October 2020 – Meet Erin K. Rothman, CEO of StormSensor, Inc in Seattle, Washington…
What is your educational background? I have a BA in Technical & Scientific Communication/Environmental Science and an MSc in Natural Resources.
What drew you to working in the environmental sector? My dad worked for the Department of Energy cleaning up and closing down federal nuclear facilities. I really didn’t understand what he did, but I graduated in December 2001, shortly after 9/11 when jobs were hard to find, and a consultant on one of his sites had an open position for a staff scientist. I got the job! And that’s how it all started…
In one word, describe yourself. Determined (but I am so much more than that!)
What’s one interesting thing about you not many people know? If I don’t know how to do something, I practice it in my head – a lot – until I’m comfortable with it. And then the next time I try it, it actually works. Presentations, skiing, and most recently/as of tonight: handstands! Sometimes it takes days. Sometimes months. Handstands took me a good year to work back up to – I was so bad at them last time I tried.
How do you balance your career and family? With enthusiasm! I love what I do. I work incredibly hard. But when I am with my family, I am only with my family. I cook fabulous dinners (If I do say so myself) every night, and I run my dog every morning, I snuggle my cat and take care of my garden. I work from about 7 am to 4 pm or so. And then I walk away to let everything from the day kind of settle out. Luckily my husband also loves to work, and we live in a studio apartment and share a table as a desk. It balances nicely. Regardless, work is a very important part of my life. My family is everything else.
What drew you to start StormSensor originally? My background is environmental consulting, and it was just so inefficient. I had a million ideas on how to make it easier to do, simpler for clients to understand, etcetera. Stormwater was the low-hanging fruit of the industry, so I gave it a go with StormSensor. This makes it sound easy. Starting something (and for me, a software and hardware company) from scratch with no experience (in software or hardware) was a hell of a process.
What are three words to describe StormSensor? Innovative. Exciting. Courageous.
What is your favorite thing about work? I get to actually solve problems! If something doesn’t work, we can make it better. If a thing doesn’t exist, we can build it. And all of these things make our customers really happy, and my team excited as well. It’s fun, really.
What about StormSensor have you enjoyed the most? Building the company in the first place. Getting us from an idea in my head to data networks deployed in cities across the country. It’s been a really big project.
How has StormSensor helped you in your career development? In just about every possible way. I learned how to raise money from investors and VCs. I learned how to lead software teams, hardware teams, and create analytics from raw data. I can sell to people who love what we do as much as I do. I’ve built and run financial models and staffing plans, launched marketing campaigns, tested and redesigned sensors, installed sensors inside sewers. It’s been incredible.
What has your involvement been with NEBC? We’ve attended and presented at the annual Stormwater Management in Washington conferences for the last few years, which has been wonderful. But that’s about it. I would love for us to do more if we can!
What is the best professional advice you’ve received? If you can’t decide what to do, then both options will work. Pick one and move forward.
What advice do you have for prospective candidates who want to work at your company or in the industry?
- Things go wrong, and that’s okay. We can’t get better if we don’t fail once or twice (or more)!
- Everyone knows something that you don’t. So ask for help when you need it.
- Curiosity is the source of everything extraordinary. Ask “what if…?” Keep trying new things, especially if the last thing you tried didn’t work.
- Try not to make decisions based on fear (of loneliness, of being wrong, of failing), but out of excitement and passion and adventure. Unless, of course, you want to.
What is on your wish list for the next 5 years for your industry? My work is primarily on storm, sewer, and coastal systems, so we work with cities and consultants to understand how water moves through these systems, where it goes, where it *doesn’t* go, and what that means for them and their communities. With climate change starting to cause some significant impacts to these (and all of our) systems, I would love to see more data-focused approaches toward increasing efficiencies, deploying enhanced mitigation and adaptation technologies, and greater transparency across the industry and across our communities. So often people think data are “bad” – when really, data are just facts and the insights they can provide are incredibly valuable. We can make far better decisions when we have the facts.
As a part of the industry, what sort of trends do you see? Given that I founded StormSensor and our entire focus is on data capture and then transformative AI using that data, I can only imagine others will follow. With all of this data and (ideally) transparency across industries, creating thriving cities by applying one dataset to multiple solutions will be instrumental in driving improvements. StormSensor monitors the flow of water through storm and sewer systems; a lot of that water often pops up and out of those systems, causing traffic jams, weakening right-of-ways, damaging properties, and generally wreaking havoc. By moving toward a data-focused approach – and my gosh, by treating this water as the resource it really is – solutions to address flooding, for example, also addresses traffic movement, property values, and the overall economic strength of a community.