Interviews / Software Engineers & Developers

Balancing the Grind with Jeremiah Lee, Engineering Manager at InVision

Jeremiah Lee is an Engineering Manager at digital product design platform InVision, where he works with teams responsible for the company’s services infrastructure.

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

Currently, I am an engineering manager at InVision. I work with teams responsible for its Web services infrastructure. My role is software engineering exclusively, but I started my career as a designer.

I studied New Media at Emerson College, which is how the school referred to computer animation, visual effects, and interactive art. The name probably evolved out of digital media, but nearly all media had become digital media. We often say at InVision, “The screen has become the most important place in the world.” I grew up with that transition becoming true.

After a brief experience in visual effects, I switched from working on movies to working on movie websites. Creating Flash websites led to creating Flash games which led to creating Flash “rich Internet applications”.

These needed Web APIs, which required a different skillset. I grew tired of telling “real” programmers how to design APIs my Flash apps could easily use and decided to do the backend programming myself. The accessibility of the LAMP stack made it possible for me to become a full-stack programmer.

Fast-forward a decade, I made the leap from Flash to Android/iOS apps and then found a specialization in Web APIs. I was an early developer on Facebook’s and Twitter’s platforms. The idea of exposing capabilities as building blocks excited me and I wanted to see what other industries could be transformed in this way. I have been fortunate to build platforms for Fitbit, Spotify, and now InVision.

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

I am a night owl who needs 8–9 hours of sleep. I wake up whenever I naturally do, usually sometime between 8:30–9:00. I start my day by eating breakfast, reading The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman, and journaling for 5–15 minutes.

I live in Stockholm, but most of my coworkers are in North and South America. I shift my work schedule later to have 3 hours of overlap with California. For 1–2 hours after breakfast, I do “reactive” work (Slack messages, Jira/Confluence/Github mentions) and watch recordings or read summaries of meetings I was not able to attend. Then, I workout, clean up, and eat lunch. My biggest block of working hours is from 13:00–19:00.

I typically have 2–3 hours of focused work time and 3–4 hours of meetings every day, as is typical of a manager’s schedule. Overlap hours are precious and synchronous meetings need to be justified. The meetings in my day are with the team I manage, one-on-ones, department leadership discussions, scrum-of-scrums for ongoing projects, and hiring interviews.

The team I manage only has one or two required meetings every day depending on the day: our daily standup, sprint planning, sprint demo, epic review, and retrospective. We don’t really need the daily standup, but it’s an opportunity to connect with each other personally.

Our asynchronous collaboration is so effective that it might be the only video chat someone has with a coworker in a day. There is something special about face time and I want to make sure people feel that connection at least once in a workday.

Asynchronous work means spending much time reading and writing. Project plans, status updates, scrum epics and user stories, pull request reviews, and even many decisions using the DACI framework are well-served by asynchronous processes.

At InVision, Confluence is our source of truth for most knowledge, Jira is the source of truth for work definition and status, InVision Cloud is our source of truth for design, and GitHub is our source of truth for code. I spend most of my non-meeting time in these apps.

I try to spend 30 minutes every afternoon learning. This is my first role as a line manager and I spent much of this time in the last 2 years studying management. I recently started managing a team responsible for InVision’s Web service infrastructure. Much of my learning time recently has been studying Kubenetes, Amazon Web Services primitives, and dev-ops-related subjects.

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

InVision has an entirely remote workforce of around 800 people. The team I manage spans 5 countries and 3 US states. We literally have no offices.

Before COVID-19, my husband had to travel often for work. When he needed to travel to a city of interest to me, I would buy a plane ticket and join him. We picked hotels with well-reviewed Wi-Fi and desks so I could work comfortably.

By optimizing for asynchronous work, I have never felt the urge to micromanage as a manager. Our collaboration processes and tools enable observability of progress for me and stakeholders. As long as people on my team attend the one or two team meetings a day we have and get their work done, I don’t care when they work.

I appreciate that people can optimize their schedules around their families. Some people start their day early so they can stop working as soon as their kids get home from school. Others start their day later. Some split their work day into two parts.

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

Work–life balance to me means having emotional energy and mental capacity at the end of the day to be fully present with the people I love and to be able to do something I care about for reasons other than my livelihood.

I am fortunate to have had a career journey that aligned what the world needs, what I can get paid for, and what I am good at. The fourth part of ikigai, what I love, is a more elusive intersection professionally.

I wish I could earn a living just making Fitbit watchfaces, Firefox extensions, and my zine, but I like nice things and traveling, so I am content with hobbies satisfying that role. Life is good.

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?

  • Practice gratitude every day throughout the day.
  • Assume the best intentions of others. Choose to not be offended.
  • Separate the delivery of a message from its content when listening.
  • Assume the person reading what you wrote hates your guts. Write with humility for them.
  • It’s ok if people like something you don’t. Not everything has to be for you.
  • Transform criticism into curiosity. “That’s bad and suboptimal!” → “I wonder why they do it that way.”
  • Hesitate to share your opinion unless solicited.
  • If there are 4 people in a group discussion, aim to be ¼ of the talking, no more or less.

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

So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport introduced me to the concept of “career capital” and has heavily influenced my career strategy.

Willpower Doesn’t Work by Benjamin Hardy taught me how to use forcing functions in my life so my default behaviors are what I want them to be.

Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz is the book that introduced pioneering research about self-image in the 1960s. I have found the techniques for improving and managing self-image immensely helpful and timeless.

I subscribe to a lot of email newsletters I never read, but aspire to have read. I don’t listen to podcasts regularly because most have low information density and I don’t commute.

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

I outline my next work day before going to bed each night. Giving myself a schedule forces me to prioritize what will fit into the day.

I try to be ruthless in prioritization and realistic about how long it will take me to do something. This forces me to delegate or set expectations when something will take longer due to being lower priority.

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

Dustin Senos.

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

People privileged to make a living creating technology should consider who they are empowering. Several major technology companies have business models that require undermining people’s privacy, exploiting low-wage workers, or profiting from war.

If you can design and code, you can find employment designing and coding for companies with higher ethical standards. Your work should not imbalance other people’s lives.

Before you go…

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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.