as solar inverters. Planning out these new projects has been really interesting and I’m looking forward to seeing how they turn out.
4. How would you describe the company culture at Kitu?
Overall, I would describe our team culture as collaborative and dynamic. To put some color behind that, we do agile development, which is all about how a team works together to achieve their goals. Above and beyond the mechanism of doing this type of development, this is the approach our team members always take. If someone can’t figure something out, they’re going to ask for help from a subject matter expert, and our people are always very willing to spend their time helping someone with something that isn’t necessarily on their plate but helps the entire team. This all leads to a very collaborative atmosphere.
The fun of Kitu comes from our dynamic culture. We are not one of those companies where you only have one product, and everyone is only working on that one product. Instead, we have 3 different products, each with multiple customers and different ways it can be deployed. There are always so many things going on and balls in the air at all times, which can be a bit nerve-racking. However, it keeps it very interesting, and there’s always something to do. It’s high-paced, but fun!
5. What is your experience as a women in STEM?
I got my start in STEM at a young age. My father was an engineer, and he bought me my first coding book in middle school. Since then, I've always been interested in software development. But it's true, there are not many women in engineering, especially not when I first started in the industry. The majority of my software classes in high school and college were all men, and even in my first job, I was the only woman in a team of 40. Looking back, I don’t think that being a woman hindered my ability to succeed in engineering, partly due to the nature of STEM fields. In STEM success can be easily measured, whether it is measured by solving a math equation or developing software without bugs. Because of this, being a woman in this field is based on success. Even if people had preconceived notions when they met me, in the end, you get judged on what you do, and I find that's a lot easier to do in STEM than in other fields. That's a positive for us women.
Over the years, there have been more and more women in STEM, which I love to see. Today, I'm often in meetings with just women when in my earlier years, that would have never happened, and it’s great that today it is not unusual. It's a significant change to see in the industry and having those different types of voices in the room is important. In software development, even though it's of course a lot of individual coding and time spent heads down, there is a strong social component when you're designing. It’s necessary to talk to people to get different ideas and perspectives, which is part of the reason it's so important to have a diverse workforce.
5. Do you have any advice for women in STEM or new professionals looking to enter the industry?
My best advice to women in the field is to speak up! Sometimes, women can be quieter, especially if you’re the only woman in the room. I would suggest trying to focus on making your voice heard, which helps others who are unsure of where you stand. When you speak up, it’s easier to show what you’re capable of and the skills you can bring to the table. It’s not always easy for any engineer, but make it a goal to focus on these soft speaking skills.
Generally, my advice for those starting college is to focus on obtaining as much intern-type experience as possible before completing your degree. Classes are important, and having a degree shows you can commit to that long 4-year degree and put in the effort and focus. But completing internships or similar projects shows your future employer what your interests and skills are. People do their best work on projects they are interested in, so helping an employer understand that about you as an individual will help you get your foot in the door.
This can also even be side projects you do for yourself. I was talking with a candidate who had built a rain sensor for their garden and built a program around the data, showing their motivation and interest in a unique light. Often, people don’t make it clear enough what type of position they’re looking for, making it hard to place them. Having such experiences outside of your degree can help pinpoint where you’d like to be; It’s like home staging because it really helps an employer see where you best fit!
6. What are your goals for the future of Kitu?
Building up a high-performing engineering team is always my goal for the future. A high performing team needs to have the right skills, processes, and synergy. Regarding synergy, in our post-pandemic world, it’s quite different than it used to be. At Kitu we all used to be in-person every day, in the same office, and now we often only see each other on a screen. I really do think collaboration is one of the strengths of our team, as I mentioned before, but how do you really build those personal relationships when you’re working remotely? I’m always looking for ways to encourage personal interactions and build those personal relationships while online, not just at the water cooler or coffee pot.
A high-performing team needs to have the right skills and capability as well. At Kitu we encourage knowledge sharing between team members, for example through pairing and having team members give training and presentations on areas of expertise. In a small team it’s important that knowledge is spread out, and it helps individuals grow in their careers as well. Building a high-performing engineering team is based on personal relationships and striving for excellence in individual work and in our products, and that’s something I’m always trying to drive our team towards.
Chris Leclercq is the VP of Engineering at Kitu Systems. Chris started her career performing embedded software development in the telecommunications industry, working for notable companies such as Motorola, IBM and Uniden. She spent 8 years at Texas Instruments in various roles from development to Program Management, where her responsibilities included management of software, integration, and verification teams worldwide.
Chris joined Kitu Systems in 2010. During her time with Kitu Systems she has been instrumental in architecting and developing the company's embedded and cloud products, and has been a contributor to the development of the IEEE 2030.5 Smart Energy Protocol standard.
Chris brings 30 years of experience to Kitu Systems. She holds a BA in Math and Computer Science from the University of Illinois and an MBA from San Diego State University.
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