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Interviews / Product Managers

Balancing the Grind with Luke Hefson, Product Manager at GitHub

Luke Hefson is a Product Manager at GitHub, the world’s leading software development platform, working on product discovery and direction for GitHub’s flagship code review & project management tools.

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

I fell into tech via the Creative Arts. Studying Film at university and a short stint in a professional touring band led me to build websites and join startups.

Now I work at GitHub as a Product Manager where I’ve been for 8 years – helping to make our products as impactful and as inclusive as possible. It’s tons of fun!

I’ve found that my Arts background has absolutely helped me as a Product Manager at GitHub. It’s easy to get lost in the details when working on developer tools, so having that anchor in “but how does this make someone feel” is a big plus.

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

I work from home and have young children. This means I haven’t had to regularly use an alarm clock for a long time now! They wake my wife and me up at 6.30ish, and then we all slowly get ready for the day. If I’m not taking the kids to school, then I’m usually sat at the desk in my office-room by 8.30.

At one point I had kicked caffeine – but unfortunately, I fell off the wagon a couple of years back – so I’ll need a cup before I can properly function (I feel sorry for my West Coast USA-based colleagues who do lots of video calls at 9am with Europeans as I rarely have to look fresh that early!)

By 10am, I’ve hit my groove and will be working through my day’s goals/tasks.

As I start early and finish late often – I try to use lunch to take a decent chunk of time off. It’s a great opportunity to go for a run, do some gardening or even go for a surf if there are waves.

I have a hard stop at 6.30pm, but oftentimes I finish up at about 5.30pm. For the most part, I try to avoid looking at work notifications on my phone during the evening.

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

GitHub is a mostly remote company, with employees all over the world and it’s very flexible. We try to keep communications as asynchronous as possible – but some meetings are unavoidable or just easier to do “in-person”.

As I am a European working mostly with Americans, my afternoon will usually be jam-packed with video calls with the folks on US timezones. It can be tiring to cram meeting altogether like this, but I see it as a necessary evil of what is otherwise a fantastic job.

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

I think I’m a bit crap at work-life balance, to be honest, but I’ve been trying to get better at it recently. I’m not very good at switching my brain off when I’ve been thinking about hard problems – which is most of what my job entails!!

When I’m in “work mode” I find it hard to get out of it. However, when I’m in a non-work mode, I’m pretty good at shutting it out. That is why paid time off is really important to me – I take at least the standard 28 days statutory UK minimum if not more (as GitHub has ‘unlimited’ paid time off) and when I do, I let my team know that I’m going to be unresponsive.

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’m not so sure about routines. If anything I think the routines I try to establish for myself end up slipping and then I just get frustrated with myself. I prefer to have a forcing function – such as children waking me up or weather conditions!

Habits are different though – I definitely have some “codes” or “mantras” that I try to stick to through life. Some of my favourites being:

  • Accept change with open arms – I might have made the wrong choice, but I prefer to move than to stay still and stagnate.
  • The biases I have that I know I have are the tip of a goddam iceberg – so I try to challenge my own thinking at every opportunity
  • And my most important mantra: Always go wide and join the furthest-away queue of people when presented with a number of queues. Sometimes you’ll lose, but it’s better than trying to guess which queue will go quickest each time and hating yourself when that one person in front of you ends up taking half an hour.

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

Books:

I only have one workplace-style book that I truly love, which is Good Strategy/Bad Strategy by Richard P. Rumelt as it is unapologetically straight forward and uses great examples to make its point.

Generally, I’m not into ‘do this at work’ books as I often find them patronising and long-winded. If someone suggests a book I should read at work, I usually just use Blinkist to get the gist of it.

However, for a wider, world-view-style book, I could not recommend Factfullness by Hans Rosling enough. It fundamentally changed the way I look at the work to make me a much more positive person.

Podcasts:

99% Invisible and Song Exploder are the two podcasts that have never failed me.

Newsletters:

I used to subscribe to a whole host of tech news feeds, but now I just subscribe the AngelList newsletter as I find it to be really comprehensive and human.

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

I listen to music. On occasion, I’ll get caught up in tasks and forget to put anything on. Then, at the end of the day, I’ll have a sense of stress and foreboding and realise it was because I frantically worked in silence!

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

Yuval Noah Harari.

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

Tell your bosses to take more time off and most importantly – to show evidence to the team that they did so!

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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.