Miriam Daniel is one of the creative minds behind Amazon’s Echo (the voice-controlled speaker) and Alexa (the digital assistant), innovations that have changed the way we interact with the world around us. With a background in computer engineering, she has worked for Amazon, Intel and more, delivering new products and experiences that surprise and delight consumers.
As a product manager, her strong belief is that we invent to simplify or change human lives.
Name: Miriam Daniel
Location: Cupertino, California
Job: Vice President of Amazon’s Echo & Alexa devices
Family: My husband, Arul; daughter Andrea, who is 19 years old; son Ashton who is 17 years old; and Caesar, our Bichon Frise.
Tell us a little bit about your family and your career. Did life happen mostly as planned or were there surprises?
Life never goes as planned, as many other parents would agree. During my first interview with Intel, my three-month-old daughter was sitting in my lap and got sick — I had to call the interviewer back! If that’s not a working parent, I don’t know what is. Nevertheless, I still got the job and spent 14 years at Intel before joining Amazon four and a half years ago.
With two teenagers, we’re a typical busy family. We don’t have the luxury of planning far in advance, so there are always surprises. At best, we focus on the week ahead as we juggle business trips, taking kids to fencing competitions, drop-offs, pick-ups, and everything in between.
In the midst of all of that, we have created our own little family traditions with our circle of friends in the Bay Area, grandparents in India, and fencing families and friends. No matter where we are, we always make time for birthdays, holidays, Indian festivals, the yearly camping trip, summer barbecues, visits to the beach and weddings in India.
As I look back over the years, what’s most surprising to me is that in spite of their crazy busy parents, our kids have turned out to be grounded, sensible and fun-loving. They have learned to laugh when we have made our worst parenting mistakes — I have forgotten to pick up the kids from school and certainly didn’t have a hot meal on the table every night.
They tell stories to their friends about how I stuffed them with vending machine food and took them to a meeting with Intel executives, or about the time my husband was stuck in an elevator for hours during a fencing competition. The kids have learned to take these things in stride and make the most out of every situation — in fact, when Mum and Dad start to stress, they’re now the ones telling us not to worry! It’s incredibly gratifying to know that we’ve raised kids who are self-sufficient and that they will survive without us.
What’s your favourite part of the day?
These days the favourite part of my day is when I get to pick my son up after fencing practice, usually around 9:30 p.m. I travel to Seattle almost every week, so I only get to do this twice a week or so. It’s the only time of the day when we are not rushing some place and we get to talk about anything and everything.
Sometimes we just listen to his favourite music and I will start dancing at stop lights. Sometimes, when he isn’t rolling his eyes at me, he starts dancing with me and we both have a good laugh.
Has being a parent changed the way you work?
Definitely. In the early years as I was building my career, I would structure my time almost to a T. I’d work from 8 AM — 6 PM, be with the kids from 6-9 PM. to help with homework, shuttle them to activities or put them to bed, and then get back to my laptop to work until midnight.
These days my kids are older so they do not need me to help with their homework or tuck them into bed, but I still try to maximise my time at home. I want to spend as much time with them as possible before they go off to college or, in the case of my daughter, go back to school after a break.
It’s important for parents to remember that it’s OK for there to be a little give and take with their children. There have been times where I’ve certainly had to ask my children to compromise—a late pick-up at school, pizza for dinner, etc., but there have also been times where I’ve dropped work and gone because my children needed me.
Since my son was nine, my husband and I have had to juggle work and travelling with our son to national and international fencing competitions. Earlier this year, he was travelling alone a lot and getting sick. I called my boss and told her that I had to go with him. I knew I’d regret it for the rest of my life if I didn’t. She said one word: “Go”.
I spent five straight weeks on the road taking meetings from airports, hotels and sports centres in Bratislava, Budapest, Rome, etc., while also cheering him on at the fencing strip. During that time, I often told myself that if he can handle school, strenuous travel, jet lag, and the pressure of competing, then I could handle work and being there for him during his competitions.
What’s your favourite technique for staying in the moment when things start to feel overwhelming?
I start cleaning. It’s a de-stressor for me, and my family knows to leave me alone when I start taking out the cleaning supplies. Lately, I started Barre3 classes, which gives me a few hours every week to be mindful and in the moment. Safe to safe, my family wishes I had discovered Barre earlier.
What are the gadgets, apps, charts or tools you rely on?
We have a family calendar where all of us log our appointments—travel schedules, competitive schedules, flight schedules and doctor appointments. We have Echo Show devices throughout our house, so these appointments show up in all our rooms and they’re tough to miss. We also rely on Life360 a lot.
Whenever my son travels by himself or when my daughter did her study abroad semester in Spain, Life360 kept us sane. As long as we know where they are, we don’t have to worry too much.
What does your evening routine look like?
We do not have much of a routine because we all get home at different times. When we are all home together, we have dinner and watch Seinfeld, Friends or Psych. It gets us all laughing.
The one thing I would tell other parents who are juggling a career:
Don’t try to do it all by yourself—build a village. Our saving grace was our neighbour, Mr. George. I was once desperate because our plans for evening pick-up fell through. I ran over to Mr. George and asked him if he could help me out and he graciously agreed.
Nine years later, he is still helping us. The kids love him and without his presence in our lives, we would not have survived parenting and demanding careers.