Franklin Williams believes he has “the best job in the world.”
That’s because he spends his days leading Socrata‘s product managers, designers, and engineers — a team that builds tools to help government agencies unlock their data and make it available to citizens.
“When we do our jobs well, people’s lives get better,” he said. “And not just a little bit better either. A lot better.”
Williams is Socrata’s VP of Product Development. He’s held technical roles at the Seattle startup since 2014, when he left a nine-year stretch at Microsoft. Williams joined the Redmond tech giant straight out of college, after earning a computer science degree from Washington University in St. Louis.
When he isn’t heads down at Socrata, Williams spends his time with his wife and toddlers, watching sports and perfecting his barbecue recipe.
We caught up with Williams for this Working Geek, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.
Current Location: Seattle.
Computer types: MacBook Pro.
Mobile devices: iPhone, iPad, Rocks BBQ WiFi Thermometer.
Favorite apps, cloud services and software tools: “OneNote continues to be my best resource for managing everything from 1:1s to to-do (and won’t-do) lists. Pendo.io is one of the best tools out there in terms of engaging with our customers, as well as understanding exactly what’s working and what’s not in the product. I also have a love-hate relationship with Slack: it can take a toll on one’s mental health like a slot machine can affect financial health.
I continue to be incredibly impressed with AWS. Their rate of innovation and singular focus on their customers is inspiring. They’ve been an incredible partner to Socrata, helping us to work with some of the most demanding clients in the world to achieve FedRAMP certification this past May.”
Describe your workspace. Why does it work for you? “Our workspace consists of a series of long tables shared with all of our engineering, product, and UX. Everyone has a portion of one of those tables where they keep their desk, monitors, etc. Mine is admittedly a bit of a mess right now, with a bunch of sketches, a delegation jar (think swear jar, except for delegation) and empty coffee cups. I should take this opportunity to apologize to and thank the folks who sit around me. They’re incredibly tolerant of the mess. And to my mother. She taught me better than this.”
Your best advice for managing everyday work and life? “Yesterday, I lost an argument with my three-year-old over the shape of pasta, so I’m not sure that I’m qualified to give advice on anything at this point. That said, the best advice I’ve found so far is to surround yourself both in life (and ideally work) with people who you love. Then, if you are lucky, you’ll find truth in the Warren Buffett quote — ‘You will be successful if the people who you hope to have love you, do love you.'”
Your preferred social network? How do you use it for business/work? “I tend to avoid most social media. I quit Facebook a couple of years ago and I couldn’t be happier. That said, as a parent, Instagram is a must (Look! Babies! Artistically framed pictures of avocados!). I’m still a bit of a Twitter junkie, and of course, LinkedIn is invaluable.”
Current number of unanswered emails in your inbox? 2
Number of appointments/meetings on your calendar this week? “51 (note that the delegation jar is working just about as well as the swear jar did).”
How do you run meetings? “Avoid meetings when possible. When you can’t avoid meetings, set clear goals and don’t let the meeting run a second longer than it takes to accomplish those goals. Otherwise, Parkinson’s law kicks in and the meeting expands to fill all available time.”
Everyday work uniform? “I was born in Texas and raised in Nashville, and so my typical uniform consists of jeans, short sleeves, and either boots or tennis shoes. On Sick-Kicks Friday, I’ll substitute the boots for something fantastically ridiculous from Nordstrom, where my wife works in merchandising. I’ll also sometimes add an apron to the mix and bring in BBQ for the office. My personal record of 100 lbs of shoulder and brisket was achieved on May 10.”
How do you make time for family? “I’m not sure that I’m the best role model, but you just do it. My wife and I are fairly religious about blocking out time after work that’s exclusively for spending quality time with the family (no devices, no email). When we’re there, we’re there and nowhere else. It helps to remember that when you’re sending your kids off to school in 15 years (a shockingly short amount of time) these are the days you are going to miss.”
Best stress reliever? How do you unplug? “Nothing beats chasing our two mini-humans (a.k.a. toddlers) around the yard.”
What are you listening to? “Growing up in Nashville you either learn to love or hate country music. I found myself loving it. In addition to the classics (Willie, Waylon, etc) I’m finding myself really enjoying the new albums from Chris Stapleton and Zac Brown. Both of their live shows are phenomenal as well.”
Daily reads? Favorite sites and newsletters? “Business Insider, Hackernews, Farnam Street, Stratechery, Random articles on Twitter, and a broad list of about 30 or so financial, economics, and tech blogs.”
Book on your nightstand (or e-reader)? “Hopefully, I don’t have to pick just one. I recently finished Deep Work from Cal Newport, which is a welcome, well-researched antidote to our interrupt-driven lifestyle, and Four Steps to the Epiphany, which will change how you look at developing a product. I also loved Ed Thorp’s autobiography, A Man for All Markets.
Perhaps the most surprising and insightful book was the one I just finished: Kevin Hart’s autobiography, I Can’t Make This Up: Life Lessons. What I originally thought was going to be just a collection of jokes and funny stories turned out to be a case study in the power of optimism, grit, perseverance, and perspective.”
Night owl or early riser? What are your sleep patterns? “Early riser. My family’s nights consist of negotiating with toddlers — the oldest is one of the best salespeople I know — and then typically heading to bed around 10:30 p.m. or so.”
Where do you get your best ideas? “There’s no single place. When working on a tough issue I’ll find that nothing helps like writing, even if it’s not something that you ever intend to share.”
Whose work style would you want to learn more about or emulate? “Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger. They are both continuous learning machines who leave each day significantly smarter than when they started. As Munger writes — ‘if you take Warren Buffett and watched him with a time clock, I would say half of all the time he spends is sitting on his ass and reading. And a big chunk of the rest of the time is spent talking one-on-one either on the telephone or personally with highly gifted people whom he trusts and who trust him.’ Sprinkle a little coding and family time in there and that sounds like a pretty amazing day to me.”