Bremerton’s Kristina Colburn talks travel, gaming, science and tech

If there’s one thing we’ve learned about Kristina Colburn since she joined Vibe Coworks some two and a half years ago, it’s that Kristina is one of those people who knows who she is, and knows where she is going.

If you’ve met her, you know that her love of life seems boundless. She brings an intelligent enthusiasm to everything she does. And when we say ‘everything’, we mean just that. If Kristina’s life journey were a book, it would be a top seller.

“I’ve been living my bucket list since I was about 22. I had a near-death experience. As I was basically recovering emotionally and mentally from that, I realized that life was super short and I didn’t want to wait for it, like so many do, planning ‘When I retire, I’m going to do X.’

Well, you might not make it there. So, when I get the opportunity to do something I’ve dreamed of, I jump at it right away. And it’s been really remarkable because I’ve been able to experience so much.”

An experienced IT professional currently working for Limeade, and the founder of KVG Tech LLC, Kristina is dialed in to what propels her, onward and upward.

Kristina Colburn joined Vibe Coworks in 2019, as she was launching her own company KVG Tech LLC. Today, she works remotely for a software company that is putting wellbeing at the heart of the employee experience.

First things first: where did you grow up?

Kristina: Evergreen, Colorado—a small town outside of Denver in the mountains. 

My mother and my dad’s mother were trailblazers in their own right, in their own lives as women. My grandmother was one of the first women in the Sears factory before World War II. So independent. Nobody pushed her around.

“I’ve been living my bucket list since I was about 22. I had a near-death experience… I realized that life was super short and I didn’t want to wait for it.”

My mother was the last of six children. Her father had wanted one of his boys to become a doctor; he’d gone into hospital administration. So, my mom did it. She was the first female to graduate from University of Indiana, top of her class.

Both of these women in my family were proof to me that I could do whatever I wanted to do. I could forge a path that was uniquely mine, from an early age. My mom was my hero and my best friend. I’ve been pretty fortunate to have those examples in my life.  

From Colorado to the Arctic. What took you there?

Kristina: My background in physics and geophysics led to a work opportunity at University of Washington’s Polar Research Center. The principal scientist at the research center was busy writing papers, so I took over the field work. That work involved measuring ocean temperatures by strategically planting buoys 60 meters down in the Arctic Sea, with their long tails sticking out of the water.

All of this was supposed to be done by boat, but because of the conditions, I improvised, enlisting the Coast Guard’s S-130 aircraft to push them out of the plane into the ocean.

U.S. Navy’s ICEX camp circa 2016.

Tell us a bit about working on the U.S. Navy’s ICEX project?

Kristina: Again, my role was handling the logistics for the Navy’s 2016 project, approximately 100 miles off the northern coast of Alaska in the middle of winter, where it was minus 60. ICEX was all about bringing in a bunch of scientists to conduct marine research around submarine exercises.

That’s because sonar tools or acoustics for navigation behave differently due to the age of the ice. And the temperatures there vary more greatly than anywhere else in the world.

Our investigation centered around exactly how those submarine sensors would perform in such conditions. While the Navy supplied the team, I was in charge of all the necessary equipment being transferred on and off the ice at Prudhoe Bay.

What was it like near the top of the world?

Kristina: Prudhoe Bay can be gorgeous, even though it’s muddy. Plus, there are 24 hours of light. That was the hard part. We all had blackout windows. But essentially, it’s a large college town of oil workers who stay, say, for three weeks in a dorm, sharing a room. They all go to the same cafeteria, too.

One day, a cop—there were only one or two police officers who jumped from village to village when patrolling—spotted me sliding on the ice through a stop sign. He pulls me over. I tell him I work over at the hangar. ‘Oh, I know who you are,’ he says. The reason? I was one of only three women working on the project at Prudhoe Bay. He let me off with just a warning. There weren’t any cars anywhere, anyway. It was four a.m.

You talk about your husband being an important person in your life. How did you meet him?

Kristina: I was living in Los Angeles, working on the space shuttle’s backup system. I met my husband, Rob, in a video game called World of Warcraft. He was in New Mexico, and we started dating online. Then I went out to meet him.

I went from having a single life, to having a husband and three stepchildren. We got married by a justice of the peace because of his kids’ school schedule. Then we had a wedding presided over by a priest. Per the game that introduced us, my husband dressed up as an elfin creature, and I was a human. That was the ceremony my mother actually attended, and the only one that counted, according to her.

Walk us Briefly Through Your History of “Playing Pride & Prejudice Volume 1: An Austen Armoire.”

Kristina: Minerva Interactive, friends of mine, called me in as they were having technical trouble getting to the finish line with their first interactive novel. The idea was to bring Pride and Prejudice to life in a whole new way.

You take the original text of Jane Austen’s work, create, and design fresh artwork, and plug it all together. It’s kind of like “cos play.” For example, Lizzie, the lead in the book, and author Jane dress up for various events and evenings, and then they play. As you’re reading the book, you also get bits of information that provide context.

Pride & Prejudice 1: An Austen Memoir is an online game created by Vibe member Kristina Colburn and the team at Minerva Interactive, a woman-founded company that is reimagining how we experience classic books.

The program showcases the what, when, and where of why the book was such a big deal in society at the time—and continues to be extremely popular. Most Americans, and a lot of the general public unless they live in Great Britain, don’t get the full impact of Pride and Prejudice.

My job was to make sure that Minerva got it released. I was responsible for figuring out all the mechanics via STEAM, which is a game platform for distribution. We had to test it to make sure we’d get a good response, make sure all compliance and processes were in place. And I had to stick to the scheduling of my team so that we could launch “Playing Pride and Prejudice” on Jane Austen’s birthday, December 17. We hit the date. (Find it here!)

What do you hope Minerva can teach people?

Kristina: There are two impacts I’d like to see come out of that Minerva project and the ones to come. One is that this is the first time I’m aware of that an all-female team—from developers to management and everyone in between—has produced this kind of content. To a large extent, the tech world doesn’t have all-women teams. It was a very new experience for all of us, a wonderful collaboration that we made a success.

The second goal is that in bringing classic novels to life in this way, we’ll excite newer generations of readers who aren’t sitting down with hard cover or paperback books anymore. Minerva’s multi-functional experience of reading and learning can be more accessible than other platforms. We can also add in more diversity to the games, like the Netflix series Bridgerton. That world can be more diverse organically, and it doesn’t matter what color or gender you are, or how you identify. We’re going to experiment more with that.

You’ve been a member at Vibe Coworks for nearly three years. How has Vibe impacted you?

Kristina: Being here at Vibe has been one of the biggest lifts for me. I was out here [in Kitsap] taking care of my parents and hadn’t built a network of friends and peers. No time, no space. After caring for loved ones, you need a break.

“[Vibe] is a place I that finally call home, and a place where I could build relationships locally. It’s been a godsend.”

This is a place that I can finally call home, and a place where I could build relationships locally. It’s been a godsend. I can’t think of anywhere else you can do that.

In fact, I formed such great relationships that I’ve since recruited fellow Vibe members to leave their jobs and come work with me at my current company!

Free 1st Fridays at Vibe are a fan favorite. On the first Friday of every month, Vibe opens free to everyone from 9am – 4pm, followed by a no-host 1st Friday Happy Hour co-sponsored by Crabtree Kitchen + Bar. You never know where happy hour conversations with Kristina will lead… talking baking, cats, physics, gaming, women’s leadership, travel or technology. Pictured here: Kristina toasting the crowd at a Free 1st Friday of old, long before COVID had ever entered into our vocabulary.

How did you get involved with Masterminds at Vibe?

Kristina: A fellow Vibe member, Nancy Bos, asked me if I’d like to join. I was struggling after leaving the science world. And the tech world is pretty ruthless once you’ve left, so I’d started KGV, my own consulting business. My focus was doing data analytics, IT project management, and coding.

Masterminds helped stabilize my momentum while I was on the lookout for people who could help the newbie in running her own business (me!), especially when it came to marketing. Because of that, I got a couple of really good gigs, until COVID hit. Once we got through that, however, Minerva came calling, and then Limeade.

“The masterminds at Vibe helped stabilize my momentum while I was on the lookout for people who could help the newbie in running her own business, especially when it came to marketing. Because of that, I got a couple of really good gigs…”

You’ve done the dance between being a founder of your own company, and being an employee of a larger company. Tell us about Limeade.

Kristina: Limeade is an employee wellness company. And it eats its own dogfood, so to speak. We feel if we are going to advocate for a healthy workplace, we have to be a healthy workplace. 

The tangible ways we do this are through things such as mental health breaks for the last three hours of every Friday on company time, as well as First Friday Mental Health Days that also does not come out of our paid time off (PTO). And, if someone is sick, he or she shouldn’t take PTO for that. We do what we need to get and stay healthy.

Very rarely do we work the long hours most startups do. Limemade has found that rested people for eight hours are far more effective than tired people for 12 hours.

We have also actively worked to drive an inclusive and diverse workplace. Speaking for myself, this is the first tech company where I feel like I’m heard—and that my opinion from a long career is valued as a woman.

I still walk away from many of my meetings going, “Wow, this is wonderfully weird.” All of this helps with our overall well-being and gives us the proven means for promoting such a strategy to the clients using our product.

How has your role evolved most recently?

Kristina: I joined Limeade the end of March 2021, and I feel lucky to have started out as a project manager. Although, I like to call myself a scrum master. You huddle the team into a scrum, just like on a rugby team, and talk about what you’re going to do and who’s going to it. 

I believe in daily scrums to keep all the moving parts moving. Anytime a player feels blocked, I move in to remove the obstacle, making sure they have the resources to succeed within a tight timeline.

A couple of months ago, I posted an abbreviated conversation with my manager about wanting to be the technical project manager for the data system as a whole. I knew it was my dream job, you know, as in “someday in the future.” 

Well, in August, after a Limeade reorganization, it got better than that. I was promoted to Program Manager for Data Engineering and Personalization, responsible for driving improvements across the company that ensure our data system is robust and responsive.  

Maybe putting it on my bucket list is what made it all happen!

What’s your latest dream destination and why?

Kristina: Antarctica. South America. I plan on going in 2023 winter, summer down there. Plan on doing a cruise. I will then have set foot on every continent in the world. Again, on my bucket list, and I’ll be able to check it off. Completed! 

Your top indulgence?

Kristina: Travel. I love to travel. I have visited all 50 states, I have been to 35 countries across five continents. Two continents to go—South America and Antarctica—that I hope to do in 2023, COVID permitting.

If you were being served your last meal, what would be on the plate?

Kristina: Bastilla (Moroccan chicken pie) with spiced carrot soup, tomato and cucumber salad, and millionaire shortbread for dessert.

Do you have a motto?

Kristina: Always have a backup plan…or two…or three…