2019 Alum of the Year – Scott Case
Scott Case ’94 cultivates diversity in tech to maximize energy efficiency and minimize environmental impact
by Kimberly Banti
“It is still and peaceful outside in the fog-shrouded world.”
Thus begins Scott Case ’94’s ninth grade English journal entry dated November 27, 1990. He and his family (including sister Ann ’96) had just moved to the Pacific Northwest from New Jersey, and the dreamy landscape of evergreen trees, mountains, and water quickly and regularly left him in awe. This journal was part of a time capsule project, with a directive not to open the envelope until March 2020. “I don’t know why we chose that date; I guess 2020 seemed like a long time off,” Scott recalled.
He opened it early upon learning he was named the 2019 Charles Wright Academy Alum of the Year, and in doing so a projection of his life’s path emerged. In addition to immersing himself in AP classes and extracurriculars such as editing the Academy Times, participating in Green Derby, and competing in Knowledge Bowl, Scott also has fond memories of cross-country practices in the woods behind the school and of the pivotal outdoor education trip. “I had my first hiking trip in the Cascades as a sophomore,” he said. “And climbing Mount St. Helen’s in the winter with Steve Lynch as a senior was an incredible right-of-passage experience.” It naturally followed that Scott would apply his academic knowledge toward preserving the environment.
Returning east after graduating from CWA, Scott earned undergraduate degrees in political science and economics from Williams College and an MBA from MIT before moving to Seattle and building a career in the technology industry. Making a transition from a digital advertising tech company, Scott knew there were more fulfilling career options that could make a bigger impact. “Coming out of that experience, I loved the people I worked with and the interesting business and technology challenges we got to solve, but I felt there was a missing ingredient—it didn’t feel like an important problem,” he said. “My next gig, I wanted to work on something in energy and climate or in healthcare.”
Scott went on to cofound EnergySavvy in 2008 with several colleagues who applied their backgrounds in software to “get people to make their houses more energy efficient and save the 30-40% of energy that is wasted in the process of inefficiently heating, cooling, and operating homes in the U.S.,” he explained. “If we could make it work, it was a direct line to chipping away at the problem of carbon emissions and climate change.” In the decade since, the company has grown and was recently acquired by a larger company, Tendril, “to become part of a bigger residential energy-efficiency focus when combined with their complementary products.”
As part of the deal, Scott left the company and is focusing on Ada Developers Academy, a nonprofit school he cofounded in 2013 for female and nonbinary gender software engineering candidates who are looking to switch or advance careers in tech. Named in honor of Ada Lovelace, the woman considered to be the first computer programmer in history and who worked alongside Charles Babbage on the first computer in the 19th century, the academy “has succeeded beyond anyone’s expectations—now graduating nearly 100 new female and nonbinary gender software engineers per year and injecting them into Washington state’s software industry with a 95% placement rate into software development jobs,” said Scott, who serves as the Ada board chair. “That makes us one of the top producers of new software engineering talent in the state.”
Also currently exploring potential startup ideas in energy storage and sustainability, Scott remains keen on investing in technology that minimizes harm to the environment—a dichotomy he was astute enough to observe even as a 14-year-old Tarrier. “In the forest, everything is silent and innocent, and nothing has changed,” he wrote in his English journal. “But inside, the sound of people and what man has done forever alters the planet. People laugh and talk. People greet each other and say goodbye. People have changed the earth, and there is no way to change it back. When man first stood up, it began a series of irreversible events from which the earth can never recover. Charles Wright and the students here must do everything we can to try to preserve at least a small part of the earth which man can never change. It is a difficult task, but it is possible.” //
Our Full Q&A with Scott
In your Alum of the Year video, you mention the wonderful relationships you had with teachers and how their care and commitment has left an indelible mark on you. Is there any particular example of a teacher or a situation that comes to mind as being formative in your approach to how you live or work?
Among an incredible faculty, there were two teachers that stood out for me in particular.
Steve Matson: I still cannot believe how much time he put into supervising us at the Academy Times. As editor my senior year, I learned how to manage and motivate a team over multiple difficult projects (each issue of the newspaper). The combination of technology and multi-disciplinary content that we had to pull together eight times a year was practically vocational training for the software business. Steve was an incredible mentor, never giving me the answers, but rather setting some guardrails and letting me figure it out myself.
Doc Neunherz: Doc was the teacher who saw I could go far and, as a consequence, continually raised his expectations of me. He knew he could get more out of me in terms of critical thinking, writing, confidence, and just pure hard work. One of the secrets to starting a company is that you spend a lot of time doing work that isn’t glamorous. You just have to grit it out. I think often about the way he greeted us at the beginning of AP history my junior year: “Abandon all hope ye who enter. Only blood, sweat, and tears await thee.” That’s pretty much what starting a company is all about.
A recurring theme throughout the video is the dichotomy of immersing yourself in nature and dedicating your career thus far to technology. It seems as though your work melds the two, as EnergySavvy seeks to develop and implement technology that is better for the environment. Can you talk a bit more about that balance?
The last company I was at before EnergySavvy, aQuantive, was in digital advertising technology before being acquired by Microsoft. Coming out of that experience, I loved the people I worked with and the interesting business and technology challenges we got to solve, but I felt there was a missing ingredient—it didn’t feel like an important problem. My next gig, I wanted to work on something in energy and climate or healthcare.
When I met my cofounders for EnergySavvy, I saw it right away. We could use our backgrounds in software to get people to make their houses more energy efficient and save the 30-40% of energy that is wasted in the process of inefficiently heating, cooling, and operating homes in the U.S. If we could make it work, it was a direct line to chipping away at the problem of carbon emissions and climate change.
Are you still at EnergySavvy? Are you focusing on Ada? What is the significance behind the name Ada for the developers academy?
Big transition for me this year. EnergySavvy was acquired in May by a larger company called Tendril, to become part of a bigger residential energy efficiency focus when combined with their complementary products. As part of the deal, I opted to leave the company, having spent 10 years building it up. I’m investigating new potential startup ideas in energy storage and sustainability, and in the meantime taking a few months off.
I’m still really focused on Ada Developers Academy as board chair since we founded the organization six years ago. Ada has succeeded beyond anyone’s expectations—now graduating nearly 100 new female and non-binary gender software engineers per year and injecting them into Washington state’s software industry with a 95% placement rate into software development jobs. That makes us one of the top producers of new software engineering talent in the state.
We chose the name Ada Developers Academy to honor Ada Lovelace, the woman considered to be the first computer programmer in history of any gender. She worked alongside Charles Babbage on the first computer in the 19th century. She was a mathematician and was incredibly smart, and she was a programmer before any dudes were.
Why do you think it’s important for the tech industry to be a more diverse and inclusive community?
For so many reasons, ranging from practical to ideological. On the practical side, teams that are diverse perform better in software development (and frankly at any complicated task). That’s been demonstrated in research and is anecdotally well known among engineering leaders in the industry that are paying attention. It’s even truer for software companies that are making systems that are used by women—which is most of them! If you have a bunch of guys making software that is getting used by women, you’re going to get silly stuff wrong simply because of a lack of life experience and empathy.
For software companies in a hot talent market—as the tech industry in Seattle and everywhere is—it’s also really dumb to ignore 50% of the population as potential engineering hires, as so many tech companies have unwittingly been doing for decades as a result of the cultures they establish.
Lastly, it’s just the right thing to do. Tech companies are highly lucrative and are great places to have a career. As an industry, if we’re shutting out women or under-represented minorities, we’re accelerating the gender wage gap and the racial wage gap.
CWA is known to be academically rigorous, and in the video you mention a passion for extracurriculars like the newspaper, Chess Club, and Knowledge Bowl. What advice do you have for current and future Tarriers for whom academics is not necessarily their passion or strength? What other aspects of a CWA education and experience help inspire students?
I will say that I didn’t struggle academically at CWA. I took plenty of AP classes and found ways to challenge myself in the classroom. I got into and succeeded at a great college as a result. But I was not even close to being the smartest kid in my class at Charles Wright, and I wasn’t even a straight-A student. I did the work in the classroom because I knew that was what I needed to do, not because I loved the experience of academics.
I had an awesome time with all extracurriculars I did: Knowledge Bowl, the newspaper, cross-country, Green Derby, Chess Club, golf, community service. I loved those experiences and, as a result, I worked hard at them, which led to leadership opportunities. And learning how to be a leader that early opened doors to leadership opportunities in college, graduate school, and professionally.
That’s the takeaway for current Tarriers—go after the experiences that light up your passion enough that you’re willing to work outrageous hours at them, because that’s what will get noticed and rewarded later on. You’ve got a long career ahead of you after you leave school. Find what excites you, and the rest will take care of itself.