Coffee With: Asana Engineer Kwame Thomison

Coffee With: Asana Engineer Kwame Thomison

(Image courtesy of Asana)


Kwame Thomison
Location: New York, NY
Job: Engineering Site Lead, Asana
Education: B.S. in Information Science, Cornell University
Twitter: @asana

What was your first job?

I spent a year leading development for a publishing startup called The Community Publishers. I designed our software from scratch, mentored other engineers, and designed tools to help our editorial team manage content. It was my first time in a technical role and a great opportunity to grow in my career.

What sparked your interest in computer science?

There were two important factors. First, growing up around my father, not having an interest in engineering would have been an act of sheer rebellion. He’s been a computer consultant and a guest lecturer at Princeton, and he also works to share his passion for STEM with kids. I still remember mashing random commands into a monochrome DOS terminal as a young child. And my sixth birthday party was a huge hit because my dad conducted some flashy chemistry experiments. In many ways, engineering was my path of least resistance.

Second, I’ve always enjoyed exercising my creativity. When I was 13, my mother enrolled me in a C++ course at a local community college. I realized pretty quickly what an incredible medium computers are for creative expression.

Was becoming a software engineer the obvious choice for you?

My ultimate goal is to help as many people as possible so I actually initially wanted to be a politician. I was president of the student body my senior year at Cornell. When I graduated, though, I decided that with my skillset, the best way to help people at scale would be to start a tech company — which is the goal I’ve designed my entire career around. At first it was about becoming a great engineer (Meebo), then it was about working for companies making a huge difference in the world (Facebook, Asana).

What was your experience like as an engineer at Facebook?

When I reflect on my time at Facebook, some of the most valuable experiences were running the New York office’s hackathons. I learned a ton, whether it was about event planning or Facebook’s technical stack. I also met some great people and interviewed hundreds of engineers, which was a great way to keep my skills sharp. Shortly before leaving Facebook, I managed the web speed team, a company-wide web performance effort that improved page-load time for I also had to present to Mark Zuckerberg and the executive team a few times, which was a great learning experience. How often do you get to see how the leaders of a $300 billion company think?

Tell us about your role today. What does being an engineering site lead at Asana entail?

It varies! One day I’m writing code and the next I’m writing a job requirement for an office coordinator. Asana is a work tracking tool — we leverage technology to help people oversee and guide the progress of any task at hand from start to finish. As the engineering site lead, I build our engineering team in New York, which means writing code, managing engineers, and consulting employees when they have questions or challenges. Everything I do feels like part of a larger curriculum rather than work, which is a huge privilege.

What advice do you wish you could have given yourself early on in your career?

Early in your career, it’s easy to focus on the immediate tangible rewards — titles, promotions, raises, etc. But having such a narrow focus can suck the enjoyment and learning out of the work. Now I understand that long-term strategies lead to greater happiness and a much broader skillset. These days, I focus on how much I can learn and on the adventure factor.

How do you stay productive?

I keep a lot of lists organized by area of focus and tasks I want to complete before leaving the office. Over time, I’ve become really good at predicting what I can accomplish in a single day, which makes planning at the beginning of the day even more useful. Asana is a fantastic tool for staying on top of tasks since it can track a lot of information while allowing you to quickly view what you need to work on today. I’ve never felt more organized.

What have you read or listened to recently that you’d recommend?

Everyone should read Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday, which talks about the dangers of the ego in our path to greatness. I’ve found that minimizing my ego has lead to much more happiness and success, both professionally and personally.

How do you maintain peace of mind?

I’m a big believer in mental hygiene. When something is bothering me, I take the time to process that thought rather than avoiding it. Oftentimes, I walk away understanding that it’s either my ego going crazy or my brain’s way of nudging me to act on something. I try to stay really honest about who I am as a person and who I want to be. This summer, I spent two hours floating in a sensory deprivation chamber, which is a deeply relaxing experience and something I hope to incorporate into my weekly routine. Since investing more time in keeping my head clear, I’ve become a lot more aware and energetic. Worrying takes up too much space.

Asana is a Jopwell partner company.


This article originally appeared on The Well, Jopwell’s digital magazine.

The Well is the digital magazine of Jopwell, the career advancement platform for Black, Latino/Hispanic, and Native American students and professionals to unlock opportunity. Subscribe to receive weekly stories and advice in your inbox.