Interview with
Cara Borenstein

CEO, Stashpad

Notepad for developers.


What is Stashpad and why did you build it?

Stashpad is a notepad. I’m a software engineer, and I set out to create tools to help other developers like me to work better and enjoy their work. I started with some ideas, little things I thought could be better, but when I really dug into it and started to sit next to other developers as they were working, what I saw is that there are a couple of apps that developers pretty much always have up on their screen. They have their code editor, a browser, Slack, and then there's a notepad. All of the other tools except the notepad have gotten a ton of investment, but the notepad is often just a plain text file – it's super bare bones. When I saw that, I realized, "Oh, that's actually how I manage all my work and process my thoughts related to work. It's so important and it hasn't been thought about in this way." And so, we set out to reimagine the notepad for developers like us.

Stashpad is better than just a text editor in two ways. The first is that it has all the features that developers would expect of any tool. It has markdown support, dark theme or light theme. You can customize any of the key bindings, and it's very keyboard centric. It has code block support with lots of different languages, code syntax highlighting, all those things that you expect as a developer.

And then, to me, where it gets even more interesting is that, as a professional software developer you often have to jump around different tasks. There’s deep-focus work, but also a lot of context switching. That's just a necessary evil. Stashpad is specifically designed to let you jump across those different threads and jot things down, compartmentalized, such that you never get too disorganized and always feel pretty good about where you're at.

We want to help developers do their daily job

We’ve been thinking about how AI might help as well, but we always keep in mind how Stashpad is going to change the way that developers code and work on projects. I'm very skeptical of just wrapping ChatGPT around it to make the product sound cool. I'm really trying to think about what the use cases are where it actually is adding concrete value. Better yet, what are the use cases where people are already using ChatGPT on top of Stashpad or adjacent to it.

The main one that I've actually seen a small number of people do alongside Stashpad, is they'll write their raw quick notes in Stashpad and then, if they want to put an update in Jira, or wherever their team does status updates, they'll take that and run that through a ChatGPT to make it more formal. So, that's one possible thing, but I'm skeptical about building things until I feel like it's actually going to add real value.

What does a "day in the life" look like for you?

Recently, I haven't been coding all that much, except for little opportunities to automate things and jump in on small tickets. But, a lot of how I think about it is, as a founder, I'm always thinking about what's our biggest gap right now? What is just holding us back the most, and then trying to look for solutions to that.

Identifying those gaps and solutions means talking to our customers all the time, watching them work, watching what other tools are you using Stashpad alongside? Things like that.

What is the team structure around Stashpad?

It's me and my co-founder. We're both software engineers by background. He still is coding a bunch. And then, we also have three full-time developers and a designer. We're based in Durham, North Carolina.

How did you first get into software development?

I was lucky in that when I was in ninth grade, my high school had a computer science department, and a very passionate computer science teacher. He took all the ninth grade girls who were in advanced math and auto enrolled them in his computer science intro class, and told us that he wouldn’t let us drop it for at least a month. He just made it really fun and was like, "You have to stick with it for a month." A bunch of us ended up studying computer science throughout high school and college, and having careers in computer science, now.

My first language was Java, that's what I learned in high school, and then, in college it was also a lot of Java, some C, which was challenging, but also fun. And then, a little bit of functional programming in college with OCaml. Then Scala and Python. Now at Stashpad, I work with a lot of TypeScript, JavaScript and we use React and React Native for the mobile apps.

What is the most interesting development challenge you've faced working on Stashpad?

One of the features that developers enjoy is that you can use Stashpad completely local to one device, and then set up your own sync, or you can sync to the cloud and use it on mobile. To get that feature supported, we use MongoDB Realm. They have really, really fast sync, which is awesome. But, their software is really designed so that the applications built on it are either synced or local. It does not have the ability to toggle between the two. Setting up the logic where you can either use Stashpad local or synced, and change your sync status whenever you’d like to, that had a lot of logic, a lot of test cases to cover. It was a little tricky but that has been pretty satisfying to be able to use.

What is the most interesting tech you are playing around with at the moment?

The most obvious one, and I feel like you can't not say it, is ChatGPT. To me, it's so much fun - it takes you back to early days of hacker culture, of just what can you make this thing do, and what does that mean for where things can go? It's just really fun to play around with it.

Just for fun, I was working on a function for importing notes into Stashpad, and I was like, "How could I make ChatGPT do an import function for me?" And so, as you play with it, you're like, "Wow." instead of going to Stack Overflow and then going back and forth like that, it's writing the code for you. You just have to define the requirements and then the error messages and stuff. So, really fun. Really fun to play around with.

Describe your computer hardware setup

I just have a standard MacBook Pro 13. I'd like to get a new computer at some point. I use it with a Dell 27” 4K monitor, and Apple Magic Keyboard. The thing that I like the most is that I have a Logitech MX Vertical Mouse – you hold it vertically and it is nice to work with.

Describe your computer software setup

OS: macOS.

Browser: Chrome.

Email: Superhuman.

Chat: Slack.

IDE: WebStorm.

Source control: GitHub.

Describe your desk setup

I have the Jarvis Bamboo Standing Desk, you can go up and down. Honestly, I'm usually down!

The desk of Cara Borenstein, Stashpad

When coding

Daytime or nighttime? Night.

Tea or coffee? Coffee.

Silence or music? Silence.

What non-tech activities do you like to do?

I love to be outdoors, hiking or playing tennis. I also really love, and find it inspiring to go visit different artsy places. I recently got to go to the Wynwood neighborhood in Miami. They have these incredible murals everywhere. Everything you look at, someone has carefully painted it with this really creative idea. I just find that so inspiring

Find out more

Stashpad is a notepad for developers. It was featured as an "interesting tool" in the Console newsletter on 20 Apr 2023. This interview was conducted on 4 Apr 2023.