Zero to CTO – Jossie Haines is in the spotlight

Name: Jossie Haines

Current position: VP of Software Engineering; Head of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at Tile

Bio: Jossie Haines has spent 20 years in the tech industry as an engineering leader at the forefront of emerging technology across Silicon Valley, including management roles at Apple, Tile, Zynga, and American Express. She is currently VP of Software Engineering at Tile and leads the mobile, backend, web, and platform engineering teams that empower users to find millions of lost items every day.  

Jossie also heads up the diversity, equity and inclusion efforts across Tile, and started the Tile mentoring program. She is on a mission to keep women in tech. She spends her free time speaking about retaining women in tech, empathy in engineering, and effective and fair management practices that reduce bias and empower all team members to thrive. She has given over 40 talks in the last 2 years including at the Grace Hopper, and Empowered Women of the World conferences. She is also an active mentor at the Mentoring Club, Power to Fly, UCSC, and Plato.

Tell us about your life before leadership – what kind of roles and projects did you work on?

I guess a more relevant question would be which time! I’ve gone back and forth between individual contributor roles and leadership roles a few times before ending up on the leadership path.  Here’s a summary of my career prior to 2012 when I got my first management role (I’d led teams prior to that for multiple projects though).  

I started after college as a technical consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers – during a trip to the bay area in 1999. I fell in love with the technology and the climate, and moved out here to work at a now-defunct dot com startup in early 2000. I worked on early voice notifications way before Siri even came into existence, and mobile phone ‘apps’ that consisted of two lines of text on a black and white screen. I then ended up at Sun Microsystems where I worked on the Java download infrastructure. 

I decided to go back to school to get my MS in Computer Science and ended up at NetApp where I worked on Protection Manager — a software management tool to empower system administrators to easily manage their data across a large set of NetApp storage.  In 2010, I ended up going to Zynga to work on games and this was where my career took off.  I began working as a software engineer on a game called Cafe World and got multiple million-dollar revenue days. I then became the first engineer on Chefville, then worked on Cityville, before becoming Director of Engineering for Chefville after its launch.   

How did your first leadership position come about, and was it intentional on your part?

My first true management position was Manager for Chefville.  Zynga was rapidly growing and a very fast-paced culture. I started out on Chefville, but after three or so months I was pulled over to Cityville; the game needed some heavy hitters and a few of us were pulled over to help.  Five months later, I expressed a desire to return to Chefville – the team had grown and an opportunity had arisen to manage a few of the pods while readying the game for launch. I transferred back to Chefville and took over two pods – I’d led multiple projects as a tech lead before so I questioned how hard it could be 🙂 

How did you manage the transition? What came easily/what was difficult?

The technical parts came easily.  I’d worked on the project from day one, so didn’t have the difficulty of trying to learn or understand what was going on – even though there had been a gap, it was easy to pick back up. The hard part was managing and reflecting back not knowing what I didn’t know. I was a great manager to people I got along with and honestly, a pretty bad manager for others. I didn’t realise at that point what being a true leader was about, so I’ll blame ignorance and the fast-paced culture – this happens in tech more often than not.  

Conflicts are hard for me – I’ve always been a people pleaser and came to the realisation that if you try to focus on pleasing everyone, you’ll make yourself miserable and do a poor job.  

What was your biggest failure in that first leadership role?

There was one engineer that I didn’t get along with and I would skip our 1:1s. Rather than deal with him and the conflict, I ran away instead of being a true leader and resolving it.

What made you keep doing it?

In early 2018 I almost left the tech industry, however I realised that if I did, I’d become a statistic along with the 56% of women who leave tech after 10-20 years.  I’d be walking away from creating a future where technology can not only solve convenience problems but truly address the needs of our diverse world. So I came back to tech with a mission to keep women in tech with me and create a better tech culture that is diverse.

Tell us a fun fact that nobody knows about you

Most people don’t know that I did technical theatre lighting for 10 years as a hobby and won an award for it at a local bay area community theater.  

What are the three key skills you think every leader needs?

First and foremost is empathy – you need the ability to empathise with your customers and your colleagues to truly be successful.

The second is active listening – in some ways, this is really just part of the empathetic leadership umbrella but it’s so crucial.  We truly need to take the time to listen and be curious instead of judging, so we can respond and not react.

The third crucial skill is self-care – it is so easy to end up in the recurring cycle of burnout.  As a leader you can always find more things to fill your time; you need to learn to say no, take the time to do things other than work, and exercise, meditate and journal.

What have you learned about acquiring and retaining talent?

As a leader, you need to be thinking about this every single day regardless of whether you have actively open roles or not.  Who should you be networking with based on upcoming roles for your team? Are you having ‘stay’ interviews with your employees to ask them about what keeps them there and what would make them leave the company?  Are you creating job descriptions that are not biased?  There are so many crucial parts to this topic and it needs to be thought about from the day you open the requisition, to the day that employee leaves the company. 

How do you motivate your team and manage their stress levels?

This is more crucial than ever, especially due to the rise in remote working. We need to take the time to have personal conversations and ask how team members are doing during 1:1s – not just focus on work. We also need to have honest conversations about how we are struggling as leaders, so our employees feel they can open up too. We must also lead by example and take time off when we’re feeling stressed out and share when we aren’t having a 100% day. 

How do you manage your own stress levels and productivity?

For stress management, I try to take a daily walk, do pilates two-to-three times a week, take five-minute breaks between meetings, and do end-of-day reflections where I focus on three things I’m grateful for. 

To manage productivity I do daily, weekly and monthly planning where I can reflect on my progress towards my goals. It helps me reflect on what to focus on and lets me get things done during the week.  

How do you stay in sync with other parts of the business?

I have monthly 1:1s with a number of different peers and people around the business. I also attend our bi-weekly meetings and product status review where we all share our project statuses. The executive team also meets weekly in addition to sending out bi-weekly reports, which I make sure to read. I also send out my own weekly software engineering team report summarising what I’m working on, what’s going on with the team, and areas for improvement. 

Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?

Honestly? I’m having the hankering again to do my own thing – this time however, I want to start a consulting company where I can help not just one, but multiple companies keep women in tech. I also want to do leadership coaching, fractional VPE services, and DEI leadership training.  

What product do you wish you’d invented?

So this doesn’t exist (yet!), but I want to invent a product or company that can move the needle in creating inclusive workplaces in the tech industry.  We’ve been trying for over 20 years and the needle has hardly moved.  In fact, due to covid, we’re in a diversity recession.  If I could shift this, create an inclusive tech workforce, and get technologists to focus on the hard problems of our world like climate change or racial inequality then I can finally rest 🙂

Thank you, Jossie!


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