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Celebrating Ada Lovelace Day

Ada Lovelace is considered by many to be the first computer programmer, dating back to the 19th century. Ada Lovelace Day has become a day for bloggers to celebrate women in technology. In that spirit, Baltimore techie Mike Subelsky (co-founder of the Ignite Baltimore speaker series and OtherinBox.com) offers this guest post on a young woman who's very active in the Baltimore tech scene. Here's Mike:

Today is Ada Lovelace day which aims to draw attention to women in the science and technology fields.  As soon as I heard about it, I knew I wanted to write about Heather Sarkissian (it's more like I'm writing about Heather to draw attention to the day!).

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She's the CEO of an important mobile computing technology company here in town, mp3Car.com, which Gus has written about before.  The company combines several different facets in a compelling way: it's a popular forum, a crowd-sourced design company, a consultancy with Fortune 500 customers, and a niche ecommerce store.  Their office in the Emerging Technology Center includes a small warehouse of electronic parts, making it one of those rare web businesses that has actual inventory and real-world relevance.  They do it all with a small staff led by Heather.

Heather is a very active member of the local tech community.  We first met at the SocialDevCampEast unconference, which mp3Car had sponsored, and the company has supported many of our other tech community organizing efforts including my own project, Ignite Baltimore.  Heather took on a lot of the burden for Ignite and is in charge of securing sponsors.  Each Ignite costs over $2000 to produce so that is no easy task!  She's become such a big part of Ignite that she recently became a full partner and co-organizer in the event.

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Drawing on her experience as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ukraine, last year Heather started BmoreSmart, a group of social entrepreneurs and technologists in Baltimore aiming to make the city a better place.

So you can get a sense of Heather and her leadership in the mobile computing industry, we did a short interview.

1) Where does mp3Car see the mobile computing market headed and where do you see the company fitting in?

In the longer term, the next 5-10 years, the mp3Car team sees devices converging - phones, netbooks, laptops, etc -  all having the same core component that is the size of a penny.  We don't think that people really want 10 devices that do 10 different things, but do each of them really well.  Consumers will want simplicity with choice, which means that they want one core device which does everything fairly well.  But there is a market for upgrades, attachments or even docks.  For example, why the Kindle and an iPhone?  Simple, because there is no attachment for the iPhone yet that allows you enlarge the screen.

These devices will always be connected, storage space will be cheap and almost all of your data will be in the cloud.  We think that the user will access everything they need from a web browser.  And you will not only interact with the touchscreen.  New technologies are changing how we interact with devices. The creators of the Nexus showed us a prototype smartphone at CES which allowed you to interact by squeezing, scrolling your finger along the sides and scrolling on the back with a trackpad.  The entire device was a sensor and part of the user interface experience [

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Components will become smaller and the role of mp3Car will change in two ways. First, rather than building mobile computers, we will help businesses to make the best use of mobile computing on the B2B side.  Second, we need to support our DIY community as they increasingly innovate and test the limits of mobile computing. We will be launching in the next month an app store, where it will be easy to find and purchase all of the free and paid software that our community has created.

2) What's the hardest part of running a technology company, and what's the best part?

Technology constantly changes: to stay competitive you have to keep innovating.  It is really easy to let months pass and not think about the future.  mp3Car's role is to drive innovation in cutting edge mobile computing and we have an obligation to support and motivate our members to keep pushing the boundaries of technology.  This is a lot of hard work and experimentation for us and for many of mp3Car's most active members.  I really enjoy learning and adapting to new environments, so it is an ideal industry for me.

3) What's been your biggest mistake so far, or which mistake have you learned the most from?

I think in technology mistakes are bound to happen; you need to try and test ideas, albeit efficiently, in order to be successful.  I think my mistake was not being as focused on the big ideas as I could have been until recently, not asking the community directly what they think about technology, what they would like from us.  This is easy to do because if you do not test, you never really know what you missed out on.  The App Store was their idea, and I expect that it is the first in a line of community-inspired changes that mp3Car makes.

4) What's been your biggest or most unexpected success so far?

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When I started at mp3Car, the staff were sort of at odds with the community and the arguments were public and heated.  At CES this year, a well-respected forum member that I had never met called me because he said he valued my opinion on a business issue.  I immediately realized how much trust there is today between the community and the company.  This trust is the result of dialogue over time and I think it is the foundation that mp3Car will build upon.

5) What could we do to make Baltimore a hub for your industry?

In order to attract technology businesses like mp3Car and really become a tech hub, Baltimore City and Maryland need to really understand that the tech community culture is fundamentally different. Bureaucratic red tape and taking months or years to get something done will drive technologists away because values such as achievement, innovation, and openness are really important.  Dialogue is important so that the tech community can feel more involved and wanted, and I think that this is starting to happen.  Also, it would be great if the City and the State administrations could work with the tech community to create a "fast lane" for innovative ideas that will improve Baltimore and Maryland.  Technologists have the ideas that could drive the local economy by creating jobs and attracting tax payers. I think we just lack the processes or common ground that would transform these ideas into reality


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