Meet SketchUp for Desktop’s new scale figures, Heather and her fierce but sweet cat, Lily. From urban homesteading to ice climbing to coding as a Senior Software Engineer here at SketchUp, Heather handles it all with a little support from Lily.
Senior Software Engineer likely conjures a certain mental image for a lot of people. A quick web image search includes dark offices, lines of code across a multitude of devices, and scruffy beards. Aside from maybe the variety of screens, Heather Bianciotto fully breaks that mold. She’s a true renaissance woman — multi-talented, sharp, energetic — and, along with her cat Lily, is SketchUp for Desktop’s new 2023 scale figure. As a climber, cheese maker, gardener, and cat lover, coding is just one slice of her diverse skillset. We catch up with a very busy Heather and a very sleepy Lily to learn more about this powerhouse pair.
Name: Heather Bianciotto
Role at SketchUp: Senior Software Engineer
Two truths and a lie (scroll to the end for the lie):
- My husband is from France and we only speak French at home to keep up our language skills.
- We have no less than seven ways of making coffee at our house and I only (mostly) drink decaf.
- Currently, my favorite flower is an artichoke.
How do you feel about being selected as the 2023 scale figure?
It sounds silly to say I feel flattered and honored, but I do. It's pretty cool to be representing SketchUp for the year. If they want me to represent SketchUp, I must be doing a pretty good job. So that felt good. And I'm psyched that they included my cat!
What can you tell us about yourself? What are you into?
I split my time between Ouray and Boulder — in Colorado, USA — so ice and snow and skis, and then in the summer, I’m into hiking, biking, and rock climbing. I do a lot of low-level scrambling and soloing, hiking, and road and mountain biking. Mountain biking used to be my sport years and years ago, but this year, after a decade-long break, I finally got back into it — that's been fun.
Ouray, does that mean you’re an ice climber?
I am, I am. That's why I'm here in the first place. I've been coming here since I had hip surgery in 2008. You might question why I took up ice climbing at that point. I learned that after a big injury, it’s helpful to take up something entirely new. Although I was already a climber, I thought, “ice climbing, well, I've never done that before, so I can only get better at it!” I was already in the mountains and climbing a lot so ice made sense.
I started coming to Ouray every winter and eventually found and fell in love with an old house to buy here that needed work. That’s always a work in progress, but we’re fixing it up. I came down here because of ice climbing; now almost a decade and a half in, I do more backcountry skiing up on Red Mountain Pass. It's one of the nice things about living high up in the San Juan Mountains; I can run out before work and get in a lap on the pass.
How about your professional path; how did you get to your role at SketchUp?
I graduated from Colorado University Boulder with a degree in computer science. My first job was in video game programming for four or five years. Then I got a job doing cable software programming, which was actually less than a mile from the Trimble office. I've been circling the Boulder business park and “Jeffco” Airport (officially renamed Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport) for my entire career.
I discovered SketchUp and thought it was a great cultural fit. I loved the weirdness of the Boulder office; you’d walk in, and there were scale figures everywhere, pictures of the company Halloween parties, Nerf guns, Legos, and puzzles. It was like, “yeah, this feels about right.” I was pretty psyched to be working on something that my users were excited to use. As a builder and a maker myself, I think it's a really cool product.
So you’re a pro on the coding side of things. What level of SketchUp user are you?
Oh gosh, like intermediate? I did not know SketchUp when I joined the company. I did tutorials during my first week and then didn't have time to make my scale figure until now. I'm guessing I won't become an expert SketchUp user until I retire. My work is coding, and I don't like to spend time in front of the computer when I'm not working.
However, I am able to learn SketchUp in a lot more detail when I get a bug to fix. I was part of implementing Search in SketchUp for Desktop, which I use all the time right now to find commands. In this recent release, Search now shows all the commands that have anything to do with what you’re searching for and the shortcut string next to them too.
Introduced in 2022, Search helps you quickly find and activate commands without having to remember where they 'live' in SketchUp's toolbars and menus.
What’s your role been leading up to the 2023 launch?
This year, we’ve mostly been focused on SketchUp desktop UI modernization. I've been doing some prototype work on toolbars and menus and changing the look of things. That’s what I really love to do — improving the UI and the users’ experience.
This work will help us be more platform-independent. Today, we have SketchUp on Windows built in one language and Mac in another, so we're actually maintaining two different platforms. The idea is that by using Qt we’ll have most of the UI and client code in one language. That’s a huge bonus for maintenance, stability, and also turnaround. We'll be able to develop features faster, and we don't have to write them on two platforms. It’s exciting.
I hear Lily wasn’t originally included. How did she make the cut?
I am a cat lover, and my team knows I'm a cat lover. When we showed the team my original scale figure, the first thing they said was, “Where's the cat?” I felt very seen by my team at that moment, like, “they do know me.”
I took a picture of Lily, and I thought, “maybe they'll put her in since the whole team thinks I should have a cat with me.” Over lunch that day, I traced her in SketchUp and sent a draft to Mark Harrison (Product Manager at SketchUp) because he’s designed scale figures before. Barely five minutes later, Mark comes back, and I was like, “It's Lily!” And she’s got color and everything. I'm totally psyched that Lily’s immortalized in SketchUp!
I’m sure people will be curious. What should we know about Lily?
Lily is fierce. She's a plump little Calico that does not look like she should be, but she’s tough. And she's a total sweetheart. She’s under my desk right now. She's usually sleeping at my feet or on my laptop dock in front of me. I joke that she's an honorary member of the team because she just sits on my laptop and keeps me at my computer. I stay and code because Lily’s right there on my computer.
And it sounds like you have other cats?
I have two cats, Lily and Cricket. I volunteer with a feral organization and rescued one of the cats, Ashley. She was at the junkyard, and I befriended her and socialized her. I started sitting with her, and she started sitting closer and closer, and eventually, she became a total love bug. Ashley now lives with the shelter manager, and I visit her every week. She’s sort of my third cat.
Do you have any hidden talents?
I don't know if they're hidden, but I make cheese, and I make bread from scratch; actually grinding wheatberries out and making the bread. I also do a lot of gardening. In contrast to all the other activities, those are the ones people wouldn't guess.
And I do love building, construction, and making functional art. Right now, I have an old stove that I'm making into a bar. I’m a maker in general, like homesteading stuff. I really love the idea of having a little farm someday that I never have to leave except to go to the mountains.
Anything else you'd like to add for the SketchUp universe?
So one last thing, and this isn't a secret on my team either, but I do plan to do a soft retirement from SketchUp to work part-time at McGuckin's, which is our local hardware store in Boulder. I want to be a “Green Vest” at McGuckin’s, but I plan to work at SketchUp until that point.
And the lie is…
We only speak French at home to keep up our language skills. From Heather; “My French is terrible.”