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Developer Lesley Baker
Lesley Baker is the creator of Achy Penguin, Huffy Dragon and other apps for kids

Lesley Baker is a software developer and mother of two. When her oldest son started struggling with physical pain, she found a way to use her skills to help kids understand and process feelings – both physical and emotional.

That was the genesis of Achy Penguin, an app that helps children locate and quantify pain and gives them an active outlet in situations that can otherwise leave them feeling powerless. Baker has since developed several other apps that help kids deal with issues like anger and fear.

Baker works on her company, For Jack and Jill, part-time and spends the rest of the week with her two boys.

“I truly believe parents should be able to support their family and still have enough time with them,” she said. “That definition of ‘enough time’ will be different for everyone but there needs to be more opportunities to support that flexibility. I’ve been very fortunate since I had kids to find jobs that allowed for that, but it wasn’t easy. This whole debate over ‘leaning in’ or ‘opting out’ (which also applies to men) feels so extreme.”

Baker entered the University of Washington planning to study medicine, but a computer science requirement changed her mind

“I was not excited. But I ended up loving it,” she said. “Loving it so much in fact, I changed my major to computer science.”

After graduating she began working as a program manager for Microsoft. She went on to serve as a web developer for the UW Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. She took some time off to be with her children and then worked part time for a few companies, including Rivet & Sway. When the eyewear startup had to shutter its doors, she decided to devote all her time to For Jack and Jill and her boys.

Meet our new Geek of the Week, and continue reading for her answers to our questionnaire.

What do you do, and why do you do it? I build iPhone/iPad (and soon Android) apps to help kids under 5 better understand and address their feelings. There are a lot of apps out there to learn counting or reading but not much (or any) in the realm of emotions.

My oldest son deals with pain issues, which inspired me to build Achy Penguin, to help him quantify and then feel empowered to do something about his pain. It was a great experience, so I decided to build a maze game, Huffy Dragon, to help my kids learn different calming techniques when angry.

What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? Anyone can learn to program at any point in their life. It’s hard work, but it’s incredibly rewarding. Programming is one of those things that the more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know – but you just have to keep going. The majority of developers (men and women) have suffered from the ‘impostor phenomenon’ at some point in their career. This happens when a person does not feel competent in their work and worries that at any point they’ll be”found out” and fired. Most people have not been programming since they were in preschool.

Where do you find your inspiration? My kids. They’re also very effective at finding bugs in my apps. Two-year-olds versus four-year-olds play with apps very differently, so what one doesn’t find the other does.

What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? Vaccinations. Just to quietly add my two cents to a highly controversial issue.

What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? My desk is actually in my bedroom, which I know is highly taboo from a Feng Shui perspective. Actually, I think it is anyway — I don’t really know anything about Feng Shui. But it ends up being convenient. If it’s late at night, I can pretty much roll out of my chair and into my bed.


Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) Trello. That’s where I get s**t done. It’s basically a digital sticky note to do list. You create cards (that can be color coded and include checklists) and put them in to different columns. My columns are things to do ‘today’, ‘tomorrow’, ‘two weeks’, ‘next month’, and ‘future’. I can easily drag the cards around or complete them from my phone or computer. It’s simple but very effective.

Mac, Windows or Linux? Mac.

Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? I probably shouldn’t admit I’ve never seen Star Trek.

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? Cloak of Invisibility. Having young kids, there are times you just want to go to the bathroom by yourself.

If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … Hire a team and further build out the apps I’m already trying to build.

I once waited in line for … Paseo’s chicken sandwich. And then I waited in line again. And then again.

Your role models: Hans Rosling and Mary Bowser. How’s that for a combo?

I’m really inspired by individuals who are competent, passionate and confident, yet most importantly kind. Five or so years ago, I was doing web development and building out data visualizations to explain research being done at the institute where I was working. I had the honor to be in a small meeting with Hans Rosling. His work is incredibly famous in the health visualization world, yet he was so warm and supportive of the work I was doing.

Mary Bowser was a free black woman during the civil war that pretended to be a slave, so she could deliver intelligence to the Union. Her bravery is astounding.

Greatest Game in History Settlers of Catan. I love it.

IMG_3004Best Gadget Ever: Our roomba — we call him Wall-E.

First Computer: Apple IIGS.

Current Phone: iPhone 6 plus.

Favorite App: It’s a toss up between Achy Penguin and Huffy Dragon.

Favorite Cause: Seattle Public Libraries. There are some more global causes I feel strongly about, but the library system is something we can take for granted and is so important to our city.

Most important technology of 2015 3D printing. I think there are a lot of exciting applications that are going to continue to happen, evolve in this space.

Most important technology of 2017: Analytic tools. We have analytic tools today, but with growing data and technology integration we’ll be able to make connections and answer questions we’ve never been able to before.

Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: Kindness isn’t weakness and don’t underestimate its power.


Twitter: @lesleylawren

LinkedIn: Lesley Baker

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