Jennifer Chao has an unconventional strategy for relieving stress from her demanding job as Redfin’s vice president of engineering.
Taking a page from a mentor’s playbook, she takes a day off every few weeks to spend time with her husband and new baby, explore wine country, or hit the spa.
“I highly recommend it,” she says.
At the office, Chao is the on-site manager of Seattle-based Redfin’s San Francisco branch. She’s also VP of engineering, leading the team responsible for Redfin’s home search experience on the web and mobile, and acts as a liason with headquarters.
Chao grew up in Texas and moved to the Bay Area to attend Stanford University.
“I almost didn’t declare computer science in college, but a friend who had seen how much I enjoyed programming convinced me to take one more class before deciding for sure,” she said. “I loved that next class and ended up graduating with a degree in computer science.”
We caught up with Chao for this Working Geek, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for her answers to our questionnaire.
Current Location: “San Francisco.”
Computer types: “MacBook Pro.”
Mobile devices: “iPhone 6.”
Favorite apps, cloud services and software tools: “Google Apps (especially Hangouts!), Evernote, Slack, Flipboard, WhatsApp, and Redfin of course.”
Describe your workspace. Why does it work for you? “I share an office with the San Francisco heads of Product and Design. I love the organic knowledge-sharing that happens and the support we’re able to provide just by being in each others’ vicinity. We have a bright green couch that invites people to come chat with us. My warm-hued desk lamp and noise-cancelling headphones help me focus in the short spans between meetings.”
Your best advice for managing everyday work and life? “Be intentional with your time. Any given evening, I decide if I’m going to be VP of Engineering, wife, mom, friend, or just me. I set aside all other distractions and focus on being just that. And then, day-to-day, I make sure I rotate through that list to ensure a balanced life.”
Your preferred social network? How do you use it for business/work? “Facebook. I don’t really use it for work, though.”
Current number of unanswered emails in your inbox? “Zero. More and more, my communications are moving into Slack and WhatsApp.”
Number of appointments/meetings on your calendar this week? “28. This is higher than normal for me, since I’m visiting our Seattle office this week for our bi-annual hackathon. I travel to Seattle every month, and those trips are always booked with back-to-back meetings so that I can have face time with people at headquarters.”
How do you run meetings? “To keep things efficient, I make sure an agenda is published well ahead of time. If decisions need to be made, then information is written into a document and circulated the day before, at the latest. To make sure we get all opinions and ideas onto the table, I try to let junior or quieter employees speak first.”
Everyday work uniform? “Hoodie, jeans, and sneakers — very utilitarian and totally unique in the tech industry, right?”
How do you make time for family? “My personal rule is that I don’t work when my daughter is around. On weekends, it’s almost all family time during the day. On weeknights, we eat dinner and spend time together as a family until she goes to bed. I often work after that, but my husband and I go on regular date nights.”
Best stress reliever? How do you unplug? “I take a day off every few weeks, either to spend time for myself or with my husband. Those days feel really special — we take day trips to wine country, explore more of San Francisco, or I go to the spa. Doing this regularly has been key. This is advice I got from an old mentor of mine, and I highly recommend it.”
What are you listening to? “NPR, whatever my husband is listening to, or whatever my daughter is listening to. Right now, I have Humpty Dumpty stuck in my head.”
Daily reads? Favorite sites and newsletters? “Washington Post, The Atlantic, New York Times, Reddit. I also like reading First Round Review.”
Book on your nightstand (or e-reader)? “Brain Rules for Baby, and I often am catching up on news on Flipboard before going to bed.”
Night owl or early riser? What are your sleep patterns? “I used to be a night owl, but ever since having a baby, I’m forced to be an early riser. I still have trouble forcing myself to go to bed early in order to get enough sleep. However, my husband often jokes that my superpower is the ability to fall asleep anytime, anywhere.”
Where do you get your best ideas? “My best ideas come from long conversations with my husband, who is also in tech. I also get ideas on the Muni or in the shower, which is a clear reminder to me that it’s important to unplug and have time alone to just think.”
Whose work style would you want to learn more about or emulate? “Barack Obama. There are debates as to whether he is an introvert or extrovert, but I think of him as an introverted leader who inspired the masses, held the most demanding job in the world, and managed to balance his family life with his career.”