R. Kent James - who am I?

R. Kent James

Originally, I had a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering. In my student days, I was very active in computing, but during my early career I started an instrumentation company (remnants of which are here) which meant I was mostly a manager.

Eventually I sold that company, and wanted to return to technical skills, particularly in computing, as well as pursue a personal interest in the former USSR. I studied for and obtained an MCSE (using Windows NT), and spent six years in Azerbaijan. There I taught networking and entreprenurial skills, eventually starting a network support company Seabak with some of my students.

Returning from Azerbaijan in 2006, I wanted to get back into programming, so I looked for an open source project, and started volunteering with the Thunderbird email client, originally doing mostly C++ but eventually mostly Javascript. In 2012 the Mozilla Corporation stopped funding development of Thunderbird, and I was instrumental in reorganizing Thunderbird as an open source community supported through donations, with a formal relationship to the Mozilla Foundation. I organized and served as the first Chair of the Thunderbird Council. I also developed an addon for Thunderbird ExQuilla which allows Thunderbird to connect to Microsoft Exchange Server using the EWS protocol, which I sold to users to support myself.

Back in the US, I wanted to spend a significant amount of my time “giving back” to my society. One of the lessons that I learned in Azerbaijan is that it is very difficult to go to another culture, and try to help solve some of their issues. As an outsider, you can never really know the deep cultural reasons why things are the way that they are. (One reason that I ended up starting a business in Azerbaijan was because it was obvious to me that attempts by Westerners to teach business ethics in the x-USSR were futile, since the average Westerner’s concept of ethics really was oblivious to the lived experienced of the typical resident of those countries. I needed to live that experience to be relevant at all.)

So I looked around for issues in the US that seemed to be really out of whack, getting beyond the common popular issues like homelessness, race, etc. One relatively neglected area where the US is really an outlier in terms of having serious issues is prisons. The US incarcerates by far a higher proportion of their citizens than any other country. So I decided to try to find some way to engage with that issue personally.

I was harder than I expected to find the right niche, but eventually I hooked up with University Beyond Bars where I started teaching math classes. After a few years it became possible to teach software development, so I switched to that, and that has been my major focus up to the present.

    Caspia is my personal project dedicated to help prisoners in the state of Washington learn to code. I lead a technical seminar at WSR in Monroe, Washington where a group of prisoners is learning web design using the nodejs platform.