Interviews / Software Engineers & Developers

Balancing the Grind with Colin Ross, Engineering Manager at Buffer

Colin Ross is an Engineering Manager at social media management company, Buffer, where he is responsible for the Infrastructure team.

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

I’m currently an Engineering Manager at Buffer, responsible for our Infrastructure team. I’ve been at Buffer for over eight years, starting as a backend engineer and moving through a number of lateral transitions until I took the plunge into the world of management almost three years ago.

Before Buffer I had a number of software engineer jobs in the scientific and financial software sectors, following a short academic career in the area of computational mathematics.

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

I get up at 6am. And recently I’ve been going for a 40-50 minute walk first thing. After that I’ll catch up on the news and read a few articles before having a cup of tea and getting ready to start the day between 8:30am and 9am.

I’ll generally catch up on what’s been happening overnight – with a distributed team, there’s often a lot going on! I might have a call or two in the morning either with a teammate or some other member of the wider team.

At noon I go for another similar walk, as a chance to let the mornings work settle and to get my brain to switch off a little, ready for lunch.

At 1pm I’ll be back at work, usually my afternoons are a little more head-down writing something up or investigating something. I’ll finish up around 6pm with a final walk to switch off.

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

Yes, at Buffer we are a completely remote distributed company with team members all over the world. My current role therefore requires flexible and remote working – half of my team are eight hours distant from me which requires a different way of working compared to if they were in the same time zone or even in the same office.

As a result, and over the past eight years of working this way, this is now second nature. I have the ability to start early if necessary and sometimes stay late as needed but combined with the flexibility to take time out during the ‘workday’ to do whatever I might want or need to do.

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

I like to be doing enough work and getting enough accomplished to not feel guilty as well as having enough ‘personal’ time to not have regrets. That means there are weeks where I work longer perhaps because I haven’t quite done what I wanted to do.

It also means there are weeks where I maybe get some quick wins and ‘coast’ a little. The former feels productive but ultimately I feel the latter is more valuable since it frees my brain to think more about the future – even if I’m not actively contemplating it.

I do try to have reasonably hard cut-offs for my day at around 6pm give or take 15 minutes. Occasionally it is violated due to calls that can’t be fit in at other times. But most days it works well.

Having that deadline for the end of the day is also a useful motivator to get things done and over the line, as well as helping me to buckle down for less engaging tasks – “only 30 more minutes and then you can stop!”.

5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?

I feel I’m regularly changing my habits, both due to personal preferences but also as the seasons change. As the days get longer, I’m more likely to be out early in the morning for a run or a walk.

For example, I am taking part in a half marathon in a few months, so early morning runs are a great time to get some fresh air, get the heart pumping, prepare for the race as well as get away from my laptop and let my mind roam freely.

When it’s darker and colder in the mornings, I’m more likely to be reading, or tinkering with a side-project rather than going outside.

6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend

None particularly leap to mind – I enjoy a broad range of reading, and all the different perspectives are themselves a valuable perspective.

I am a big fan of Blinkist – particularly when combined with the audio option which allows me to ‘read’ three books during an early morning walk. During my recent routine of three walks a day, I was consuming 45 (!) books a week.

These are highly condensed, so they aren’t the full experience, but it does give a great overview and if one does stand out, I can always read the full book later.

7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?

I love Wavebox which is a simple app that lets you place all your commonly used desktop apps and websites into a single app and switch between them very quickly with a minimum of fuss.

It helps save a lot of time and having everything ready to go at all times is fantastic for productivity. Also, Blinkist which I mentioned above. Bear is my go to app for jotting down short snippets and preparing longer form text in advance.

8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?  

Probably myself in five years time. While other folks are fascinating, at the end of the day, I want to know what I’ll learn about myself over the next five years! I’m always learning more about what I like and don’t like, what works for me and what doesn’t – so being able to condense all that learning into an interview would be the best!

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

I’d say that everyone is different and that even then people change over time. That ‘balance point’ between work and life can naturally shift one way or the other quite naturally as you are more or less engaged with one side or the other.

I’ve recently been reading Rest by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang and it’s fascinating to read there about the importance of being deliberate about ‘rest’ and how being deliberate about your rest actually pays dividends for your work.

I’d encourage everyone to find what  works for themself – absolutely read about what others do but ultimately you need to find what works for you.

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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.