Interviews / Software Engineers & Developers

Balancing the Grind With Evelyn Chan, Software Engineer at Square

Evelyn Chan is a Software Engineer at Square, a San Francisco-based financial services, merchant services aggregator, and mobile payment company founded by Jack Dorsey and Jim McKelvey.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

I’m a software engineer at Square. I work on both the frontend and backend for a consumer facing app, and tackle projects ranging from building APIs for our web and mobile clients to implementing complex UI interactions.

I graduated from UCLA with a degree in Political Science and the intention of going to law school. After deciding against that, I started my career as a business analyst at a bank. I switched into a corporate finance role at a retail company, and soon realized I didn’t want to be crunching numbers all day for the rest of my life.

I began coding when I was in middle school but stopped once I entered college. Surrounded by tech in San Francisco, I started tinkering around with coding again and instantly fell back in love. I made the formal switch to software engineering shortly afterwards.

In a way, it took me back to my formal discipline in liberal arts except instead of writing for humans, I’m now writing for computers! (Although most of the time it’s still for humans.)

2) What does a typical day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

A typical day for me consists of a mixture of coding, reviewing code, and talking about code, with a few meetings sprinkled in there.

At a glance, it sounds repetitive, but each of those pieces is so broad and presents unique challenges that I never find it boring. I also spend a lot of time brainstorming new product features, playing around with new tools, and reading about new, innovative technologies.

Here’s a recent workday I went through:

I wake up at 7AM and am out the door by 8AM. I listen to a podcast on my commute. I get into the office at 8:30AM, grab breakfast at our cafeteria, and review any open pull requests in the morning. (Pull requests require peer reviews to merge a piece of code into production).

I have a 15 minute stand-up meeting at 10AM with my team to discuss what we worked on the day prior, will be working on today, and if we have any blockers that prevent us from completing a task.

Afterwards, I grab my daily cup of coffee and get to coding. Our projects are broken down into tickets in a shared JIRA board. I pick a ticket off the board to work on and pair with a teammate on it. I go to lunch with my coworkers and we end up taking the full hour.

Afterwards, I wrap up the ticket, write a few tests, and make a pull request. As I wait, I pick an article off of my reading list about some new features in one of the tools we use.

Once it gets approved, I merge it, test it in our staging environment, and deploy it to production. I leave the office around 6PM and head home, finishing the rest of my podcast on the way back.

I’m training for a triathlon right now, so as soon as I get home, I change into my swimsuit and drive over to my local gym. I swim for about 30-40 minutes and grab a quick dinner afterwards.

On other days, I’ll attend networking/social events, grab drinks with friends/coworkers, or work on personal projects. Once I get back home, I wind down with a book and get ready for bed.

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?

I work with a few parents and folks who work out of different offices, so our team is very remote-friendly and flexible. Writing software can be mentally draining so we all highly value work-life balance.

Coding is a great candidate for remote work because you can code from anywhere as long as you have a laptop and wifi. We also use tools like VS Code’s LiveShare extension for remote pairing and Google Hangouts for meetings, which makes collaborating much easier.

I generally prefer coming in to the office because I have my desk space set up (snacks/brainfood around the office are also a plus) but I rarely have to worry about any conflicts when I work from home.

4) Do you have any tips, tricks or shortcuts to help you manage your workload and schedule?

I find blocking off time on my calendar to be very helpful. When I’m swamped with meetings or am working towards a tight deadline, I’ll block off a chunk of time on my calendar and ask people to send me a message before scheduling over that time.

This allows me to better manage my schedule and keep meeting fatigue in check. I’ve even blocked off time to get a quick workout session in, and I’ve never run into any issues doing so.

I also block off an hour every Friday to reflect on my workload for the week, as well as goals I’ve set for myself. I keep track of my milestones and accomplishments in a Google doc and add to this list every week. This is a great way to take ownership of your work and is very handy during promotion cycles.

5) What does work life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

Work life balance means setting yourself up for success. It means listening to your mind and body about what you need to function effectively. Even if you love something, over indexing on it can lead to burnout.

For me, it means taking time to focus on myself and doing things that help me recharge. That includes a mixture of spending time with family and friends, disconnecting, staying healthy, and knowing that it’s okay to indulge yourself once in a while.

Work life balance can include finding meaning in the work you do, but knowing that your work does not define you.

6) What do you think are some of the best habits you’ve developed over the years to help you strive for success and balance?

It didn’t always used to be this way, but health is a priority for me. I generally eat a pretty healthy diet (my typical lunch is usually a salad) and I try to exercise 3-5 times a week.

I switch up my exercise routines between weightlifting, swimming, running, and climbing. These also have the added benefit of functioning as a social activity as well which means that I get to catch up with friends too.

In terms of work, one of the most helpful habits I’ve developed is not to take things personally. This has helped me both ask and receive feedback/criticism more effectively, which is crucial to growth.

7) Are there any books that have helped you improve over the years?

8) What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?

The number one thing I do to get the most out of the day is to make sure I get enough sleep. When you sleep less than the recommended 7-9 hours a day, you’re operating at a cognitive deficiency. That means you’re cheating yourself out of productivity when there are already so few hours in the day.

9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

We can’t control what happens to us, but we can control how we respond to it. We never “don’t have the time” to do something; we just choose not to prioritize it or to spend our time in different ways. We always have a choice.

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About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.