Introducing the Forerunner Academy, a learning platform for floodplain managers
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Meet the Team: Elliot Young!

May 20, 2022
Susanna Pho, CFM

Say hello to Elliot, a Software Engineer I at Forerunner and an avid contributor to our #birding Slack channel! Elliot joins us from Illinois where he has helped Forerunner build our software to meet the needs of our users.

Hi Elliot! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I graduated from college last summer and I live in Oak Park, the first suburb west of Chicago. It is wonderful here and I’m excited to stay put for a bit because I moved a lot growing up. Most of my childhood was spent in Kyrgyzstan, a small post-soviet country in Central Asia famous for its dramatic landscapes, its history on the silk road, and its violent protests. I attended a Russian-speaking school in Bishkek until my family moved to the US when I was 15. I wound up in the Midwest when I decided to attend Wheaton College, Il. Although I majored in Computer Science, I spent most of my spare time in the darkroom, print shop, and ceramics room of the art building. I love makers and making and the conversations that happen in the midst of all that. Other loves of mine are birds and bread and spending time outside.

What brought you to Forerunner?

I had worked for two other startups part-time in college and I really loved how much responsibility I was given despite my lack of experience. I enjoyed the pace of learning on small teams and the exposure I got to both great and not-so-great startup cultures. When I was searching for full-time work I was looking for an early-stage startup that was solving an irregular problem for regular people. With super low expectations I added ‘climate-change’ to a search on AngelList and found Forerunner’s listing. Although they were looking for someone with a couple more years of experience I applied anyway and I’m glad I did. I can say confidently that this team’s culture and energy are outstanding. It has been incredible to be a part of Forerunner’s work in aiding communities all across the US to adapt to climate change!

As a software engineer, what is a project you have enjoyed working on?

My first big project was implementing Forerunner’s public-facing community websites! It was a privilege to work on something that would get so much exposure. The public websites allow communities to gain access to important address-specific floodplain data that Forerunner collects from its user-facing app. It also makes public all of the Elevation Certificates in an intuitive layout giving participating communities a boost to their CRS score. It was a blast to work on this project knowing how much value it would bring to communities who need to communicate floodplain issues with their residents and I learned so much doing it!

What do you like to do in your free time?

Before/after work, if the weather’s good, I may be at my local park with my binoculars looking for birds. It’s a hobby I picked up during the pandemic and it has become, no joke, a crucial part of my life. Birding informs the way I relate to the world. I found that to look for birds is to give some of your attention to the natural world. That attention can be devotion, and that devotion can become a sort of prayer. It’s spring migration right now in most of the lower 48 and the birds are poppin’ off. I love the birds and all of the interesting things I end up seeing when I’m looking for them. Besides birding, I enjoy baking, backpacking, and making things with my hands. I’m also trying to learn to rollerblade and need help.

Can you tell us about a bird you have come across that others may not know about?

Chicago is home to some crazy feathered folk. We have bright green parakeets and Peregrine Falcons and more Red Wing Blackbirds and Canada Geese than we have house pets. One of my favorite birds I’ve seen here is the Black Crowned Night Heron. They have such a badass name and are gorgeous, and breeding males have white ponytails! They will gulp down an entire mouse alive. I’ve seen it...

Do you have a current favorite fun fact?

I had to think very hard for this not to be bird-related! I think it’s so so sweet that trees communicate with each other and share resources with their saplings through mycelium networks. Look up wood wide web :)

What do you hope to accomplish for yourself as you grow at Forerunner?

I hope to contribute to Forerunner’s mission and help build an intuitive, helpful and beautiful product. I also want to improve as a more well-rounded engineer and get better at the rhythm of collaborative software development. There’s so much to learn and I’m very grateful that I get to learn from the many incredible developers on our engineering team!

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