Brendan Michaelsen is a builder through and through. He may not always have a standard roadmap, but that doesn’t stop him from charting his own path.
While attending Purdue University, Brendan opened a software consulting company out of his friend’s dorm room.
“I had never really done a lot of software before but was starting to get into the programming way of life,” Brendan commented.
He initially started building iOS apps for small businesses owned by friends and family before moving on to larger clients like Purdue University and the city of West Lafayette. From wildlife guide apps to an app that scans vouchers for restaurants and marketing websites for hair salons, Brendan was immersed in a learn-by-doing way of life. He dedicated all of his time outside of class to his business, PearCircuit.
When he graduated in 2016, Brendan and his partner decided to take PearCircuit full time instead of pursuing what everyone else called a “regular engineering job.”
The non-traditional route paid off for Brendan. In March 2019, Indiana-based company Perceive acquired PearCircuit.
Twilio as the go-to tool
Throughout his career, Brendan leaned on Twilio for a number of use cases. He used Twilio to create virtual routers, emergency communication services, and product demos to name just a few.
“Twilio APIs are just about the easiest thing I’ve ever used. For that, I’m extremely appreciative. It’s one of the reasons why I recommend Twilio to anyone for SMS and voice,” Brendan described.
That’s probably why Brendan could list off several ways he’s used Twilio. Here are a few examples:
Transforming in-app messages
While consulting for PearCircuit, Brendan worked with a company called Nicotrax that provides a 10-week digital program to help people quit smoking tobacco. He was looking for a way that parents, spouses, and others in the support network could send messages of comfort or motivation without needing to download the Nicotrax app.
Using Twilio, Brendan created a virtual router that took the messages in-app, transmitted them real time into SMS and sent them to the support network. Family members could then respond via an SMS, which was transformed into an in-app message for the user.
Brendan worked on a product called TraKid, a real-time location and emergency service for lost children in theme parks. TraKid provides hardware devices that sync to an app to keep parents or guardians informed in case of an emergency. With Twilio SMS, Brendan created a system for emergency communications.
“We built a dispatch center that sends text messages and emails to all park staff and all applicable parents about a child’s current location, where they might be, and inform them as they get home safely.”
A demo to download
Brendan also worked with an organization called SmartTrack, an asset management company that helps underprivileged school districts keep track of their books, projectors, and other equipment.
“We built a really simple lightweight mobile app that had real-time barcode scanning on it. As long as they were connected to wifi, teachers could scan assets to figure out where it should be.”
But they were having trouble demonstrating how useful the app could be to teachers and administrators. Using Twilio SMS, Brendan sent text messages to the user’s phone with links to download the app. “Via the demo, they can scan fake assets on the website so they can see how easy it is to use,” Brendan explained.
You can even check out the demo for yourself.
In 2018, Brendan and Kyle Linton co-founded Our Wave, a non-profit organization that provides resources and a safe space for those that have experienced sexual assault.
Kyle landed on the concept after a friend of his experienced sexual violence. After researching how to best support this person, and struggling to find concrete, actionable advice, Kyle asked: “What if there was a way to better support people, help them understand the process of healing, and provide them with resources?”
During this time, the Me Too movement was sweeping the nation. As a side effect, the Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network (RAINN) was inundated with people calling to talk about their experiences with sexual abuse. Brendan read articles that said RAINN did not have the resources to handle this influx.
Brendan thought, “There needs to be a digital way to do this. We have so much potential for distributed technology, but I don’t see it being used in a space where people really need it.”
When Kyle came to Brendan with his idea, Our Wave was born. While a lot of other organizations focus on perpetrator justice, Our Wave focuses on healing and provides a safe space for survivors to share their experiences.
“Small organizations don't have the technical skills to help people online. People need online mediums and places that are safe and secure without the vitriol and negativity associated with social media,” explained Kyle.
Our Wave recently applied to a large federal grant for machine learning-based resource dissemination for survivors of sexual assault. This would provide the system the ability to learn which stage of the healing process a survivor is in, and offer them resources best suited for their needs.
Through Twilio, Our Wave can forward calls that come through to the RAINN hotline, connecting people directly to experts.
If you’d like to learn more about Our Wave, check out their website: https://www.ourwave.org/.
Building for a better world
Brendan described his work developing as “pure joy,” but it’s more than that. His drive to improve our world is seen again and again in his programming, from helping parents find their kids at theme parks to co-founding an organization that supports the survivors of sexual violence.
“I’m motivated by a desire to make the world a better place, using the skills and tools, and the work that I enjoy, to create things.”
That’s why Brendan recommends finding a project that you’re passionate about.
“Put your full effort into learning through doing and learning through creating. And that feedback loop—of not just doing curriculum material, but something that you care about—with an end result that you can be proud of.”
Setting your sights on an achievable, meaningful project is not only a great way to learn technical skills, but also helps build your toolset. Go make a difference, and learn how you can make that impact with Twilio.