At Koru, a Seattle startup that helps companies vet talent using predictive analytics, Justin Beals has a tall order. “My job is to help craft a vision and transform it into a real world solution — a product that can sustain its own operational requirements and solve problems at a national and later global scale,” he explains.
Beals is Koru’s VP of Technology and he manages a team of data analysts and web developers devoted to Koru’s product.
He’s passionate about Koru’s mission but also places a high premium on work-life balance. To unplug, he starts each day practicing yoga for an hour and a half. He also takes to the seas on his sailboat when he can to get away from the office.
When he is working, Beals is focused on optimizing Koru’s technology platform for customers.
“My team at Koru writes and produces web applications to enable the users of our solution — company executives, heads of talent, HR managers, and recruiters — to consume the outcomes of our data science solutions through a friendly, human user interface,” he said. “Finally, I drive strategic planning along with my colleagues at the executive management level to continue to challenge ourselves to create the best possible solutions for our customers.”
We caught up with Beals for this installment of Working Geek, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.
Current Location: “I currently live in the wonderful urban community of Lower Queen Anne near downtown Seattle, Washington. However, in general, I’m more of a digital nomad. In a typical month, I will probably visit 2 or 3 other cities for business or general travel. My lovely wife works remotely for her company and so we are often able to travel together.”
Computer types: “Currently I run OSX on a Macbook Pro 13” with Virtualbox running Ubuntu 16.04 for all technology and data science work. My first computer was an Atari 800, which you could program with BASIC. While at British Telecom I had three different Solaris desktops for global network traffic systems and had the pleasure of working on large scale frame-relay networks. I never felt more computationally powerful, however sadly it didn’t triple my work output.”
Mobile devices: “I’m a big believer in the power of our open-source community. Therefore I’m a fan of Android even though it has pros and cons. My primary device is a Google Nexus 5x which has been a rock and always updated with the latest operating system. I keep a couple of mobile devices around with different operating systems as pet projects. I have an original Google Nexus 1 with Cyanogenmod. I’ve certainly ‘bricked’ a couple of phones along the way to customization. For travel, I also have a Lenovo Yoga Tab 3 tablet with an integrated projector. It’s an exceptional device.”
Favorite apps, cloud services and software tools: “My favorite apps probably start with Slack. My teams have been using IM systems for rapid collaboration since IRC and Slack is the next best iteration of those solutions. Next would probably be Atlassian’s Jira which has been a great way to manage our basic to-do lists or complex project oversight. Finally, we are using AWS and continue to be impressed with the availability, cost, and simplicity of many of the services. Our team at Koru just rolled out an API Gateway implementation that basically made a layer of our data science infrastructure a new API product for the firm.”
Describe your workspace. Why does it work for you? “We work in an incredible space at Koru: An open seating plan allowing for great collaboration between our developers, data scientists, designers and product managers. We believe that casual conversations can lead to great innovations so there are lots of nooks with sofas and chairs for casual work space. Also, we always have a puzzle table going and the team spends quality time together working on it.
We adorn our walls with the learnings and insights we’ve gained working with young millennials. These include definitions, examples and reminders of our Koru cultural principles as well as the IP underlying our solutions, the Koru7™ Impact Skills (Grit, Rigor, Impact, Teamwork, Curiosity, Ownership, and Polish). Some of my favorites from our wall art are ‘invest in the right relationships’ and ‘#wearekoru.’ Interspersed are floor to ceiling whiteboard walls with drawings of any imaginable topic we are all working on. I love just looking back at the ‘cognitive’ moments of old diagrams and explanations on our whiteboards.”
Your best advice for managing everyday work and life? “The best advice I can give is to have fun doing what you do. It’s actually one of Koru’s cultural principles to find time for good times and make room for love in our lives. Laugh and care for one another. However, due to the type of work we do, my team and I are always driving at an important deliverable. Most of the time, with good planning, everyone is able to meet the deliverable deadline and still maintain a healthy work week with time for family, friends, and fun. We recognize the danger of imbalance in our lives, so we try our best to avoid it. However, sometimes a challenge is difficult to plan for or a need requires extra effort. During these times, we all work very hard together to make sure each person has what they need to succeed. At the end of every big push, the entire company comes together to celebrate the success that our team’s hard work helped us earn. This helps us go the extra mile when it’s needed, knowing that after the success, work and life balance will return to normal.”
Your preferred social network? How do you use it for business/work? “LinkedIn is where I spend the majority of my time for social networks. I do really enjoy Twitter and regularly post and read my friends posts. I tend to treat Twitter in the same way I treat Facebook — it’s just a timeline.”
Current number of unanswered emails in your inbox? “Probably 5-6 unread emails. I keep a maximum of 50 emails in my inbox that may need some attention such as a follow-up or reply. Emails are an incredibly imperfect communication method for someone like myself who thrives on collaboration. I tend to only use it in formal communications which are a small part of my day.”
Number of appointments/meetings on your calendar this week? “I usually have between 10 to 15 formal meetings every week. At times, it’s been more but this pace is a healthy balance with casual conversations that happen amongst the team members. Those conversations can be very impromptu as needed.”
How do you run meetings? “I love short meetings! I tend to only schedule 30 minutes for any one discussion to keep the team focused. I like our meetings to have a specific and immediate solution. If it can’t be reached in 30 minutes then we break out research tasks. We tend to finish discussions very quickly. I’m much happier spending 15 minutes discussing a single specific issue than wasting an hour with formal meetings. While this is my preference it doesn’t work for over 50 percent of the meetings I attend where longer collaborative sessions are required.
Everyday work uniform? “Raw denim jeans and a hoodie; black is the new black for me. If it’s summer time you’ll probably catch me in flip-flops around the office!”
How do you make time for family? “I’m lucky that my wife and I are able to travel for work and see the world together. I tend to work very efficiently and set appropriate expectations so rarely am I or my team members needed beyond ~45 hours a week. I will say that I’m constantly thinking about work and therefore search for activities that disengage me from work. I usually achieve this by substituting some engrossing experience such as skippering our sailboat Sadie Mae.”
Best stress reliever? How do you unplug? “I have a daily hour and a half Ashtanga Yoga practice that is the cornerstone of my day. The mind is a muscle and it needs to have time to rejuvenate like the rest of our muscles. Also, I’ve found that a practice of mindfulness gives me the best chance to respond empathetically to our customers and my team. My second method of unplugging is sailing. I find that the engagement it requires physically, mentally, and even spiritually helps focus my attention away from stressful problems, relieving the weight of those concerns.”
What are you listening to? “I grew up in Atlanta so hip-hop is a big part of my culture. I am always listening to the latest work out of the south and lately am really impressed with ILoveMakonnen’s ‘Drink More Water 6.’ My go-to standards are classic punk like the Misfits or Fugazi or southern hip-hop Goodie Mob and the Dungeon Family. I’ve also been an aficionado of the reggae genre and its sub-genres. I am lately enjoying The Skints and Alborosie or my go-to standard is Alton Ellis.”
Daily reads? Favorite sites and newsletters? “I’ve been a regular /. (slashdot) reader since it’s inception. I also read Harvard Business Review and New York Times. I’ve also been a longtime subscriber to the 2600 Hacker Quarterly which is a classic computer science ‘zine.”
Book on your nightstand (or e-reader)? “I just wrapped up reading an ‘Introduction to Artificial Intelligence’ by Jay Finley and Alan Dix. It was written about 10 years ago and contains a much more visionary ideal for the definition of an AI than we use today. I also like that it delves deep into the philosophical architecture behind AI programming. I’m also reading the ‘Handbook of Natural Language Processing’ Second Edition by Nitin Indurkhya, Fred J. Damerau which is a great book on how to utilize common language as a human-computer interface.”
Night owl or early riser? What are your sleep patterns? “I’m definitely a morning person. I start most days at 5 a.m. which gives me enough time to exercise so I can be fully engaged at the office. However, all of my night owls on the team have to deal with a 9:10 a.m. daily standup meeting.”
Where do you get your best ideas? “In the moments where my mind is only tangentially focused on the issue at hand. That sounds a little technical but think about seeing something out of the corner of your eye. It’s an ephemeral image that disappears if you stare directly at it. By obliquely analyzing the issue sometimes you can see unique solutions that weren’t available before.”
Whose work style would you want to learn more about or emulate? “All the young teammates that I get to work with. I’m always impressed by their curiosity and determination. Since our specialty is early in career or recent college grads we always have a lot of young people in the office, including some who are now in critical positions at the firm. I’m always working hard to meet their enthusiasm and sometimes naivete at the challenges ahead. I had a great teacher tell me once ‘in the eyes of the beginner all things are possible.’”