Works and Days

Jama Software: Isabella Jorissen, Winter Shadow 2016

Me, 2nd from the left, with my host Chris McCraw, on my right, and the Support Ops team

Mustering up the will to get out of bed at 7 am on a rainy Monday in Portland is a lot easier if you have something to look forward to. I realize that 7 am isn’t early for some, but after two weeks of loafing around with my family, it was a bit of a rude awakening (pardon the pun).  Each morning that week, the 99 bus shuffled me to the 6th and Yamhill, and from there I’d walk a few Portland-sized blocks to 2nd and Taylor.

At the corner of 2nd and Taylor is– you guessed it– Jama’s headquarters. The building owner has a penchant for old motorcycles, so the first-floor lobby sports four beautiful bikes (three Ducatis and a Norton, if memory serves).  The second-floor lobby is no less eclectic, though that’s Jama’s doing.  Anyone who visits the Jama office signs in with a living wall at their back and an inspirational mission statement on the wall to their right.  A few of my favorite bits: “This is where we do our best work. It’s where we ask the tough questions and challenge the status quo… As an employee, partner, customer, or guest within our space, you are a member of Jama Nation… Let’s get to work.”

Jama Software focuses on one product, known as Jama. “Jama,” as it was put me by my externship host, “is a little bit of a Swiss army knife.” It’s often used by companies who have a lot of specifications, procedural oversight, or regulations to meet during the product development process. My externship host was Chris McCraw, team Lead for Support Ops. The Support Ops team, which served as a home base of sorts for me, manages any technical issues that might pop up on the customer side. They also maintain online a community where users can ask questions, read documentation, and learn how to make Jama work for them.

Now is a good time to digress, and to discuss my goals for this externship.  I’m a senior math-computer science major, and I’ve been involved in various programming projects throughout my time as a student. I’m hoping that my first steps out of Reed will be into a Software Engineering position, where I’ll be somewhere cool, doing something cool, hanging out with cool people. I’ve maintained this vague stance for some time now, so my primary goal was to use my time at Jama to think deeply about the kind of company I want to be a part of—beyond “cool,” that is.

It’s hard to go beyond “cool.” By many standards, Jama is cool. There are bagels on Tuesday mornings, and every meeting room is named after an important invention: ‘Windmill,’ ‘Model T,’ and ‘Rubik’s Cube’ are just a few. There’s a sweet glass meeting room in the middle of the balcony garden that kind of reminds me of the elevator from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

It took me a few days to figure out what it was beyond the beer-on-tap level of “cool” that struck me about Jama. On the first day, Chris told me that the teams at Jama work together to maintain the kitchen– an exercise designed to foster a sense of communal ownership and responsibility. Later that week, I heard that someone from the Support Ops team recently joined a team of engineers. Chris helped me arrange a bunch of one-on-one meetings so I could connect with people across all areas of the company. During each of those meetings, I was able to ask questions, and to witness people actually doing the jobs that I think I might like to have, or would interact with regularly. Every conversation I had helped me refine my definition of “cool”: among other things, it has expanded to include “the ability to move laterally within a company,” and “opportunities for close mentorship.” “Cool” is my preferred descriptor for anything related to anything I do in my post-grad life. If it is nothing else, let it be cool. 

Tags: winter shadow, externship, software, computer science, development, engineering