Spotlight on Carissa Zukowski, engineering manager at FireHydrant
In this installment of our employee spotlight series on FireHydrant team members, we’d like you to meet Carissa Zukowski, the newest engineering manager on our product team.
By Alisha Ehrlich on 5/31/2022
Our leadership team is committed to building the company they've always dreamed of working for, so we take culture seriously (and we’re not just talking about swag and perks here). We want everyone to love working at FireHydrant, and that means hiring managers that people will want to work for.
In this installment of our employee spotlight series on FireHydrant team members, we’d like you to meet Carissa Zukowski, the newest engineering manager on our product team. Let’s jump in!
Carissa Zukowski is pictured at the deCordova Sculpture Park with a piece called "Otter" by Rona Pondick.
Please tell us a little about yourself, Carissa.
Greetings! I live in Cambridge, MA, my pronouns are she/her, and I joined FireHydrant in April of 2022. I’ve previously held roles across business units in Engineering, Sales Engineering, Data Analytics, and Product. Most recently, I was an Engineering Manager at a MIT Media Labs startup, Wise Systems, focused on the perfect delivery through autonomous routing and dispatch for final mile logistics.
I am a bibliophile and hobbyist writer. For a year or so, I co-hosted and produced a podcast with a dear friend and coworker about women and underrepresented groups navigating their careers in fintech. While we are on an indefinite hiatus, you can find previous episodes of “No Thank You, Please” wherever you stream podcasts.
Wow, you’ve done a lot and I would imagine you had a lot of opportunities in front of you. What made you choose FireHydrant?
I wanted to join a company whose values aligned with my own where I could work with a team of bright, inspired engineers. Joining during a team’s growth phase is exciting and motivating — you get the opportunity to learn, to fail, and to iterate at a meaningful pace. But it can be tough too, and for me, value alignment helps ensure that the pace doesn’t lead to reckless burnout. By eliminating that friction, I know I’m able to operate as my best self, and that was a huge factor in my joining FireHydrant. For full transparency, my core values are:
Never win at the expense of others.
Throughout conversations during my interview process, I felt that there was a symbiosis between the company’s values and mission and my own. In terms of our product, I also feel very strongly about software reliability and the impact on-call escalations have on organizational health.
I love those values and how interrelated they are. What do you think are the most important things when building out a team?
I think building trust through healthy team culture is massively important. Building this trust means we are willing to ask for help when needed, vocalize opinions early and often, and understand that questions come from a place of curiosity, not criticism. This enables us to tap into each others’ strengths and lean in on areas where there’s room for improvement — without judgment.
Fun is also important, and I do my best to bring that energy to my team. I see fun as a pathway to sustained inclusivity. Especially in remote-first settings, it humanizes engineering departments and the problems we’re trying to solve.
Plus 1 to more fun at work. So what brought you into engineering leadership?
I’ve always been drawn to leadership opportunities and people management, but I was encouraged by a previous manager to step into engineering leadership after taking a hiatus from management altogether. At the time, the team was in need of an engineering manager for a squad I’d worked closely with as a stakeholder and collaborator.
Truthfully, I was hesitant at first, having never been a full-stack software developer myself. But in that role with my peers and with the team, I was able to gain confidence as an engineering manager and use my strengths as an organizer, catalyst, and coach to drive engineering initiatives across teams and departments.
What are the things that keep you in engineering leadership?
Engineering leadership looks different at every organization. “Engineering manager” itself is a nebulous title with varying responsibilities and measures of success depending on the company and the team composition — and there’s a lot of freedom in that! I love the collaborative process of solving hard problems. There’s the technical component, but I also get to address challenges like how we optimize around resources, time constraints, and best practices. I find that consistent challenge very stimulating.
However, the most rewarding part of engineering leadership is the opportunity to develop relationships with teammates and reports and identify ways I can support them in their career growth. There is no “one size fits all” step ladder for a successful career in technology, and working with folks one on one and seeing their professional and personal development confirms that engineering leadership is where I want to continue to invest my own career.
Yes, I love that — there are many paths to success. Speaking of, what's your favorite career accomplishment so far?
One of the biggest delights and rewards in my career is seeing people I’ve worked with hit their next professional milestone. Sometimes LinkedIn feeds can look like a highlight reel and don’t always reflect the challenges of navigating one’s career, but it’s amazing to see someone who once reported to you hit a long term goal four years later, like passing all their CFA exams or switching from customer success to engineering.
How do you like to give feedback, both to your direct reports and peers?
I am really intentional when it comes to both receiving and delivering feedback. I think the most important thing is that there is a foundation of trust between all parties in order for the feedback to resonate in a meaningful way and be accepted, digested, and actioned appropriately.
Especially in a remote-first setting, feedback is a place where I prefer synchronous conversation so both parties have an opportunity to ask questions and read body language — ya know, humanize it!
What do you think FireHydrant will be able to accomplish in the next five years?
Oof, five years! After hearing our leadership team speak at our annual all-company gathering, I believe that within the next five years, FireHydrant will be the leader in defining what incident management and reliability look like not just for software companies, but at any company that depends on software. Internally, I have confidence that we will be a top tech company to work for, with a strong network of talent, both current and alumni.
And last question, what's your favorite thing about FireHydrant since you started working here?
I appreciate the lived value of “continuous improvement” the most. Everyone is operating with an openness to feedback and willingness to improve, whether that be on process or product. There is a desire for us to improve, and that openness positively reinforces an inclusive environment where everyone’s opinions are valued.
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