Since starting at Grubhub in 2014, Maria Belousova has served as VP of engineering, SVP of technology, and now as CTO, where she oversees Grubhub's technical infrastructure and product vision. Previously she's held tech leadership positions at Microsoft and Bluefly, and she founded the social media platform Davai. She told us about growing up in a family of software engineers, and how she gets her work done without a to-do list.
Location: New York
Current Gig: CTO, Grubhub
One word that best describes how you work: Focused
Current mobile device: iPhone
Current computer: MacBook Air
First of all, tell me a little about your background and how you got to where you are today.
I grew up in a family of computer scientists in Minsk, Belarus. I used to wake up to my mum talking assembly on the phone; software engineering has been always a family craft. Still, growing up I was passionate about maths and thought that I would become a mathematician one day.
Then, at 19, I left home and came to the US as a political refugee. Away from my family, my focus shifted on supporting myself and building a career. I realised that what I knew best and what I am good at is solving problems with software. The rest is history - I've built a wide range of things, from device drivers, to distributed systems, to navigation software, search engines and beyond.
At one point in my career, when I worked at Microsoft, I became passionate about search, relevance, discovery and hyperlocal commerce. Later, I left Microsoft and started a data mining company focused on detecting commercial intent in social media.
Still, engineering was always my passion and Grubhub is perfect place for a technologist - a combination of hyperlocal commerce, logistics, and a treasure trove of data. I've been at Grubhub for almost four years now and it's incredible to look back and think about how much we've accomplished in that time.
What apps, software or tools can't you live without?
Well, Grubhub of course, but outside of that communications apps are important to me. Gmail, Slack, Bluejeans, Facetime, Whatsapp and Skype all have their place in keeping me connected with my team throughout the day, as well as with my family in Europe.
What's your workspace setup like?
I have a standing desk, like many of my team members do, in an open workspace. I like to work side-by-side with my team and make sure that I'm accessible and approachable to everyone; it really encourages openness and collaboration.
What's your best time-saving shortcut or life hack?
I don't believe in multitasking, with one exception: Working out and thinking.
I normally take an hour to work out in the morning. During that time, I get in the zone, think about what I want to accomplish for the day and revisit any open questions. By the time I am done with my workout, I have a game plan for the day.
What's your favourite to-do list manager?
None. I think to-do lists are evil. They zap mental energy and drag you down. If something is important I handle it right away or book it on my calendar or ask someone on my team to run with it. Luckily, I have an incredible team that can handle whatever comes our way.
What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else? What's your secret?
Laser-focus. I can easily develop a sense of urgency for key tasks and then block out everything else while focusing on them.
Also, as a leader, I am strongly invested in my team's success. When I see them make a breakthrough or achieve an important milestone, I feel an immense sense of pride and accomplishment and I acknowledge and congratulate those achievements. I work to make my team successful, and to help them feel supported.
What do you listen to while you work? Got a favourite playlist? Maybe talk radio? Or do you prefer silence?
I spend a lot of time in meetings, so normally I listen to people. When I do need to get in the zone, techno, trance and ambient music is the best sound to get me focused - a habit I developed in my coding days. When I am under pressure, heavy industrial rock works better than a triple-shot espresso.
What are you currently reading? Or what's something you'd recommend?
Recently I read "The One Thing". While it wasn't a major eye opener, it did a great job summarising something I've suspected for a while - focusing your energy and effort on the most important thing helps reduce noise and accomplish your goals. At Grubhub we often distil our goals down to one or two to make it absolutely clear what's important.
How do you recharge? What do you do when you want to forget about work?
I love to hike. My family and I go hiking pretty much every weekend. We either go out of town or hike through the concrete jungle of Manhattan. My seven-year-old has become a great hiker! Also, playing piano was something that I always wanted to do, so recently I started taking lessons. It's amazing how much fun it is and also a huge stress relief.
What's your favourite side project?
I love food and I want to pass this passion onto my daughter. She and I often cook together and try new dishes. On weekends we try out new restaurants and I encourage her to order something new and interesting. She has a very developed palate for a seven-year-old and makes Mummy proud.
What's your sleep routine like? Are you a night owl or early riser?
Before I was a parent, I was a huge night owl. Now that I have a child, it's lights out at 10PM and wake up at 6AM.
Fill in the blank: I'd love to see _________ answer these same questions.
What's the best advice you've ever received?
"Don't take things personally." Actually I've gotten this advice several times and it took me years to evolve. Taking personal issues out of the equation really helps to judge every situation more objectively and understand alternative points of view.
We've asked heroes, experts and flat-out productive people to share their shortcuts, workspaces and routines. Want to suggest someone we should feature or questions we should ask? Let us know.