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Bonanza CEO Bill Harding (center) and some of his employees on their annual getaway.
Bonanza CEO Bill Harding (center) and some of his employees on their annual getaway.

Bonanza CEO Bill Harding is, admittedly, not great at work-life balance.

Ordinarily, that can mean headaches for a manager’s team, but in Bonanza’s case it’s actually a pretty sweet perk.

Because Harding struggles to tear himself away from work, he turns work into a vacation. Every February, Bonanza’s employees and their families relocate to a tropical destination to work remotely for the month. Not everyone on the 40-person team attends or brings guests — but most do.

Back in Seattle, Harding leads the e-commerce company at its downtown headquarters. He spends his days building and monitoring reporting dashboards, thinking about customers’ needs, and helping managers stay productive.

But Harding is a developer at heart.

“In my pre-Bonanza days, I spent a lot of time programming,” he said. “I started at 13-years-old, when I built one of the most popular BBSes (precursor to internet) in Kitsap County. I’ve worked relentlessly to get back to that mountaintop ever since.”

We caught up with Harding for this installment of Working Geek, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.

Current Location: Seattle.

Computer types: Xubuntu (desktop), OS X (Macbook Pro).

Mobile devices: iPhone 7 Plus.

Favorite apps, cloud services and software tools: “I love software that can obsess over details without tripping up essentials (e.g., Evernote) or becoming cluttered (e.g., Word). Slack is the best recent example. Rare is the company that can perfectly toe the line between robust functionality and great UI.

I’m also a big fan of companies like Jetbrains (Rubymine) & Atlassian (Jira) that grow each year by using their own product to find opportunities for improvement.”

Describe your workspace. Why does it work for you? “A mingling of high-res monitors, Coke Zeroes and apples. If you’re going to sit on your ass all day, apples are the least you can do for a healthy heart.”

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Your best advice for managing everyday work and life? “My work/life ‘balance’ is probably best described by this article — ‘Building [companies] is a creative process, and the closest thing they have to fun’ — which is to say, I do not claim to excel at managing my non-work life.

However. In spite of (because of?) my balance being poor, I have put a lot of thought into making work as gratifying as possible. For the past four Februarys, Bonanza has abandoned Seattle drear for a company-wide relocation to various tropical locations (Costa Rica, Oahu, Puerto Vallarta, Playa del Carmen). Families are welcome, which is part of what has made the trips fun as hell and a cornerstone of our close-knit culture.

Thus, closest I have to advice on work/life: find activities you enjoy with people you appreciate and make the most of the ride.”

Your preferred social network? How do you use it for business/work? “The people I follow on Twitter have good ideas sometimes, but I prefer Quora or Stack Overflow. Higher signal-to-noise ratio.”

2015-05-19-16-22-09Current number of unanswered emails in your inbox? “Three-ish now, almost never more than 10. When I can’t wrestle my inbox to a draw, I take it as an indication that I need to be delegating better.”

Number of appointments/meetings on your calendar this week? “One. A side effect of my past career as a Developer is that Bonanza is built on maximizing “flow time.” Programmers are most effective when they get into their flow state, so I strive to build a company where everyone has the opportunity to get lost doing what they do best.

How do you run meetings? “The productivity of a meeting hinges upon the ability of the participants to be able to spot truth and underlying consequences on the spot. Is that the most reliable way to make great decisions? Maybe for some very smart people — not for most people I’ve known, or me.

I prefer people individually research, think deeply, and make their own decision. They can validate their hypothesis via Slack, email or individual chats. It’s less expensive and less distracting than forming a committee.

If someone makes the wrong decision, we recognize that, figure out why, and fix it.

Other CEOs probably have better answers to this question.”

Everyday work uniform? “Hoodie, T-shirt, New Balance.”

How do you make time for family? “Google Calendar.”

Best stress reliever? How do you unplug? “My brain has no ‘chill’ setting. Being unplugged means I’m 15 minutes from being bored, and maybe a day or two from existential despair.

That said, beer helps. So too does basketball and running, which I carve out time for on most days.”

What are you listening to? “Music listeners of our time have an embarrassment of riches, and I strive to take full advantage by (avoiding meetings and) picking up new ‘favorite’ bands every couple weeks. For 2016, top three overall would be Little Tybee, Grimes and Laura Marling. Top three of 2010s: PJ Harvey, Of Montreal and Elliott Smith.”

Daily reads? Favorite sites and newsletters? “Hacker News, Reddit, FiveThirtyEight, ESPN, WaitButWhy.”

Book on your nightstand (or e-reader)? “The Snowball. Warren Buffett’s ability to translate ‘humility’ and ‘detail obsession’ into billions is commendable.”

Night owl or early riser? What are your sleep patterns? “My average work arrival time has gradually slid backwards from 10 a.m. to 8 a.m. over the last five years. I find creative tasks easier at night, willpower-sucking tasks easier in the morning.”

Where do you get your best ideas? “If good ideas are gold, travel is the dredge and home is the dozer. My creativity is maximized when circumstances and mental states oscillate.”

Whose work style would you want to learn more about or emulate? “Paul Graham is my prophet. I’m not too knowledgeable about his ‘work style,’ but I hope to emulate his thinking style. Ditto Nate Silver.”

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