my gizmos

Ask a Tech Person: What Are Helen Hou-Sandí’s Favorite Gadgets?

Overwhelmed by the many options one has for headphones and speakers and streaming devices and laptops, we decided to drill people who work in technology about what they use in their own lives — their gadget diets, if you will. Today, we’re asking about the gizmos of Helen Hou-Sandí, the director of open source initiatives at 10up and lead developer for WordPress.

Working from home full-time means it’s easy not to move around during the day, and the Fitbit continues to do what it does best — counting your steps. This is now my fourth style of Fitbit, after a brief foray into having an Apple Watch, and I’m very happy with it. The style works well for me and I appreciate only getting basic phone, text, and calendar notifications — the Apple Watch notifications were overwhelming for me, even after a lot of adjustment. I wish I could get reminder notifications, but it’s not like my phone is ever really that far away. The Fitbit’s activity and heart-rate recordings have actually been able to give me some really interesting data that I don’t think they’ve really considered — being able to see just how high my heart rate was during pregnancy (a full 20 BPM difference!) and how it starts to rise when I’m getting sick, and while I don’t live-and-die by the sleep tracking, it really helped in the early days of babies to see how much rest I was getting and how often they needed to be fed at night.

If you travel frequently (and sometimes even if you don’t), you know that outlets are often located in the most awkward spots and that you always forget to pack your expensive plug adapters/power transformers. What I love about this “power strip” is that it has a long lightweight cable (great for reaching faraway outlets), an ungrounded type-A plug (compatible with cheapo plug adapters), and decently fast USB charging when using two of the four ports. I’ve had this specific one for a few years and it’s still going strong.

An external battery pack is critical when you’re on the go with a bunch of devices and children, and this Anker one holds enough for about seven phone charges or one entire MacBook charge. The USB-C port isn’t very fast, but it’s enough to keep a MacBook running while you’re using it. It’s not light, so sometimes I still carry a smaller battery pack, but this one really gets used the most.

Speaking of USB-C, this monitor has really allowed me to embrace that single-port rose-gold MacBook life. A single USB-C connection handles data and sound for the display and devices along with full-power charging. The onboard monitor speakers are terrible and sometimes the USB ports act up, and it’s not a HiDPI display (not that the 12” MacBook can drive one anyway), but the 2560 x 1440 resolution allows me to get productive with multiple windows and I only have to worry about one cable when moving to and from my desk. Well, two: I still have external speakers connected via the headphone jack.

We already had an Echo at home, which got hijacked to become a baby-noise machine (shout out to the Ocean Waves for Sleep track on Spotify), so we got an Echo Show as a replacement mostly out of curiosity. My husband’s not really anti-technology, but he doesn’t love how interconnected things are, so it felt a little better to have a device with some of our history (like our Amazon purchases), but not something like a Google device that knows everything about you. We do keep a webcam cover on the Show though because it wakes when it sees motion, and my husband really doesn’t like that. The most-used feature has turned out to also be a kid-centric thing: my oldest loves being able to see the lyrics for his favorite songs via Amazon Music (yet another digital subscription), even learning some of the lines in Polynesian languages on the Moana soundtrack.


Being able to remotely adjust the thermostat and have it turn on/off with geolocation on my phone has really been amazing. I also have it hooked up to If This Then That, a service that connects APIs across different devices on the web, so in this case when my thermostat changes status between “away” and “home” modes, it sends me a push notification. It essentially acts like a motion detector and even helped us catch a mouse once! I’m not actually eager to have a fully smart home, and haven’t bothered to hook it up to Alexa because I’m not really excited about talking to my thermostat, but this is one device we’ve really benefited from as a household.

I’m very particular about the aesthetics of my workspace and have had to change the layout and dimensions of my desk several times over the years to accommodate shifting spaces. When it came to jumping on the standing-desk train, the first one that I tried was the Varidesk, which the CEO of my company recommended, but it only comes in black and moves forward when you go into lift mode, so in my work space it backed me into a wall and I didn’t like that. After the WorkFit-T was announced, I decided to go with a desk converter instead of an entire lifting desk. What I really love about the WorkFit-T is that it easily adjusts straight up and down, has a perfectly sized and shaped keyboard/mouse area for my needs, and is available in white.

After years in a big and bulky Aeron chair, I decided to get more minimal and active with this IKEA stool I bought on a whim. It has a curved base and curved top which gives you the feel of sitting on a balance ball, and can adjust from regular chair height to a high stool that you can use as a support with a standing desk. It takes some getting used to, and I did have to go back to the Aeron when I was very pregnant because of balance, but I’ve found that it helps keep me alert and forces me to be mindful of my posture and how often I take breaks.

I have music on basically anytime I’m alone, and the AirPods make it really easy to keep that music going when I’m on the move. The charging case is super helpful and the experience really is seamless. As a bonus, they work extremely well tucked inside a pair of around-ear headphones: I’m also a collaborative pianist and have recently been working on the Brahms Piano Quintet, so I can play a favorite recording through the AirPods and play along on my Yamaha AvantGrand N3 with sound coming through the headphones.

As portable as the MacBook is, when I’m at home I tend to just leave it plugged in at my desk so I really put my work away. That said, with two young kids and working remotely I frequently work in short spurts from wherever I am, and a lot of my tasks these days are more managerial in nature — chatting in Slack, writing up specs and docs, handling GitHub issues — so I don’t really need a whole computing environment. The iPad Pro is absolutely fantastic for this, and has really helped me get through my tasks as my schedule constantly changes.

I like this keyboard because it also acts as a cover, and because it’s an Apple product, it’s super seamless. It only comes in dark grey, which kind of drives me crazy, but it’s nice because I use it as an on-the-go-slash-around-the-house device. Because it’s a seamless keyboard, it’s a completely covered surface with the keys underneath, so I don’t get crumbs inside the keyboard, or have to worry about something spilling on it or getting junk all over it.

The Strategist is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Some of our latest conquests include the best women’s jeans, rolling luggage, pillows for side sleepers, ultraflattering pants, and bath towels. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.

Every editorial product is independently selected. If you buy something through our links, New York may earn an affiliate commission.

Ask a Tech Person: Helen Hou-Sandí’s 10 Favorite Gizmos