Interviews / Software Engineers & Developers

Balancing the Grind with Tyler Walker, Software Engineer II at Microsoft

Tyler Walker is a Software Engineer II at Microsoft, working on the Integrations Platform Engineering team in Enterprise Connectivity.

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

I am currently working at Microsoft as a Software Engineer in Core Services Engineering and Operations. My team builds web applications on top of the company’s network automation fabric to make self-service experiences for our network engineers and end-users.

I interned with Goldman Sachs in the summers of 2015 and 2016; then graduated from Washington State University in 2017. Shortly after graduating, I joined SAP Concur as a software engineer working on the platform’s administrative functionality.

Most of my work now is building web applications and working with our partners to determine the requirements for new automation and user interaction scenarios.

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

If my day is filled with meetings, I generally head into the office to take them in person. If it’s not, I’ll usually work from home. I’ve struggled with ADHD since childhood, and for me to really get into the groove of coding requires a lot of ramp up time and can’t be interrupted. So, if I’ve got a day full of meetings, it’s highly unlikely I’ll get any code written that day.

Microsoft asked us to start working from home in early March, so my entire organization has been fully remote since them. So now I generally wake up between 9:00 and 10:00, drink my coffee and eat my oatmeal. My first recurring meeting starts at 11:00 and that’s been the official start of my day.

Since I’m more productive without interruptions, I’ve found myself taking the day for walking my dog Rainier and chatting with friends and then getting my work done in the evening when I can just power through things on my own. I’ve noticed some of my coworkers adopting similar habits, but I work really hard to make sure that my flexible work hours isn’t putting pressure on anyone else to do the same.

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

I’ve always kept a flexible remote work schedule. When I worked at SAP Concur remote work was built into the culture of the company. One day I was scheduled to give a presentation to another team, and I ended up walking into an empty conference room.

Everyone was on the video conference. At the peak, I worked about 2-3 days from home sometimes going as long as a week without coming into the office. Some coworkers had inverted schedules from me so we’d go a month or two without actually seeing each other in person.

After joining Microsoft, I scaled back my remote work significantly. Most people worked remotely when they had a reason (appointments, kids, etc.) whereas I wanted to a more fixed remote schedule because I had a longer commute and a dog to take care of.

I started working from home once a week, and then scaled it up to twice a week when I could. The culture of remote work in my organization was mostly self-regulated, and most folks in my team worked from the office most days.

When I was commuting back and forth I generally either showed up really early (around 7:00) or really late (around 10:45) to dodge traffic. Regardless of what time I showed up, I always tried to leave between 2:00 and 3:00 for the same reason. If I worked a short day in office, I always made that time up (and then some) later. This was mostly self-imposed to stay on top of my work.

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

Simply put: my life does not revolve around my work. I am very lucky to have such a flexible role that doesn’t require consistent work hours or constant check-ins.

In an agile environment, you sign up for a chunk of work at the beginning of the sprint and as long as it’s accomplished by the end of your sprint and you’re not blocking your peers, it’s all good.

When I have a family event or a friend needs a ride to the airport, I do a quick check of my schedule and make sure I’m not missing anything big and just go for it. There’s no stigma around not being available here or there if you’re making it known to the team and not causing disruptions.

I can’t think of a single time I’ve dodged a social event (that I wanted to attend) simply because work was getting in my way. I can very easily move my schedule around to make things work. This flexibility makes it a lot easier for me to stave off any burnout and prioritize myself or my family when I need to.

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?

I wish I could say that I go to bed early and wake up early to make the most of the day, but it’s simply not true. My sleep schedule (especially during this mandated work from home time) is very: stay up late, wake up late. I don’t ever enjoy waking up super early, it’s just not who I am.

On the other hand, I think a lot about communication and what signals I’m sending to my team. The work style I’ve described sounds kind of erratic, but it’s my job to insulate my team from that. I’m consistently very easy to get ahold of regardless of whether I’m sitting at my computer.

I’ve worked with folks like that in the past and it becomes very difficult to communicate with someone when their responses become unpredictable.

Another routine I’ve tried to get into is making sure that I have food ready when I want it by preparing it ahead of time. Most nights I will put some oats and chia seeds in a container and soak them in milk overnight so I can put fresh fruit on them in the morning.

The lack of having a prepared meal makes it that much more likely that I run out for McDonald’s or a doughnut. When my meals are ready for me to eat, it becomes easier to make a habit of healthier choices.

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

I usually listen to audiobooks while driving or walking my dog. Here’s a list of books I’ve recently finished that I really enjoyed:

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

Getting at least an hour of outside time whether it’s on a walk, at the dog park or just driving around new parts of Seattle.

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

Satya Nadella.

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

The notion of balancing work and life makes it seem like you should try to find a constant 50/50 ”balance” between the two and the way we usually talk about can stigmatizes prioritizing your work.

I love what I do, and my job is a big part of my identity. I couldn’t simply draw the 50/50 line because sometimes my job demands more of me, and sometimes it’s my life.

The “balance” comes from my ability to stay in control of that. If I lost control of that to the extent that I had to miss family vacations or time with friends, I’d be miserable.

There’s a constant ebb and flow to “balancing” work and life and a large part of that is being able to have the autonomy to control that balance 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.