Dropbox seems so simple — drag and drop your files and they follow you wherever you go. But it's taken a dedicated team of designers and engineers to build out the deceptively effortless service, and one of those dedicated engineers is Tina Wen.
Picture: CC Stock/Shutterstock
Tina has been with the company for over two years, having seen Dropbox go from a staff of 100 to 700, and has worked on some of their essential features. In fact, she single-handedly built the infrastructure behind Dropbox's photo app, Carousel. We caught up with Tina to learn how she managers her time, her code and her marathons.
Location: San Francisco, CA Current Gig: iOS developer at Dropbox One word that best describes how you work: Power-through! Current mobile device: iPhone 5s. With a really cool case. It has bunny ears. Current computer: I typically work on a MacBook Pro, but I use a MacBook Air when I need to travel. I also always have a few Linux VMs at our datacenter and a Raspberry Pi for miscellaneous projects.
What apps/software/tools can't you live without? Why?
- Xcode with Instruments: Xcode is Apple's IDE and is familiar to anybody working on iOS development. When working with resource-intensive apps such as Dropbox or Carousel, performance can be problematic — this is where Instruments comes in. Instruments allows me to profile my code and find/fix performance bottlenecks.
- Twitter and Hacker News: Mobile development is constantly evolving, so this is how I stay connected to the latest and greatest. When I need to context switch away from coding, I read up on what other people and companies are doing.
- Dropbox: OK, I know I'm biased, but I can't live without Dropbox. At work, email attachments are a thing of the past — I take a lot of screenshots and use Dropbox to share them. At home, I never have to constantly bug friends for pictures — they are always shared on Carousel.
What's your workspace setup like?
I like to have the comforts of home when I work. I have a fuzzy desk blanket to keep me warm, and a hot cup of coffee or tea is always by my side. I use earplugs, with headphones over them playing white noise, to tune out the commotion of the office. My workstation itself consists of my MacBook Pro, a horizontal monitor for Xcode, and a vertical monitor for terminal. I'm a big fan of my Kinesis keyboard, as my wrists get sore after a long day without it.
What's your best time-saving shortcut/life hack?
I'm all about efficiency! In the morning, I put on sneakers and run to work instead of doing cardio at the gym. Kill two birds with one stone!
What's your favourite to-do list manager?
My favourite way to manage to-do lists is a technology that dates back to 1977: Post-it notes! I put them on my monitor in the morning, and I don't go home until they're all in the trash. There is no better feeling than ripping them off one by one. As the day progresses, new items come up, but I don't stop until all the notes from the morning are gone.
Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can't you live without and why?
My Fitbit. I'm competitive by nature, so I need to be at the top of my friend's leaderboard. There's nothing like cold, hard pedometer data to keep me honest when I get so focused on what I'm doing that I forget to hit the gym. You'll often find me on the elliptical trainer at 11pm frantically trying to hit my daily step goal.
What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else? What's your secret?
Running. I actually won the Pycon 5k race last year by about a minute! The only secret there is persistence — I'm a bit of a working-out-aholic. Cardio is my go-to stress reliever and keeps me healthy, so I find motivation to work out every day. Becoming faster really is just a side effect.
What do you listen to while you work?
Always the same album — Sounds of Nature White Noise for Mindfulness Meditation and Relaxation. It's just the sound of a mountain stream, and it helps me tune out distractions when I'm trying to get stuff done.
What are you currently reading?
The Swift Programming Language. Super exciting, eh? I tend to stick with technical books, especially around mobile development. If you are looking for a good one, I highly recommend Effective Object-C 2.0 by Matt Galloway.
Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?
I'm an extrovert and like to surround myself with friends. On the weekend, you'll find me cooking brunch, going on group hikes, or playing Frisbee. That said, when I'm working, I become much more introverted. I like to remove distractions as much as possible, which often means being by myself and getting away from IM, email, etc. so I can really focus on what I'm doing.
What's your sleep routine like?
I like the idea of being an early riser, but in practice it never works out all that well. My typical Monday starts at 9am, but by Friday I'm going to bed at 4am and waking up at 11am. According to my trusty Fitbit, I average 7 hours, 3 minutes of sleep.
Fill in the blank: I'd love to see _________ answer these same questions.
What's the best advice you've ever received?
When debating a topic, look past WHAT the other person's viewpoint is and into WHY they hold that viewpoint. Understanding the root of someone's beliefs is crucial to healthy discussion. This applies for everything from technical discussions at work to personal topics with family.
Is there anything else you'd like to add that might be interesting to readers/fans?
Approaching life with a sense of curiosity has helped me find what I really love most. I'm an iOS developer, but I always have at least a few side projects. One of my more recent builds was a home security system. I ordered a webcam, hooked it up to my Raspberry Pi, and wrote a simple app to tie them together. Every minute the Raspberry Pi checks both my and my boyfriend's locations using our phone GPS, and if we aren't home, it uses the webcam to snap a picture of our apartment. It is compared with the previous picture and uploaded to Dropbox if there is a significant enough difference. A simple cron job deletes old uploads to prevent the number of photos from getting unwieldy.
As a little bit of an aside, being curious is actually how I got into mobile development in the first place. I was always strong academically in maths and science, so I studied engineering in college. Computers piqued my interest more than other fields, leading me down the path of computer architecture. I tried a few internships in both software and hardware, and since software was a better fit for me I took a job working on Apple desktop software. I loved Objective-C but got increasingly excited about mobile, which is how I ended up where I am today working at Dropbox as an iOS developer. If I had to give a single piece of advice to somebody starting their education or career, it would be to follow your curiosity and take whatever opportunities you can to explore things that intrigue you!
We've asked a handful of heroes, experts and flat-out productive people to share their shortcuts, workspaces and routines. Every week we'll feature a new guest and the gadgets, apps, tips and tricks that keep them going. Want to suggest someone we should feature or questions we should ask? Let us know.