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Balancing the Grind with Dineth Mapa, Design Manager at Airbnb

Dineth Mapa is a Design Manager at Airbnb, where he works on designing products to help government officials and hosts continue hosting while following local regulations.

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

I am a Design Manager at Airbnb, I help manage the Design Team responsible for city and country regulations. We design and build products to help government officials and hosts continue hosting while following local regulations.

I work in a team that includes a lot of cross functional partners (which include other designers, content strategists, researchers, data scientists, product managers and engineers). I currently live in San Francisco with my wife. 

Before joining Airbnb 5 years ago, I was helping design payroll and tax products for small businesses at Xero in San Francisco and in Melbourne.

I studied Industrial Design & Mechanical Engineering at Monash University in Melbourne, in the hope of being an automotive designer, but realized very quickly that it wasn’t my passion and what I was more drawn to was solving problems through digital products.

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

There really is no ’typical work day’ at Airbnb, but generally for me, it’s a mix of helping execute on near term goals as well as planning for the future vision of what we might want to do.

The ever changing landscape of travel and needs of our customers means that there is a lot of strategic decision making and then planning roadmaps and this means that there are a lot of planning and meetings.

Since most countries have gone into lockdown due to COVID-19, we expect travel to look very different in the future. For example, we expect people to stay in destinations for longer, as working remotely becomes more of a standard way of working. 

Generally, my morning would start by catching up with my team on Slack to hear what they are focusing on that day and what they might need help with. I see my role as one of guiding, helping my team when they need support. We have really talented product people at Airbnb, so if they don’t need any support – I usually just get out of the way and let them do their thing. 

Having a leadership position means that I collaborate fairly closely with my cross functional peers to get a status check and to see if there are any changes in scope that I might need to pass on to my team.

Some projects have daily engineering standups that I would join to make sure we are building these products as they were designed. In the afternoon, we would have leadership planning sessions to review how we are tracking with our goals and what we should be working on in the future.

Once or twice a week, we would also have Design Crits to get feedback from our peers on their thoughts on how a work in progress design in working, this feedback is often invaluable to making sure we are thinking about end to end experiences and not designing and building products in a vacuum. 

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

Working for a fairly large tech company whose product is mostly an online travel platform means that I am fortunate enough to be able to work remotely.

Even in a pre COVID-19 world, we had a ’no meeting Wednesdays’ rule – where many people chose to work from home. Since the Shelter in place came into effect, it wasn’t a huge adjustment for me personally to work from home.

Technology today such as Slack, Zoom, Figma, Google Docs etc means that it’s easy to communicate and collaborate while not being under the same roof. 

While technology is helping us collaborate and communicate better, as someone who has been working remotely for the last 12 weeks, I do miss the human interactions, the watercooler conversations and just being able to walk over to someone’s desk, crack a joke and hear about their weekend. Those small moments of human interaction is hard to replicate in a remote working world.  

Another thing I think we need to acknowledge in a Post COVID-19 world is that working remotely is not the same for everybody.

For example, if you are a parent trying to work from home, you might need to look after kids etc, we have to normalize things such as needing to drop off calls, be on mute or kids randomly jumping into the call.

In my team, we have welcomed these and made it a very normal thing. Everyone is doing the best they can, let’s be empathetic towards our fellow co-workers.

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

I think the concept of work-life balance is very subjective and it can change depending on where you are in life and / or your career. Personally, working in the technology sector in San Francisco means that work / life balance is something that is a constant challenge to balance.

You have to be really on top of making sure you don’t get burnt out and make an effort to switch off and disconnect. For me (and a lot of people) the 9-5 job where you come home and switch off doesn’t really exist.

I am always available to my team when they need support and some projects have tighter deadlines which may require some late nights. You have to really like what you do to be able to do this consistently for long periods of time. 

How I balance work and life is that both my wife and I love to travel, so we plan several overseas trips a year (as well as a couple of trips back home to Melbourne to see friends and family) and we really see these trips as something to look forward to and when we travel, we try and disconnect from work as much as possible.

Overtime, we have built that trust with our managers and our teams that regardless of any trips we will take – the work will get done and no one will be left hanging.

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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?

Most jobs are a team sport. It’s very hard to achieve success by yourself. I think this is true both at work and generally in your personal life. Whatever good things I’ve had in my life is because I’ve had strong support from my wife, family and friends.

At work it’s no different. Your team and whatever organizations they are connected to is everything. You succeed together and you fail together. Ultimately the relationships you build at work is critical to the success of you, your team and your company. 

This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be best friends with everyone, but you can be honest, kind, firm, and provide support. Hopefully this will help build trust, and that will ultimately lead to better working relationships. 

I also firmly believe in giving back. In a profession such as design, there really are no clear paths to success. I love hosting people at Airbnb and taking them through my journey. I am lucky enough that at Airbnb, hosting is very much encouraged.

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to host some incredibly talented young entrepreneurs from Monash University’s Women in STEM program. The curiosity and passion from these young entrepreneurs is infectious and I actually walk away feeling more energised. 

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

I can give some recommendations – but I will warn that they are going to be very typical Silicon Valley recommendations.

Design books (for an aspiring designer, design manager or even to learn how to work with designers):

Product books:

Autobiographical books:

  • The Sixth Man – Andre Iguodala

Podcasts:

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

I want to write something revolutionary / insightful here, but the truth is, the number one thing I do to make sure I get the most of my day is get myself a half decent coffee. I’m really not a morning person, so the simple answer is coffee. 

On a more serious note, one thing that I try and make sure with my team is that we have enough solid blocks of time to actually do work with minimal distractions.

One way to do this is to make sure everyone has meetings in the morning and time blocked off to actually do work in the afternoon. If any random meetings do pop up, I would usually:

  1. See if we actually need a meeting
  2. Ask if we need everyone in the guest list to be present, or can some key people be there and make a decision and cascade to everyone else via an email

In a company like Airbnb, things are moving so quickly, and there are a lot of different types of comms that can be distracting if you let it be. To get the most out of your day, you really have to be conscious about protecting you and your team’s time. 

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

I would love to read about Elon Musk’s work life balance while revolutionizing the energy, space and transport industries. 

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

We spend a lot of time working with others. Regardless of how crazy work may get, I always do my best to treat people with kindness and respect.

Sometimes you might be working on something and you or others may make you feel like this is the most important thing, but what I have found is that, what’s actually important is the relationships you build and the impact you have on others. 

On average, most of us will change careers 5-7 times in a lifetime, and whatever we thought was important at the time will be long forgotten – the only thing we take with us is the fun times we had and how you made others feel.

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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.