Hybrid Meets... Karolina Szczur

A true hybrid, Karolina is an evangelist, designer and developer at a software development agency—&yet. An Open Source aficionado, hobbyist photographer, writer and a feminist. She ran CSSConf in Oakland, CA and co-organises JSConf.eu.

Hey Karolina!

First of all, thanks for answering our questions today—straight up with a quick one, where did the name Fox come from? We love it!

I might disappoint here but there’s no funny anecdotal story behind it. I was struggling with my previous username that included my surname—despite being unpronounceable for majority of English speakers, writing it down has proven to be a problem too. One day, when I was still a redhead, I was going through inactive, short Twitter handles and “fox” came to my mind. Surprisingly, I think it was supposed to be a 20th Century Fox account but I’ve managed to snag it.

Tell us a little bit about your background, where did you start you career path?

That question always brings a grin to my face—my first job was being a fortune teller. I’m well aware it sounds quite ridiculous (it was) but it was not only remote but also cloaked underneath a less entertaining title. It’s actually quite a story, if anyone’s curious I spoke about it at length in The Start.fm podcast here.

I worked my way up through companies which needed a little bit of simple design and front-end development to agencies and startups. I was tireless in the pursuit of a challenging, rewarding and welcoming workplace, finally ending up consulting with organisations based in the U.S. For some background information—being a woman coming from a former Eastern Bloc country it was quite a challenging barrier to break through.

What (or who) originally inspired you to get into web?

The more I go back to my roots with the web, I realize how supportive of artistic endeavors my parents were. My father got me into analogue photography sometime during mid-primary school and I was able to develop film shortly after. We were going through some financial hardships at that time but I could always count on art materials and soon, a PC with a dial-up connection.

I started off with discovering more art—quickly becoming interested in how to process photos and build websites of my own (GeoCities era, baby!). I’ve noticed that a lot of people in our industry are self-taught too. If I was to decide who was the primary source of inspiration I wouldn’t assign it to any “big, famous names”, but my parents and my upbringing.

If you weren’t working in the web, what would you be doing as a job?

That’s easy—photography. It’s a long-lasting passion of mine (even before the web or design became one) and I’m sure that eventually I’ll pursue it professionally.

Another idea (not mutually exclusive to photography at all) would be to open a coffee shop. I’ve became interested in brewing, roasting and the dynamics of the coffee industry quite a bit—combine that with my organisational spirit, love for great interiors and branding, and here we go.

Lastly, I love writing (and have some background in journalism) and would definitely see myself in some kind of editorial setting.

So on to your actual work for a bit, what does an average day look like for you?

I have always been an early riser—I tend to wake up before 7am. Sport and physical activity of all sorts is very important to me. I like to kick off my day with a dose of exercise (and endorphins!).

At least half the day is spent at an office I started working from couple months ago to deal better with being remote. Afternoons are usually reserved for reading, seeing friends and off-screen time, occasionally work related meetings too (one of the downsides of -9h timezone difference between myself and most of my co-workers).

What style of projects do you really enjoy working on and why?

Currently I’m mostly focused on internal projects and these were always a pleasure to work with. I think it stems from my inclination to develop long-term relationships with teams and individuals rather than participate in fast-paced, high turnaround customer work.

I’ve stepped away more and more from traditional design and development tasks and instead, take pleasure in higher level advisory, training and evangelism.

From your work with &yet, how do you think great software can change lives?

It might be quite an unorthodox opinion to have, but I think people have more impact than technology per se. Software is written by individuals and I’ve seen more profound impact because of interactions between humans, empathy and empowerment rather than another app.

Naturally, technological advancements do help us automate tasks and have tremendous influence on scientific progress but I strongly believe that the core of changing lives resides in the way we care about each other and collaborate to determine the best way to use the technology we have at our disposal.

How do you spend your time outside of work?

I love cycling, which is funny because at the moment I don’t own a bike (yet). I’m pretty open to various outdoor activities, both solo and accompanied by friends. I have a penchant for printed books and spend quite a bit of time between reading and wandering with my camera.

As we’re all about inspiration here at Hybrid, what’s captured your attention recently and why?

I read a lot of non-fiction and I’ve shared some of the books that had the biggest impact on me and my teammates here.

In terms of talks I’m a huge fan of Bret Victor, Frank Chimero and my latest finding, a fellow Pole, Marcin Cegłowski’s “Web Design: The First 100 Years” among others.

Music plays a big role in my life, thus I go through quite a bit of records, but lately I’ve been butchering latest Jamie xx, Jungle, George Fitzgerald and alike. For a peek of what I’m really into check Rdio.

As part of the creative industry, what do you think we all need to spend a little more time doing?

I strongly believe that we’re not leveraging our ability to amplify the voices of individuals speaking up and emphasize social issues enough.

We’ve become transfixed on technology, like a child does with a new, shiny toy, forgetting that what ultimately counts is our own well being and humans around us. I’d love to see us cultivating relationships and foster safe, inclusive community.