Interview with Jocelyn Goldfein, Managing Director, Zetta Venture Partners (former Engineering Director at Facebook)
Published on Jul 31, 2018
4 min read
Location: SF Bay Area
Current Role: Managing Director, Zetta Venture Partners (aka I’m a VC now)
What’s your background and how did you get into management?
Started my career as a software engineer, worked for a variety of startups, and stumbled into management early in my career. My first job out of college was with a startup; the team was growing quickly and we had very few seasoned managers. I was prone to organizing things around me and taking point on group projects, and I enjoyed interviewing – so I got tapped to do people management as the team grew. Next I started a company with two co-founders and managed the engineering team as well as writing code, testing, customer support, and lots of other hats! My next job, with VMware, was my first traditional manager role as leader of the device virtualization team. With the company growing quickly, I rose rapidly through Director to VP and ultimately General Manager. After 7 years, I wanted to see other environments and joined Facebook as an Engineering Director – working on projects from News Feed to Search to Mobile.
What are the biggest challenges you face?
I’ve always managed engineering teams in environments going through periods of change and high growth. So there is no simple playbook to follow – if you complete your project, you need to rewrite the playbook next time. As teams grow really large, the core challenges are usually people problems – getting consistent, coordinated efforts across disparate groups with different agendas.
What is your approach to hiring?
Depends on whether I’m hiring 1 or 1000! It all starts with being really clear between myself and the whole interviewing team on what we are looking for and how we’re going to interview for it; using the right sourcing tactics for the volume and profile, having an open mind when screening; interview for both skills and behavior; interview for potential not just current ability; and have the whole team participate in closing the candidate from the first point of contact. For more see my blog at http://jocelyngoldfein.com!
What’s your advice for managers who are just starting out?
Be as intellectually curious about this new discipline as you would be about any technical discipline you were just getting started with. Read books and articles, join meetups, find experts you can talk things over with.
Build relationships of mutual trust and respect with your team and your peers. Every mistake (and you will make some!) is survivable if the people around you will give you feedback and a second chance.
Whats your work day like and how do you manage your time, emails, etc.?
As a VC it’s become quite different; but your readership is probably interested in the manager’s manager schedule. I found by and large that recurring meetings (project reviews, 1:1s, team and departmental meetings) ate up the lion’s share of the hours from 8am to 6pm. Facebook adopted a “no meeting” Wednesday policy that, for managers, largely worked out to “no standing meetings on Wednesday” which meant that I always had one day a week I could absorb ad hoc meetings. I found time between meetings and on evenings to stay on top of email but it was easy to fall into reactive mode. Scheduling blocks of work time was one helpful tactic to make sure I had time to think ahead about roadmap, product strategy, goal setting, or writing. The time I made to write (internal) blog posts or broad messages was incredibly powerful and leveraged and I wish I’d done more of it. I also made time to bug triage and dip into code reviews occasionally to have a sense of ground truth.
I have a family and it’s important to be to be home for dinner; so I tried to be out the door at 6pm though sometimes that slid to 7. One day a week (usually Monday) would be my “work late” night; I’d stay until midnight and that was my productive no-meeting time to plan, write, read, or catch up on backlog. It might not be for everyone but for me it was a great way to start my week with a lot of momentum, and to have time with my team members who were night owls.
What’s a personal habit that contributes to your success?
I find that relationships and trust powerfully affect every aspect of engineering collaboration. If that foundation is in place, everything else (decision making, communication, collaboration) gets really easy. Without that in place, molehills turn into mountains! It’s come naturally to me to lead from a place of genuinely knowing and caring about teammates, and that in turn has sped up relationship and trust building which simplify every other part of the job.
Share an internet resource or tool that you can’t live without.
Nothing novel here, sorry!
If you could recommend one book to managers, what would it be and why?
Influence, by Robert Cialdini. Not about engineering or management, just about human behavior and how to influence it. Engineers becoming managers too often believe themselves and their teammates to be rational beings which is a dangerous fallacy!
Where can we go to learn more about you? (LinkedIn, Twitter, GitHub)
This series asks engineering managers to share their experiences with the intent of helping other engineering managers learn and improve. Have someone you want to see featured or questions you think we should ask? Contact me.
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