Mark Wilson is the Head of Product at Search.io, a company that offers a search and discovery platform powered by Neuralsearch™, the world’s first instant AI search technology.
1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?
My career has been an interesting journey – from music, to game development, esports, e-commerce and machine learning.
I studied music at the Queensland Conservatorium, with a practical major in Jazz Saxophone. After graduating, I landed my first job, as a Game Designer at Team Bondi, where I worked on L.A. Noire (Rockstar Games).
After that game was released, I relocated to Canada for a job at BioWare Edmonton (Electronic Arts) as the Lead Technical Designer on Dragon Age: Inquisition, which went on to win Game of the Year 2014.
In 2015, my wife and I moved back to Australia, where I accepted a role in Esports at Riot Games, setting up the league infrastructure for Oceanic League of Legends. My next career change was in 2018, as a Product Lead Rokt (an Australian martech startup), where I helped them to grow from Series B to a multi-billion dollar valuation in 2021.
Currently, I am the Head of Product at Search.io, an Australian tech startup, working with an incredibly talented and experienced team to build a proprietary AI search engine, and enable every organisation to create smart search experiences.
2) What does a day in your life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?
Every day has its own surprises!
One recent, fairly typical workday started when my children (5, and 1) woke me up. After breakfast and readying the kids for their day, my wife – also a Head of Product, at a Sydney-based startup – dropped them to school and daycare.
My workday started with reading emails and Slack while my coffee brewed. We don’t have daily standups at Search.io, but we do have a distributed team, with a lot of great async communication.
My morning was free of meetings, so I enabled my laptop’s Focus mode and dug into my tasks. As I’m sure many folks can relate to, there’s always more to do than time in the day; something I’ve been using for the last year which has helped immensely is the LNO Effectiveness Framework.
I cooked myself some lunch, and sat outside on our patio. The fresh air, accompanied by birdsong from nearby parkland, is a great way to reset and refresh.
After lunch, I had a few calls with customers, aiming to learn more about their ongoing needs, as well as solicit early feedback and input on a planned feature.
At around 2:45pm, I walked up to school to collect my daughter. We arrived home just in time for the team showcase (and my daughter sat in on the video call, to say hi to my workmates).
I set a hard stop for 5pm, for a few ‘protected’ hours with the kids. I collect my son from daycare, before we kick off the dinner, bath, book, and bedtime routine, which wraps up around 7:30pm.
Sometimes, I’ll log back in afterwards to wrap up some work, or prepare for the next day; it’s not an uncommon sight for my wife and I to both be on our laptops with the TV on in the background!
3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?
My current role is 100% remote-first – until a few weeks ago, I hadn’t met any of my workmates in-person! It has its ups and downs, compared to an onsite role, but it’s my preferred way of working.
The company is also very flexible, encouraging everyone to put ‘you first’, with a focus on outcomes not hours. A lot of the team are parents, so it’s completely understood and accepted when people are ‘out of office’ for school events, or kids pop up on a Zoom call. It makes a world of difference when working with people who understand the value of flexibility.
4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?
My view on ‘work-life balance’ has changed dramatically – a few times – in the past 15 years. For example, I took a career break when both of my children were babies, to be a ‘play-at-home’ dad. This would have been absolutely unthinkable to me even 5 years prior, but I consider it some of the best and most important work that I’ve done.
Now, working full-time as a Head of Product, with two young kids, what ‘work-life balance’ means to me is to not compromise one for the other; I strive to give my complete and best self to whatever it is that I’m focused on at any time.
The biggest factor for me in achieving this has been who I work with. I was recently flattened by Covid, and the pressure from work was for me to get off Slack and focus on my recovery. It’s much easier to not compromise on ‘life’ for ‘work’ when your colleagues act like that!
5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?
About 12 months ago, we left Sydney and moved to Toowoomba! Since then, I’ve spent time as primary carer for my children, and subsequently started a new job entirely remotely – most of my routines and habits have changed.
The most notable routine changes relate to work/life balance; I’ve already mentioned the ‘hard stop’ from work at around 5pm, but I also removed all work apps from my phone. This was a huge change, from ‘always-on’, to instead being more productive and focused when working and more rested when I’m not.
Working remotely allowed me to reclaim over an hour a day without a commute, which I either put towards time with family, going for a swim or walk, or recreational time to myself in the evenings.
A small routine change with surprising benefits was to consistently read before sleep every night. Not only has it meant that I’m reading much more, but it’s been a great way to clear my mind of whatever else might be going on, and I’ve noticed better quality sleep.
6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?
I don’t listen to podcasts! There seems to be an almost-cult-like following of various podcasts – particularly in the Product community – but I really struggle with them.
Instead, I prefer to read a fairly wide range of sources, from books to newsletters to Twitter, etc.
For books, my lifetime of reading skews very heavily towards fiction, but last year I intentionally alternated between fiction and non-fiction. Range (David Epstein) was the best non-fiction book I’ve read in a while. It explores ‘why generalists triumph in a specialised world’, which really resonated with me, and the T-shaped skill set I’ve built throughout my professional journey.
7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?
I don’t know what I’d do without music streaming, and my bluetooth earphones. I signed up to Spotify 15 years ago (with the help of a relative in the UK, before it had launched in Australia). I’d be interested in seeing whatever usage analytics they have on me, as I’m sure I’ve racked up tens of thousands of listening hours by now.
8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?
Lucas Pope (@dukope). He’s an American game developer, who left a renowned studio and moved to Japan to make experimental, independent games with his wife. He now lives in Saitama, Japan, with his wife and two kids, and emerges every few years to reveal an ultimately-incredible video game. He’s charted a very different path to most, and I think it’d be interesting to hear his perspective.
9) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?
A lot of jobs will allow you to give as much of yourself as you’re willing to; make sure you understand the tradeoffs you’re making. I’m exceptionally proud of the games I worked on, but I did not consider the toll taken on my body from 9 years of AAA game development.
Don’t lock yourself into long-term career plans; closing yourself off to the many interesting possibilities you may not have considered is doing yourself a disservice.
My career path may look nonsensical from the outside, but I’ve been ‘flirting with my possible selves’ (as Range frames it); most of the work I’ve done was not even an option when I was at school, and optimising for my near-term learning and interests has led me on an incredibly rewarding journey.
Surround yourself with people who bring out the best in you. This extends to all parts of your life; friends, family, work, anyone. I am forever grateful to those people from my past who have marked my life and influenced who I am today, and optimistic that the people I choose to be around today will do the same for my future.
Before you go…
Check out more daily routines from Barack Obama, Arianna Huffington, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Michelle Obama, Sheryl Sandberg, Richard Branson, Warren Buffet and plenty others.