Sarah Hines has always been supremely curious about how to make and build things. When she was a child, her parents nurtured that curiosity. Her philosopher dad encouraged her to explore how everything worked. Her mom, whom Sarah describes as “geeky, in a good way,” taught her all kinds of things about electronics and computers.
She learned things from her parents that influenced the kind of thinker she’d become, too. “As a business owner, I’ve found (my mother’s) examples in leadership, and examining problems from different viewpoints, to be incredibly useful.”
Over the years, Sarah’s curiosity hasn’t waned a bit, and she is now the co-founder and lead web mechanic at shines & jecker laboratories in Portland. The shines & jecker team provides digital strategy, web design and development as well as outreach services to local and national clients.
It is work that Sarah is perfectly suited for, given her lifelong passion for all things computer. She attended public school in Massachusetts until her family relocated to Maine shortly before her middle-school years, and from the age of 11 or 12 on, Sarah was home-schooled and often worked on projects that involved building and technology, such as building a one-person solar-powered boat as part of an electric vehicle team.
She got into online computer gaming and coding, playing online multiplayer, text-only games (known as multi-user dungeons or MUDs) before online multiplayer games had visuals (like World of Warcraft does today). The first program she ever wrote was in an education MUD called MicroMUSE, where she made an interactive teddy bear that cheered users and provided virtual hugs.
Later, Sarah attended an early studies program at the University of Southern Maine and started a work-study program at the Institute for Research in Information Sciences (also known as IRIS), where she built upon her early skills in computer programming and coding. At IRIS, a digital media research lab, she met Glen Wilson, the former director of research computing at USM, whom she describes as an excellent teacher and mentor. She also met Jennifer Ecker, who would become her business partner at shines & jecker laboratories, and they designed and built their first website together for Think Blue Maine, a nonprofit organization
Through volunteer work, she also learned to focus on the user’s experience. “While it’s great to build things, it is even cooler to see how it (the customer service experience) can change people’s lives,” she says.
Feeling burned out after graduating from USM, Sarah moved to Georgia to take a break and see what it would be like to live in a new part of the country, but she found herself taking on jobs in the tech industry again and moved back to Maine within a year. That’s when she reconnected with her former classmate, Jennifer Ecker, and the two started working on joint ventures. They were excited about the new changes in web development and, as Sarah tells it, the two realized that working together was “better, faster and more fun” than working alone. They founded shines & jecker laboratories in 2008 and have been growing ever since.
What began as a team of two has now grown to six (plus one dog-in-residence, Pepper, a standard poodle) and they are looking to add another person in the near future. She describes Jennifer as being “more of the designer,” while she is “more of the developer,” with some overlap between the two roles. “Having an excellent business partner, with great skills and an awesome working relationship, has made work much smoother,” Sarah says. “We’re able to kick around ideas, share high-fives over private successes no one else notices, and pick up the slack when the other’s life goes sideways.”
As a female business owner in a male-dominated field, Sarah thinks being a woman may have actually opened some doors for her as it made her more noticeable. But she still encounters what she considers to be gender stereotypes. “Our work is valued less, as women, which isn’t just a problem in the tech community,” she says. “We set our own rates, of course, but it can be an uphill battle to convince new individuals that we do, in fact, know what we’re doing and are worth what we charge.”
While Sarah and Jennifer do no marketing to promote their business, word-of-mouth referrals have kept them busy and they now have a several-months-long waiting list for new clients. Current shines & jecker clients include Guiding Stars, a nutritional rating program managed by the Delhaize corporation, which owns Hannaford and several other national supermarket chains. They are currently managing the online presence for Guiding Stars, including their blogs, webinars, social media and online recipe sharing.
Sarah believes that maintaining positive relationships is crucial to becoming a successful developer. “You need good relationships with clients, good relationships with your team and a good relationship between the business and your own time.”
In her spare time, Sarah enjoys running and working out, woodworking and dog training. She also loves spending time at her camp with her dog. “If you want to succeed long-term, you really have to find ways to invest in yourself by eating right, exercising, sleeping well, and doing what you love.”
For more information on shines & jecker laboratories, please visit: shinesandjecker.com
Sarah Reidy worked as a social worker for 10 years with children and families, but her true calling is in the creative field as a freelance writer, marketing copywriter and social media manager. She lives in Gorham with her husband and two kids.