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Interview with Ev Haus, Head of Engineering at ZenHub

1. What’s your background and how did you choose your career path?

I was always surrounded by computer engineers growing up. My father, a software engineer, taught my older brother how to do basic programming, and my brother, in turn, taught me how to build websites with HTML and JavaScript. I’ve been building websites and doing graphic design as a hobby ever since I was 9 years old. When it came time for me to go to college, I wanted to be a bit of a rebel, so instead of pursuing computer science like the rest of the men in my family, I decided to go into arts to pursue my other passion.

After getting my degree in computer animation from Emily Carr University, I immediately jumped into a job as a 3D animator at a visual effects company. It was a dream come true at the time, but a few months in – I realized I’ve made a terrible mistake. Animation turned out to be incredibly tedious work, with very long hours and crazy deadlines. Even though I got my name into the credits of some amazing movies like Spider-Man, Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia – I was exhausted, frustrated and unhappy. Luckily, the company I was working at had a technology team that was building tools and automation for the artists, and I asked if I could transfer to that team. They were surprised to see an artist attempt to write code, but decided to give me a shot.

Coding always came naturally to me, so I was able to make an impact on that team very quickly. In just a year or so, I ended up creating a task & asset management product there that allowed artists to collaborate together in real-time on the visual effects work they were doing. This product spawned its own division and eventually, the entire company pivoted into SaaS software, selling off the all prior visual effects assets. I continued to work on other software projects and products there for nearly 10 years, all the while, contributing to open source projects building websites for friends, and doing other contract work on the side in my spare time. In July of this year, I joined ZenHub and I’m really excited about working with the team on this amazing product.

In the end, it seems I wasn’t able to escape my family’s destiny. We all ended up in the software industry.

2. What are the biggest challenges you face?

The biggest challenge for me is probably the same challenge most other tech leaders face – it’s finding the right balance between quality, efficiency, and team satisfaction. In order to have a sustainable business, you not only need to build a high-quality product, but you need to get it to market quickly and without compromising on the quality of life for your team. Your product is only as good as the well-being of the people working on it, so for me, I spend a lot of time trying to identify all the small pain points that make my team inefficient, frustrated, or generally unhappy. When the team comes into work every morning excited to build the next great feature – everything else falls naturally into place. My challenge is to make sure every day feels like that for every single person.

3. What’s your workday like? Can you tell us about any life hacks you use to manage your time?

My day is an onslaught of meetings, emails, Slack conversations, code reviews, technical design reviews, strategy planning, roadmapping, troubleshooting technical issues, and client support. On good days, if I planned things well, I might have time to contribute to some code. That’s always a treat for me.

Generally, I manage my time by ruthlessly writing down every single task I need to do. There is no way I can hold all my commitments in my head, so if I don’t write them down – I will almost certainly forget about it. In the morning, I review my calendar which has all my appointments and tasks in one place, and I try to determine what I can get done, starting with the highest priority items. If something doesn’t fit, it gets pushed to the next day. I also try to leave some time aside for unexpected things that might come up throughout the day. I’ve gotten pretty good at estimating how long things take. That’s probably one of the most important skills you can have in my job. Once you can reliably predict how long something will take and prioritize it, then it’s just about actually rolling up your sleeves and getting work done.

4. What’s a personal habit that contributes to your success?

One of the things I try very hard to do is to be easy to reach. You can find me on most social networks, and I will do my best to respond to you within the day if you email or message me. For people who work closely with me, I will usually respond within minutes. Being always available is a lot of work on my part, and I think my wife is not too thrilled about it, but I found that it provides a great level of accessibility for my team and other colleagues.

If anyone has a question, or idea, or needs to get something off their chest, they can always rely on me being available. Having this level of approachability has helped me establish really great communication channels with all the people I work with.

5. Share an internet resource or tool that you can’t live without

I don’t know what I would do without Google Tasks. Every single thing I’m going to do on any given day ends up as a task that appears in my Google Calendar. I even use it to remind me when I brought lunch to work with me because in the shuffle of the day I will inevitably forget and end up going out to get food.

I tried a bunch of other task management tools before and nothing worked quite as well. For me, the most important feature was having your tasks right there in your calendar. If I can’t assign it to a specific time, or see it along-side my other appointments – I will forget about it, or ignore it. I just wish Google would finally decide between Tasks and Reminders. I don’t get why they have two identical products.

6. If you could recommend one book to someone working at startups, what would it be and why?

I read Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer not too long ago, and I found that to be quite inspirational. It’s a story of a regular journalist who goes on a quest to train his memory and ends up competing in memory competitions at an international level. It really just goes to show that if you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything with hard work and dedication.

In all honesty though, I get most of my knowledge about working at startups by having conversations with people who’ve gone through it. Meetups, online forums, blogs and even Twitter (to some extent) are amazing avenues for that. I gain a lot of my perspective on the tech scene by following my idols closely via online networks.

7. What excites you the most about working at ZenHub?

I’m most excited about the fact that ZenHub is primarily a tool for developers. As a developer at heart, and a regular open-source contributor, I spend a lot of time in GitHub. It’s a great ecosystem, but when software teams need to collaborate on bigger projects, managing tasks, sprints and milestones become quite challenging. Historically, most teams would reach for another stand alone task management solution such as JIRA or Asana, which break your workflow or require complex integrations with GitHub. The fact that ZenHub allows teams to work entirely within the GitHub ecosystem, in a highly efficient manner is very empowering. I wish I had heard about ZenHub several years ago. I would have been an early customer for sure. Now I get to use ZenHub to build ZenHub!

8. Where can we go to learn more about you?

You can find me as EvHaus in most places.

But I prefer an in-person conversation over some coffee.

Photo credit: @Summer-Lee Schoenfeld

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