With increasing demands to feed the world’s growing human population and the tumult of climate change as a backdrop, farming is a daunting business. There are shifting weather conditions, soil fertility, diseases, nutrient availability, irrigation needs and seed choices to consider.
“We’re dealing with so many complicated variables that nobody understands yet,” said Brian Zimmer, vice president of engineering for the Climate Corporation, a company building digital tools to help farmers internationally increase their productivity. “We’re really leading the way.”
The business is San Francisco-based with four additional U.S. offices including one in Seattle, and a sixth in Brazil. The company, originally called WeatherBill, was founded by two former Google employees in 2006 and acquired by Monsanto in 2013.
Zimmer works with engineers to harness the information gathered by satellite images, weather modeling, crop yield and short- and long-term weather patterns, among other data sources, to provide farmers with timely information. His team is assisting farmers in the U.S., Europe and South America, where farms can very dramatically in size, ownership and crops grown.
“No matter where you go, the farmer is really looking for these digital tools and getting these insights,” Zimmer said.
Zimmer, who lives west of Seattle on Bainbridge Island, has been with the Climate Corporation for almost nine years, and VP for four of them.
“What is really rewarding about my job is you really see the impact,” he said. You see farmers boosting crop production and going to market. “It’s a real-world problem.”
We caught up with Zimmer for this installment of Working Geek, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.
Current location: Seattle
Computer types: MacBook Pro 13”
Mobile devices: iPhone 6S Plus, iPad Mini
Favorite apps, cloud services and software tools: “At work I have a heavy reliance on Evernote, Google Apps and Slack. In my personal life I’m mainly on Telegram for communicating and use Zwift, Strava and VeloViewer for fun.”
Describe your workspace. Why does it work for you? “It’s simple. I’m surrounded by members of my team, and my desk has a great view of Mt. Rainier. I really believe the Seattle office has a great culture. We eat lunch together as a team every day, enjoy a summer crab fest, volunteer with the Washington Trails Association and spend a full day curling at the Granite Curling Club every winter.”
Your best advice for managing everyday work and life? “My favorite quote is President Eisenhower’s: “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.” It helps me remember to keep your eye on where you want to go, but not to get too hung up on how you get there.”
Your preferred social network? How do you use it for business/work? “I’m not really a social network user. I use LinkedIn for work for staying connected and recruiting. Outside of work it’s mostly email and Telegram.”
Current number of unanswered emails in your inbox? “Zero (or it will be by the time I go to bed). I’m pretty committed to either answering, archiving or creating an Evernote for everything coming through email. Occasionally, one or two emails will linger, but it’s not super common.”
Number of appointments/meetings on your calendar this week? “This week I have about 25 meetings, two of which are full-day meetings. I’m in meetings regularly from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m.”
How do you run meetings? “Meetings vary. Some are status updates, which are fairly scripted. Others we start with a few topics on Trello board and dive into discussion. A co-worker of mine says ‘the magic is in the conversation,’ and I believe for many meetings this is indeed true.”
Everyday work uniform? “Jeans, running shoes or leather boots and a plaid shirt. Flannels in the winter, short sleeve in the summer. I once wore a non-plaid shirt to work, and people wouldn’t stop talking about it.”
How do you make time for family? “When not traveling, I make sure to be on the 4:40 p.m. ferry sailing to Bainbridge so we can have dinner together as a family. I very rarely take a later sailing which means saying no to meetings after 4.”
Best stress reliever? How do you unplug? “I love to cycle, hike, run and cross-country ski. Basically, I enjoy being outdoors. I’m also big into foraging, particularly berries and mushrooms. In an ideal world, all my free time would be in the mountains.”
What are you listening to? “I don’t listen to music while working because I find it too distracting. About the only time I listen to music is when I’m Zwifting (a software program for stationary bike riding that simulates cycling and lets cyclists virtually ride together or race) or driving on my own and then it’s mainly bluegrass or country.”
Daily reads? Favorite sites and newsletters? “I find Google News convenient in the morning. I’ll check scores on ESPN, and during college football season I’ll follow the Wisconsin Badgers fan forum. A few times a week I use Flipboard. I’m not a big news reader.”
Book on your nightstand (or e-reader)? “I’ve traditionally been exclusively a non-fiction reader, but in the last few weeks I’ve been voraciously reading Fredrik Backman novels. I finished Backman’s ‘Beartown’ recently and have moved on to Jonas Jonasson’s ‘The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared,’ staying with the Scandinavian author theme. Something about them has really captured my attention.”
Night owl or early riser? “Definitely an early riser. I prefer to be asleep by 9 p.m. and wake up most mornings around 4 a.m. My sleep pattern changes with the sun.”
Where do you get your best ideas? “Weather permitting, I walk the upper deck of the ferry in the morning. It’s my most productive time of day. I also find sitting on an airplane to be quality time, free from distractions.”
Whose work style would you want to learn more about or emulate? “I’m fascinated by sports coaches, particularly football. As a kid, I was steeped in the traditions of the Green Bay Packers. I’ve heard so many stories about Vince Lombardi, and I’ve always admired his ability to continually develop players into a winning team.”