CTO shares tips for impact and efficiency from a career spanning startups, government and NGOs

Tyrone Grandison, chief technology officer for Pearl Long Term Care Solutions. (Photo courtesy of Tyrone Grandison)

Tyrone Grandison started his career path in math, economics and computer engineering, studying at universities in Jamaica, the West Indies and London and earning multiples degrees that culminated in a PhD in computer science.

But these days, what Grandison really values is his ability to read people.

“The biggest compliment I’ve received over the years, with people I’ve interviewed with, is you have a really high EQ,” he said, referring to one’s emotional intelligence. “You have to be aware of people’s motivations and reactions,” Grandison said, and maneuver accordingly “to get your mission accomplished.”

Over the years, his mission has been wide ranging and encompassed roles enough for numerous people. Grandison, who lives in Seattle, has launched and led numerous startups, worked for the White House and government agencies during the Obama Administration, holds an adjunct professorship, and done research and consulting. He’s active with multiple volunteer efforts, including co-chair of the Seattle Human Rights Commission and a half-dozen other organizations.

Grandison picks his roles according to his ability to make a positive difference. “It was drilled into me,” he said, “if you have a skill or resources, then you have a responsibility as well to give back and improve life for others.”

That currently includes Grandison’s job as chief technology officer for Pearl Long Term Care Solutions, a platform that helps families find senior housing, and board chairman of the Data-Driven Institute, a small organization working on public health problems. He joined Pearl in February, just as COVID-19 was taking hold in the U.S. The pandemic highlighted the need for a streamlined, virtual solution for helping people find housing for elderly relatives, Grandison said.

His time in D.C. working with the Departments of Commerce and Labor as a data officer and Presidential Innovation Fellow offered lessons he hadn’t experienced in the private sector. Grandison had to approach change differently, providing tools to career government workers that they could implement over time to improve their organizations.

Tyrone Grandison, second from right, waiting to enter the White House in 2014 when he was a Presidential Innovation Fellow working for the Obama Administration. (Photo courtesy of Tyrone Grandison)

“Government is purposefully built to be really slow, simply because there are tides that come in every four years,” he said, “You need a stable force to make sure that things are done for the benefit of Americans.”

Back in the private sector, Grandison moves quickly, working on many projects simultaneously, including collaborations with multiple startups while also serving as CTO. How does one balance all of the competing interests?

Grandison has takeaways for that as well.

He compartmentalizes, reserving dedicated blocks of time focused on specific projects. Grandison limits meetings to no more than half of his workday and pushes back against the idea that a packed calendar is the same as getting work done.

“To be productive you have to produce,” he said. “You have to do the work.”

We caught up with Grandison for this Working Geek, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.

Current location: Seattle

Computer types: Mac, PC, Linux

Mobile devices: Android, iPhone

Favorite apps, cloud services and software tools: Calm, TextMate, Anaconda, Pandora, GitLab, ArmorText, Python, AWS, Chrome

Describe your workspace. Why does it work for you? I have a traditional two-level desk with a large screen monitor that I dock one of my machines into. It works for me because it allows me to multi-task in an easy and efficient way.

Regular workouts at the gym help Tyrone Grandison stay focused on the multiple professional and volunteer roles he likes to juggle at once. (Photo courtesy of Tyrone Grandison)

Your best advice for managing everyday work and life? Know the highest priority categories or buckets of things that you can spend your day on. Own your calendar and time. Religiously delegate or decline all tasks that do not fall into your top three categories.

Your preferred social network? How do you use it for business/work? LinkedIn. It is an endless source of potential opportunities, whether it’s staffing possibilities, speaking requests or partnerships.

Current number of unanswered emails in your inbox? After two hours of culling, I only have 54 unanswered emails.

Number of appointments/meetings on your calendar this week? It is Monday at noon and I have 38 meetings left this week.

How do you run meetings? The agenda and background materials are sent out beforehand. I spend the first five minutes of the meeting allowing for everyone to ground/center. The next five minutes are spent reviewing the background materials. Then I step through the agenda, being conscious of the desired outcome for each agenda item and facilitating discussion/engagement from all relevant parties. In the last 10 minutes, I review the next steps, the respective owners and the agreed upon deadlines.

Best stress reliever? How do you unplug? My best stress reliever is time with the Calm app tied with 60-to-90 minutes working out. I turn off notifications on all devices, leave them charging, then go find an adventure.

What are you listening to? A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie Radio on Pandora.

Daily reads? Favorite sites and newsletters? I read my Google Alerts daily, which are set on all the topics that I am interested in. My favorite news site is NPR.

Book on your nightstand (or e-reader)? “High Output Management” by Andrew Grove

Night owl or early riser? Early Riser. I try to get at least 20% deep sleep irrespective of the magnitude of my sleep.

Where do you get your best ideas? When I am talking to the team.

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