Prairie Portrait: Jonathan Fisher of Legal SonarMarch 23, 2012 by Michael Stacy
Name: Jonathan S. Fisher
Bio: I was born in raised in Wichita, Kan., and I’m the middle of five. I spent my earlier years taking things apart and fixing things with my father. Later on, I attended Kansas State University and graduated with a degree in Information Systems.
Title: Software Engineer at Legal Sonar
Residence: Merriam, Kan.
Intro music: “Smoke A Little Smoke” by Eric Church
Silicon Prairie News: After working for larger companies like American Century and Cerner, what made you decide to take the startup plunge with Legal Sonar?
Jonathan Fisher: I’m honestly not sure yet. One thing is for sure, it was the craziest decision I’ve made with my life! Part of it was wanting to be on the leading edge of the information technology revolution, and another part was the pursing a dream.
SPN: A couple months into your tenure at Legal Sonar, what’s the most noteworthy challenge that you’ve worked through and overcome?
JF: Well I had to purchase more pairs of jeans for one … Somehow I was just able to flip the switch from order to chaos. A corporate environment has lots of structure, process and approvals, whereas a startup has none. Both should learn from each other: startups should understand process can save you time and money, but corporate America should understand the typical amount of process in an enterprise is incredibly wasteful.
SPN: You’re a staunch proponent of strong cryptography and have written a series of blog posts on the subject. Can you explain strong cryptography in laymen’s terms and give your pitch for why it’s important?
JF: Little changed in methods of securing information from the time of the Roman Empire until the 1900s. Strong cryptography primitives were developed as artifacts from WWII and the Cold War, but put it this way: e-commerce on the web would simply not exist today without modern advances in cryptography. An important lesson for today’s engineer is that a user will assume a system, like email, is secure by default. But, in fact, email, and the internet, is wide open to eavesdropping by default.
SPN: As someone who has experience mentoring and training other developers, what’s the most fundamental piece of wisdom you try to impart to them?
JF: If you ever advance to a position where you are “in charge,” and a junior developer comes to you with an idea, give the idea a chance to grow. Assist the developer in growing their idea past the challenges or the reasons why you think it “won’t work.” Either the junior developer will realize his idea isn’t practical, or you two will invent the next PageRank.
SPN: Word on the street (OK, in your résumé) is you helped found the ballroom dancing club at Kansas State. So tell me, how (if at all) do the skills you developed on the ballroom floor help you as a software engineer?
JF: Um, let’s see here … two things. First: Leadership. It takes confidence to lead a dance and communicate with your partner. Confidence is simply knowing oneself and your abilities, then pushing your limits. Second: Knowing both parts of the dance. As the male, I lead the dance, and I have to know that part pretty well … but if you really want to be effective at teaching, you ought to know the “other part” too. I guess what I’m saying is whenever someone approaches you with a problem, repeat back what they’re saying until you understand where they are coming from.
Credits: Photo courtesy of Fisher.
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