Interview with Robert Nelson, Co-founder
As part of a local tech website's "How I Work" series, Foundry co-founder Robert Nelson discussed his daily routine, tools/software he relies on (looking at you, Slack), the best advice he's ever received, and more. Somehow his trusty hoodie didn't get a shoutout.
Foundry is a Minneapolis-based design & development firm formed in 2015 with 10 employees today. At the helm as Principal of Technology is Robert Nelson, who co-founded the company and continues to run it.
We spoke with Robert to learn about his work habits and the the way he does it on a typical day — inside and outside the office.
What one word best describes how you work?
What is your current device/hardware/office setup?
I have a 15 inch macbook pro, a good set of headphones, a backpack, and that’s it. I used to live behind multiple monitors and a fancy keyboard, but I gave that all up a few years ago. Mobility has become important to me.
What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?
I mainly use Eclipse and Sublime for coding. I use Workflowy for keeping notes, and Omnifocus for organizing my tasks. And, as seems to be common now, my entire life revolves around Slack.
What’s your sleep schedule like in terms of hours/wake-up and what’s the morning routine?
I’ve never been a particularly big sleeper. I used to average five or six hours a night. But lately I’ve been sleeping in, sometimes until 7:30am, which is very late for me. I must be getting old.
I don’t operate without coffee, so that’s always my number one priority. I check email and Slack while coffee is brewing. I also have this old habit of checking up on client’s systems in the morning. I know we have monitoring software and all that, but I still do it anyway. I’m a sucker for morning local news, so I generally don’t leave for work until that’s over.
Is there a method to how you schedule your days?
I guess my only “method” is to be a pushover. People fill up my schedule without asking me. I never block off time. Any “real work” I do happens between meetings.
Every morning I start a new paper TO DO list, copying over unfinished tasks from the previous day. My goal is always to get through it, which has only happened a few times. When I get back from a meeting and I have a half hour until the next one, I look through the list and find a half-hour task. I’ve never filled up more than a half-sheet of paper. It all gets done, maybe not as quickly as my co-workers would like.
How much time do you spend in vs. out of the office?
I believe very strongly that working with people in person is the most effective way to get stuff done. So, I’m always in the office, or at a client’s office. I never work from home during business hours. After hours, I’ll work on my couch.
What’s your best time-saving shortcut/life hack?
Call people. Yeah, I know it’s old fashioned. But one phone call can save a dozen emails.
What is that one thing you have to do, no matter what, every day?
I’m very particular and regimented about the little things. Routine keeps me organized. It makes it easier to manage the big stuff that I have little control over.
What is your preferred form of communication and why?
In order: Slack, phone, email, text.
On average, how many hours a day do you spend in meetings?
I probably average three to four hours a day.
When, where and what do you typically eat for lunch?
I generally go find something downtown every day. I’ve been trying to bring in lunch, but it depends a lot on how organized I’m feeling I don’t like eating lunch in front of my computer. We all work really hard. Taking an hour off mid-day to eat and chat and laugh is pretty important to me.
How many hour a week and do you work in the evenings and/or weekends?
There’s never a week where I don’t work after hours. I answer Slacks, emails, and calls pretty much anytime I’m awake. But, as for real work, I only do long hours if projects call for it. When we first started Foundry and I was the only developer, it happened a lot. 60 hour weeks weren’t rare. As we’ve grown and the workload is spread out a bit more, it’s no longer very common.
What is the best advice you ever received, accepted, and applied?
Not only did I apply this advice, it’s practically the core principle of my life: keep it simple. As a young software developer, the really good geeks that I learned from beat it into me. Over engineering was the worst sin you could commit. It’s the way I code. And I’ve been able to apply the same principle to nearly everything. Do you understand that legal doc? If not, it’s too complicated. Investments? If you can’t explain it to me in a few sentences I’ll pass. Unfortunately, I can’t avoid all complexity, but I try very hard.
Year-round mountain biking on metro-area singletrack trails!
Luminary Loppet at Theodore Wirth Regional Park. An annual event as part of The Great Northern Festival, it’s a fairly magical celebration and a great way to interact with the great outdoors during winter.
Winter walks in Chicago
One of the best parts of moving to a new city is exploring it by foot. This is the Riverwalk in Chicago.
We had no idea how to ice fish, but you only turn five once so we bundled up and had an adventure.
Ice fishing on Lake of the Woods
Our shanty was at this spot on the lake. It took us 30 minutes to drive out to it. And we almost didn’t make it because our guide was the polar vortex equivalent of a Mad Max character and he insisted driving 60 MPH. We were riding in a Prius so it was difficult to keep up.
Iceskating, Fetch, and Snowmobiling
2021 Winter (so far) has brought the following…
1. Many hours of iceskating with a shiny pink cast on the wrist of my 9 year old
2. Lots of playing fetch for our lab
3. My first time snowmobiling! (I’m hooked)
Frozen Lake Biking
No greater way to enjoy Minnesota lakes in a new way than biking on them while frozen.
Winter geocaching is a great way to stay warm and explore favorite places around the city in a new way.
This is Benke (pronounced ben•kuh). He's a one year old rescue. He's afraid of big bags and loves cuddling on the couch.
- Travis Meyer
Kuri (Maori for dog)
Kuri acts more like a dog than a cat. She once found her way into a drywall resulting in us having to cut through our wall to get her out. She has lived in several countries, and 9 different houses/apartments with me.
- Per Kvanbeck
Flynn or Flynnigan
At the first glance, he may appear a tad dopey, but once you get to know him you see that his charm is that he is a love-able lug that just wants to be a part of the pack and please his humans. Getting up there in years, you will find him asleep in whatever room the rest of his humans are in.
- Leana Stone
Lou and Winnie
This pair of energetic pups love to bark at seemingly nothing. With kids around and a constant need to eat anything that hits the floor, you will often find Lou with food somewhere in his fur or Winnie with the occasional popcorn bag on her head.
- Joe De Jarnett
Nori, Dee, and Janet
Here’s my cool, calm, and collected bunch. This is Nori (a Norfolk Island Pine – left), Dee (a Bird of Paradise – back), and Janet (a Dracaena Janet Craig – right). Despite their tropical roots, they seem to have adjusted nicely to their Minnesota home.
- Kelsey Schwalbach
Cabela enjoys long walks in the park, hunting for pheasants, grouse and crumbs off the floor. She can nap just about anywhere but she is a champion dock jumper. Flying through the air at the ol’ age of 10 just makes makes her feel like a young pup!
- Sarah Bruss
This is Groucho, my adopted stray cat (we checked for previous families.) He started following me while I was walking our dog. We fed him for a winter, a summer, and another winter, and only then he finally decided to let us bring him inside. This is a particularly glorious BLEP he gifted me that lasted several minutes.
- David Middlecamp
This is Jerry. I mean what else can I say? We love him and are glad he is faring well, even while at our Foundry office.
- Foundry Office
Hunter was found alone in the middle of a freeway when she was 8 weeks old. She’s a year and half old german shepherd/chow mix. She enjoys attention more than anything: from dogs, cats, people, you name it, she wants to be your friend. Her favorite toys are extra small...preferably cat toys.
- Mika Albornoz
Meet my dog. She makes no effort to help around the house, and gets depressed on car rides. Her Olympic level shedding is world renowned. When she’s not trying to get me to play instead of work, she sleeps. And sleeps. Her hobbies include barking at people we pass on walks, removing her toys from the bin and evenly distributing around my office, and tricking me into feeding her dinner twice.
- Robert Nelson
As much as I hate to admit it, he runs the house. He even has his own bedroom and sleeps all day on his queen-sized bed. When he’s awake, he wrestles with his brother, but it’s hard to tell whether or not he’s having fun. He also yells at his humans constantly for food when his bowl is clearly full. He won’t eat if he even sees a speck at the bottom of the bowl. You know, cats.
- Ashley Kim
Together with Io and Callisto (Europa's cat siblings) they almost complete the set of Jupiter's four Galilean moons. We Just need Ganymede...
- Nils Hansen
Rachel and Oliver
When they’re not chasing each other in circles around the apartment, Oliver enjoys sitting on laps and Rachel enjoys biting feet. Rachel uses her extra thumb to get an exceptionally good grip to scratch furniture, while Oliver prefers to serenade us in the middle of the night with a variety of his greatest hits, including “Mrreeeeww” and “Brrrrwwoowww”.
- Claudio Rivera
This is Podrick. He’s a happy, smart, and stubborn corgi with a passion for blueberries (and anything that his grandma sneaks him, really.) He prefers humans over dogs, but he’s pretty good when it comes to the ladies. In his free time, he enjoys destroying toys, harassing his brother, napping on the couch and borking at nonexistent sounds.
- Ashley Kim
Emerson and Noodle
No introduction required.
- Evan Kearney
This is Baymax. We have tried multiple times to grow our favorite herbs and have failed miserably... To our rescue is our new buddy, that helps us grow our herbs and vegetables. With Baymax’s help, we hope to have cilantro to add to our dinners!
- Andy Stone