By Suzannah Peckham
Kent Sutherland, Class of 2005
College: B.S., RIT (2009); Master’s in English, Cornell (2010)
Job: Software developer; co-founder of Flexibits, a computer software company that designs apps that are “enjoyable and flexible,” according to the website (www.flexibits.com).
Family: Lives in Madison, Wis. with his girlfriend, Sandra.
Career: Sutherland started Flexibits with a friend in 2010. The company won an Apple Design Award in 2015 award for the app Fantastical 2, a calendar app billed as “the calendar app you won’t be able to live without.” “They give the award to about 10 apps each year, so we were really excited to be one of the winners,” Sutherland said. “When we started building Fantastical we had hoped that one day we might be in the running for an Apple Design Award, so it was a dream come true when it happened.”
Q: What are your responsibilities at your company?
A: Flexibits is me and my partner, Michael Simmons, as well as five other people who work with us. I’m primarily responsible for software development, but having a small company means doing whatever it takes to keep things going. While I try to spend most of my time programming and working on products, if some unexpected problem comes up, then we have to take care of it.
Q: What was it like building your own company?
A: Before starting Flexibits, I built and distributed a few pieces of software in high school and college. Writing software was something I enjoyed and that helped me focus once I was out in the “real world” after graduating from college. The first year after starting the company, we had no idea if anyone would want to use the app we were making. We kept working through that uncertainty by focusing on creating something that we wanted to use and were happy with. That approach has worked well for us, and it makes us feel good about the products we make.
Q: What is the hardest part about your job?
A: I don’t think there’ is one single hardest thing, and I’ll probably give a different answer to this depending on when you ask me. Right now, one of the hardest things for me is figuring out what we should be doing that will be the most useful and have the biggest impact. As a small company we can only do so much at once, so we want to make the most of our limited resources.
Q: To what do you attribute your success?
A: I was very fortunate to have the pieces that would give someone good odds of success. My parents helped and encouraged me. I was interested in learning. I spent a lot of time practicing the skills that I use today. My parents bought a Mac rather than a PC when I was little. That may seem insignificant now, but Apple had been the underdog up until I graduated from college. Having lots of programming experience on a Mac suddenly became very valuable. It’s difficult to point to specific things. The world is complicated, so the best you can do is prepare yourself as well as you can and keep an eye out for opportunities.
Q: What are you most proud of?
A: I’ve always wanted to be able to make something that others can use and enjoy. While it’s fun to write code and build something that I want myself, it’s even better to release it to the world and find out there are others out there that like it. In high school and college I enjoyed receiving emails from strangers who appreciated the software I wrote, and it still feels good to get those now. It’s great to be getting on an airplane or standing on the subway and see someone using the app that we made — both of which have happened. It’s one thing to know in your mind that people find our apps useful; it’s even better to see it in person.
Q: What did you want to be when you were in high school?
A: I loved working with computers and I’d started to learn programming then. I spent way too much time in front of a computer in high school, and I still do now. Making apps is a universal term now, but that’s what I was starting to do in a limited fashion back then.
Q: Have you seen yourself change a lot since then?
A: I’m close to the same person that I was in high school, although I’d like to think I’ve gained a lot of experience and made myself a better person since then.
Q: How did MPH contribute to your success?
A: At MPH I had the opportunity to take computer science and math courses that wouldn’t be offered elsewhere. Those courses, combined with programming I did on my own, made it possible for me to take more interesting courses once I got to college. In my second year I was able to take higher level courses that would normally have to wait until the third or fourth year, which really helped me go deeper into what interested me. MPH also gave me a great group of friends that I still have today, despite us being scattered across the country.
Q: What advice do you have for MPH students?
A: Take advantage of the opportunity to try ideas that may seem far-fetched or ridiculous. Even if you come up with some idea that seems too complicated or too difficult to make work, see if you can get something started. Crazy ideas have a way of growing legs, especially at MPH.