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Interviews / Software Engineers & Developers

Balancing the Grind with Chris Kendall, Manager, Solutions Engineering at Twilio

Chris Kendall is the Manager, Solutions Engineering at Twilio, a cloud communications platform headquartered in San Francisco, with over 5,000 employees in 26 offices around the world.

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

I’ve been at Twilio for almost four years and I head up the Solutions Engineering team for Twilio in Australia and New Zealand.

I’ve been in the telecommunications and customer experience industry for over 15 years, as a software engineer, team lead and a presales professional. Prior to joining Twilio, I worked in professional services, helping customers deploy technology on-premises that they can now consume out of the cloud using APIs.

Which leads me to why I joined Twilio. It was clear to me that there was a transition taking place in the Unified Communications & Customer Experience industries, where customers wouldn’t want to deal with the complexity of owning the physical infrastructure and managing carrier relationships. Twilio was created so that developers could build the future of communications using software and web technologies so it was a natural fit for me.

Of all the roles I’ve done, Solutions Engineering is the perfect balance of technical “on the tools” work and staying close to customers so that you can see the relevance of your work and get the satisfaction of solving real world challenges. I now have the privilege of running such a team and my goal is to inspire and show up with that feeling of what we do matters every day.

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

My day starts reasonably early with a young family and I try to take advantage of the working hours overlap with our head office in San Francisco where Twilio was founded.

Nothing too unusual but I make sure I get my morning coffee early prior to helping get my son off to preschool. Now that we are all working from home (especially in a COVID lockdown), I like to ensure I get a walk or a jog in as well so that I’m not only caffeinated but I feel activated and energised to start the day, especially if the morning involves a couple of video calls.

Typically what follows is either a check-in with my team or a one-on-one catch-up. By mid-morning, I’m either meeting a customer, helping plan a customer demo, a marketing webinar or a hackathon, while working through slack and email messages.

Afternoons I’m quite often in interviews, meeting with a candidate to help grow the team here in Australia and catching up with local or regional (APAC) leadership on the business, sales programs and marketing events.

If time permits, I like to spend an hour in the afternoon on technical education or self-development, usually coding up new demos or wrapping my head around some technologies I want to get more proficient with.

My day might end with meeting product managers to work through customer feedback or an informal catch up with colleagues to blow off steam or just recap the day.

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

Yes, at Twilio we have a supportive policy and organisational culture around flexible and remote working.

In the current environment all employees have the option to work 100% remote, and when offices have been open, we have the option to be “office flex” which means we get to decide our own schedule for when we would like to work in the local office and when we’d like to work from home. 

I expect that many employees will stay remote or continue to leverage this flexibility once the pandemic subsides and I also see that a lot of the hiring we are doing globally is permanent full-time remote. If there is a silver lining to the pandemic, it is that the attitudes towards flex and remote working in most companies have fundamentally changed for the better.

For me personally, having the option for flexible hours in the office means I can be more present for my family at the start and end of the day, spend less time during the week commuting, while ensuring that I’m well connected with our teams and customers as much as travel restrictions allow.

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

Working in sales or pre-sales comes with times of high intensity and travel (when health conditions permit) to meet with customers and tackle challenging timelines.

In between those periods of intense activity I feel that it is important to take time for yourself and to look after your family.It becomes important to develop a healthy routine that is focused on reaching outcomes for yourself and the company you work for.

Being in a technical role, I do think that a very important aspect of work-life balance is investing in your own skills, ensuring that your technical knowledge stays relevant. One of the best ways to force this is through a side-project. Every engineer should have at least one side-project.

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

During COVID lockdowns I found myself cooking at home a lot more. I find it very therapeutic and a good way to transition out of the work day, shift my focus on my family and away from work.

I’ve had to consciously make more time during the week to exercise, because working from home can be a lot more sedentary than when one is commuting or travelling around to visit customers.

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

Triple J: Hack to catch up on current affairs.

I love listening to podcast interviews, especially with tech founders, so I naturally gravitated towards How I Built This with Guy Raz by NPR. I did find a local Aussie version of that one day when scrubbing through in-flight radio channels. It’s called Talking Business with Alan Kohler, which sadly hasn’t been updated since the pandemic hit last year.

I also have a regular rotation: The Cloudcast and various sales engineering podcasts.

Books wise: 

I really enjoyed reading The Phoenix Project by Gene Kim. The Mythical Man-Month is another great read for software developers.

I also enjoyed reading Jeff Lawson’s seminal work: Ask Your Developer. It encapsulates the mission of Twilio so well – explaining in a very approachable way why the pivot to software driven outcomes is so powerful, and how every organisation can unlock that capability.

I’m also a bit of a sci-fi/fantasy nerd, so it’s not uncommon for me to have something like Snowcrash, Brave New World, or 1984 on my nightstand and I’m currently working my way through The Witcher series.

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

I’m heavily invested in the Apple ecosystem, so in the interest of simplicity I try to build the majority of my work practices around the default tools such as notes, reminders, and icloud. My Apple Watch is always on me and I use it to track my exercise and activity levels.

In terms of must-have apps, I find ItsyCal super helpful to keep my calendar at hand and quickly jump into a video call.

I also couldn’t function without Authy (shameless plug), everything that can have 2FA on I turn it on and it’s good to know it’s backed up.

Like most tech heads and software developers I’m often found checking HackerNews, Reddit and Hack-a-Day.  

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

Lots of CEOs/co-founders have been vocal about the changes they have been making in their workplace to adjust to COVID-19. I’m fascinated by the changes going on at Atlassian. I’d love to hear a detailed interview from Scott or Mike on their personal approach to work life balance.

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

We all have limited time on this planet and I think that with every generation that comes into the workforce it brings along opportunities to define how we spend most of our waking hours at work.

COVID-19 has brought about extraordinary changes that we are all figuring out both individually and collectively in organisations and what it means to adapt. We are almost 18 months into that adaptation and tackling more severe virus variants across the globe.

I think more than ever, people are seeking meaning in their work and their professional connections. We have found new ways of being productive without having to clock in 9-5 at an office, and trust between employer and employee is paramount.

My best advice would be to plan how you would like your life to be and make daily incremental changes to work towards this. Don’t fear change, instead embrace what it could mean to you – pick up a new skill or move to a new city.

With change brings great opportunity and I can see that every day with business owners and entrepreneurs that I interact with.  Most of all, have fun doing what you love!

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About Author

Balance The Grind gives me a platform to talk to these people about how they're achieving their ideal lifestyle. I'm inspired by the passion, the work ethic, the hustle; and these conversations motivate me to live life the way I want to live it.