Interviews / Software Engineers & Developers

Balancing the Grind with Jamis Buck, Research and Development at Vianai Systems

Jamis Buck is a programmer and currently working on Research and Development at Vianai Systems. He was the second programmer at Basecamp, and helped created Ruby on Rails.

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

I graduated from BYU with a degree in computer science about twenty years ago, and spent about six years working there on their registration and financial aid systems.

I made a leap of faith in 2005 when I joined a small company known as 37signals (now Basecamp) as their second programmer, and it paid off bountifully! I worked there for nine years, and learned a lot.

I left Basecamp in 2014 to take a year off (recovering from burn out), and wrote a book (“Mazes for Programmers”), and then hung out a shingle and consulted for various clients for about four years. Last year I was hired by Vianai, working on machine learning.

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

I’m usually at my desk around 8am. After checking emails and messages, I take a few minutes to pick up where I left off the previous day. Sometimes I’ll have left a note for myself in the code, or intentionally broken a thing that needs to be revisited, to help me remember.

A few times a week we’ll have a video conference as a team, which lately has been in the mid-to-late morning to accommodate some of our overseas team members. And, as needed, we might do small “sync-ups” with just two or three of us, to help clarify requirements and share knowledge.

I make a point of not working later than 5pm, if at all possible.

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

Absolutely. Even before COVID-19 turned everything upside down, my job was almost 100% remote.

Every two or three months the company comes together for a week at HQ, but other than that, most of my team is distributed. I’m in Utah, with others in Idaho, Virginia, Connecticut, and even Europe!

I’ve been working remotely since 2005, so it’s hard for me now to imagine working any other way. It’s been wonderful to have back all the time I would have spent commuting!

I get to enjoy breakfasts and lunches with my family (especially now, with everyone home all day due to the pandemic), and my “commute” is just a walk down the stairs to my home office.

My family understands that when the office door is closed, I’m either in a meeting or otherwise cannot be disturbed.

Due to the nature of the work I do, I often need “brain breaks” where I step away from the desk and think over a problem for ten or fifteen minutes, and walking upstairs to see what everyone’s doing turns out to be a great way to mentally change gears and let my brain think about the problem from anther perspective.

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

Work-life balance means being fair to my employer, being fair to my family, and being fair to myself.

If I work sun-up to sundown working for Vianai, that’s unfair to my family and to myself. If I spend too much time during the day with my family, or working on my own side projects, that’s unfair to my employer.

I don’t have any hard-and-fast methods I use to keep this balance, but I think that’s the point. It’s about balance. Work demands will sometimes require more time than others, and family demands will sometimes require the same.

I may lean one way or the other at various times, but it all averages out in the end. As long as I’m consciously striving to be fair to all three (employer, family, and myself), I’m happy with it all.

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5) What do you think are some of the best habits or routines that you’ve developed over the years to help you achieve success in your life?

Despite my commute being just down the stairs, and no one sees me but my family most of the time, I make it a point to wake up early(ish) and get dressed for the day. I try to be at the desk, ready for work at the same time each day (no later than 8am), and I determine to be done by 5pm. And I rarely work on weekends.

Naturally, circumstances require some flexibility with start and end times. When a deadline looms, I may work earlier or later, or work on weekends. But knowing my boundaries makes a big difference. I’m able to be more focused at work, and be more engaged with family after.

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

I’m obviously going to be biased here, but anything by Basecamp is a must-read in my opinion. From Getting Real to Rework and Remote, they have a no-nonsense approach to business that has always resonated with me.

I also really liked Maverick by Ricardo Semler. I find non-traditional approaches to business very inspiring.

Any of Randall Munroe’s books are amazing, if not related to business. What If, How To, and Thing Explainer are such wonderfully playful approaches to thinking differently, I can’t help but feel inspired when I read them. I find Nathan Pyle’s Strange Planet inspiring in the same way.

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

My family and I have a “morning meeting” every day when we wake up. As part of this meeting, we read scripture together, which adds a beautiful calm to the morning and helps center us all.

Then we go over our schedule and make sure we all know what’s happening. I think I would feel utterly lost without that!

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

I never get tired of hearing from Jason Fried and David Heinemeier-Hansson, at Basecamp. I think Bruce Williams (@wbruce on Twitter) has some no-nonsense opinions on the topic as well. Corey Haines (@coreyhaines) is another life-long learner that I look up to.

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

Make time for exploration and creativity! Play with ideas. Try new things, both at work and on your own. Don’t be afraid of being a beginner, and making mistakes. Embrace them, and build on them. Be authentically yourself!

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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.