Ellen Chisa is the Co-Founder and CEO of Dark, a programming language with a mission to democratize coding by making it 100x easier to build software.
1. To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?
I’m currently the co-founder and CEO of Dark, a programming language that makes it really easy to build backend web services with just code instead of code and an entire toolchain. You can have “hello world” in 3s and a pretty complete application in an hour.
Before this I worked primarily in consumer product: on travel, crowdfunding, and productivity software. I dropped out of Harvard Business School after the first year, and my undergrad was in Electrical & Computer Engineering from Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering.
2. What does a day in the life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?
Yes! My days are often really interesting. I try to get at least three focused blocks of time, and I also answer Slack messages & emails from our users throughout the day during downtime.
When I’m focusing:
- I talk with our team. It’s really important to be all on the same page and working together on our primary challenges.
- I write tutorials and documentation. I’m still the primary person who makes videos, tutorials, and other content that helps people to learn Dark. I also sometimes write external posts or talks that I give at conferences.
- I write code in Dark! There’s no better way to get feedback than to use your own product. I build our internal tools, and side projects. Recently I set up my journal to send me management prompts to reflect on, and created a small book club to share recommendations.
3. Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?
Yes, we moved to being entirely distributed this March. We’d already planned on doing that, and then it turned out that lots of companies did the same thing at the same time.
It works much more effectively for me than the office environment did. I’ve found that I don’t have to plan as much for the entire day in advance, which removes some logistical overhead. It also means I can cook my own food more during the day without having to pre-pack lunches or worry about reheating in an office.
It also helps that I can decide to take a break for exercise at the right moment and then jump straight back into working (whereas leaving the office, going to the gym, and getting back to the office can be a challenge).
4. What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?
For me, work-life balance is about being able to match my energy level. I want to be in flow as much as possible, and work-life balance means I’m able to do that (whether the flow is in working, reading, exercising, or something else). I also like to be able to have seamless transitions between activities.
It also means that sometimes each thing flexes. I feel like people go way too far one way or the other. A balance means sometimes you’re working on the weekend, and it also means sometimes you’re going for a long bike ride on Tuesday afternoon.
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?
It’s interesting, I’ve been in a phase of reducing my habits! I used to put a lot of emphasis on tracking and spreadsheets. I’ve reduced that, and instead I use a Whoop, which really helps me to figure out when I’m overreaching.
I also think a big emphasis for me has been in always making time to read. If I read before bed, I sleep better, and feel more relaxed and creative.
6. Are there any books that have helped you improve over the years?
Yes! Although I’d have a hard time picking just one. I think it’s more about finding books that resonate with you. I think The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership is one of the best leadership books I’ve read. I’m also a big fan of reading memoirs. I learn a lot from reading about other people.
7. What is the number one thing you do to make sure you get the most out of your day?
Sleep. It is really important to get enough sleep. I can tell a huge difference between the amount I need (somewhere between 7 and 9 hours depending on how much rest I’ve been getting, how much exercise I’ve done, and how stressed I am) and anything less than that.
I do my best to make sure I don’t need to use an alarm as often as possible, and even if I set one, as long as I go to bed early enough, I tend to wake up before it.
8. If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be?
I’m always interested in professional writers and artists! The work I do means there’s lots of incremental progress. The creativity between crafting stories and art seems like it has a completely different flow.
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