Back in the 1990s, Sean Boots thought he was on the path to a promising musical career. He was the front man for a pop quartet called the Amateur Lovers. Their CD was for sale in record stores; they made a music video and went on tour in Australia. But the CD wasn’t a hit and the record label that issued it ran out of money. Boots’ vision of a rock-and-roll career unraveled as quick as a tattered flannel shirt.
Luckily, he had a plan B.
As a kid, Boots had learned to program BASIC for the Apple II. And on the Amateur Lovers’ last tour down the California coast, he passed some of the miles bouncing along in a van by reading cover-to-cover a how-to book on coding in Visual Basic 5. When Boots got back, he began building websites for the some of the customers at his dad’s manufacturing warehouse and engineered software to automate his own job at the warehouse.
His timing was great. Post dot-com bubble, the Northwest’s tech scene was heating up and in 2004, Boots caught the eye of Jeremy Irish, one of the co-founders of Seattle-based Geocaching, which allows players with GPS-enabled devices to challenge themselves by hunting for containers — known as caches — which contain logbooks, trackable objects and other items.
He got the job, and over the past 13 years Boots has moved from an entry-level developer to his current role as Geocaching’s web and API development manager. He launched a program at Geocaching called “10 percent time” that earmarks a few hours on Friday afternoons for engineers to work on creative development projects or sharpen their skill sets.
“I’m fortunate to work closely with such talented and interesting people,” Boots said.
Outside of work, Boots makes time for playing board games, travel with family and he recently discovered an unexpected, hipster-threatening fondness for country music. We caught up with Boots for this Working Geek, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.
Current location: Geocaching HQ in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood.
Computer types: Lenovo ThinkPad.
Mobile devices: Android Nexus 6P.
Favorite apps, cloud services and software tools: “Slack, Evernote, Waze, Trello and Days Since (tracks things like when I last changed out my contact lenses, called my parents, washed my car, etc.).”
Describe your workspace. Why does it work for you? “Geocaching HQ has an open-office plan, which is good for some types of work and bad for others. I prefer to code in isolation because I get distracted easily. In my current role, I don’t code as often so the open-office works well for me. We have several meeting rooms of various sizes and comfort levels. We’re hooked up with remote work tools, laptops, and pairing stations. I have a standing desk, which is great for me because I’ve had two back surgeries and need that flexibility. My desk is a bit cluttered with mugs and paperwork so I’ve placed a couple of Playmobil hazmat workers on it to help clean up the site. Have I mentioned we have crazy good views of Lake Union? I’m very spoiled here.”
Your best advice for managing everyday work and life? “My best advice is to not listen to my advice about this because I’m not great at managing work-life balance. I love my job and lack discipline when it comes to making myself go home at a reasonable hour. I also stay late to avoid the hour-long commute home. This is a little ironic because Geocaching HQ is actually a fantastic place for those seeking a healthy work-life balance.”
Your preferred social network? How do you use it for business/work? “Reddit is my favorite, hands down. That being said, I only use an anonymous account and I rarely post anything in there. I often receive my news through Twitter, and I feel pretty strongly that the world would be a better place without Facebook. I read somewhere that Twitter is where you go to love people you’ve never met, and Facebook is where you go to start hating the people you know best. Probably not true for everyone, but it’s definitely been my personal experience.”
Current number of unanswered emails in your inbox? “15, but that’s because I’ve been in meetings all day. I try to keep my inbox reasonably clean, but I don’t actively check it throughout the day. Slack is where I do the vast majority of my communication.”
Number of appointments/meetings on your calendar this week? “30, but most are 30 minutes or less.”
How do you run meetings? “I try to follow the ‘don’t meet for the sake of meeting’ rule. I think all recurring meetings should have a sunset date so you can reevaluate if they are still necessary, and I like to cancel ineffective and expensive meetings. I believe 1:1 meetings are the most effective type because the personal nature of the meeting allows me to get to the bottom of how a person really feels about various topics. People seem to be more guarded with their answers in a group setting.”
Everyday work uniform? “Jeans, leather boots and a slightly dressy button-down shirt. I purposely cut down on wearing t-shirts after moving into this role because I want to dress the part. Doing so reminds me that this job isn’t something to take for granted.”
How do you make time for family? “The best way is to take a trip somewhere, even if it’s just for the weekend. My family likes to rent a VRBO a couple times a year in nearby locations like Leavenworth or Winthrop. This summer I was able to redeem a special ‘golden ticket’ — a perk you receive after 10 years at Geocaching HQ, granting me an all-expenses-paid trip with my family. We spent two amazing weeks visiting the National Parks in Utah.”
Best stress reliever? How do you unplug? “I’m heavy into board gaming. I particularly enjoy learning to play a new game — unboxing it, punching out the pieces and reading a 30-plus page instruction manual is real fun for me. The more complicated and involved the better. I’ve built myself a gaming table that can accommodate most types of games, and I often have the latest and greatest game sprawled out on it (Gloomhaven right now). I have a group of coworkers who are always down for a game after work. Turns out it’s pretty fun to actually play the games too!”
What are you listening to? “I spent my entire youth diving deep into the music scene, seeking out the coolest obscure bands and being a serious music snob. But this year, I added a couple songs to a Spotify playlist called ‘Guilty Country Pleasures.’ This list has grown to about 150 songs and is now my top playlist. My old self is embarrassed with my new self for admitting this, but I kinda like country music best. Kacey Musgraves, Maren Morris, Florida Georgia Line, Old Dominion. I love big harmonies and catchy choruses, and these days you find those most often on the country stations.”
Daily reads? Favorite sites and newsletters? Cafe Hayek blog (economics), Shut Up & Sit Down (board games), Ann Althouse (politics), I Like to Make Stuff (woodworking).
Book on your nightstand (or e-reader)? “How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life: An Unexpected Guide to Human Nature and Happiness” by Russ Roberts, and “Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War” by James McPherson. I don’t read as much as I should, but when I do, it seems the book always ends up being 900 pages.”
Night owl or early riser? What are your sleep patterns? “Night owl for sure. I’m rarely in bed before midnight. If I go to bed at 10 or 11 p.m., I’m still up reading or using my phone. I used to write music years ago and all the best stuff would come when I was exhausted at 3 a.m. I’d be miserable the next day, but at least I ended up with good material.”
Where do you get your best ideas? “Most of my ideas are generated during my morning commute because it’s the only time of day where I’m rested, caffeinated and alone for a reasonable amount of time. I learn most about an idea by pitching it to someone, usually my wife or my coworkers. Hearing myself spell out the details helps me to refine the idea, and watching a person react to the pitch is helpful to gauge how much appeal the idea has.”
Whose work style would you want to learn more about or emulate? “James Whittaker, a Microsoft guy with the title of ‘distinguished engineer and technical evangelist,’ inspired me at a developer conference with his talk about ‘Career Superpowers.’ I’ve tried my best to follow most of that advice ever since and it has served me well.”