We are excited to announce that Jason Hudak has joined Foursquare as a VP of Engineering!
Jason has been in the technology world for many many moons, most recently leading engineering for RapidAPI. Prior to Rapid, he led platforms, infrastructure, R&D Operations, R&D Learning and Development, and Edge for Twilio. He got his start in tech working for AudioNet, one of the earliest streaming media companies. He is passionate about the power of software in general, platforms in particular, and is looking forward to being a leader of Foursquare’s engineering team.
Learn more about Jason in this new edition of FSQ Faces.
What drew you to Foursquare and this role?
I met Gary Little a few years ago and was really impressed with his transformative vision for the company. I’m fascinated by the geospatial space as it’s a domain I’ve observed as a consumer, but always wondered, “how the heck do they do that?!?” So when the opportunity to join the leader in geospatial presented itself, I couldn’t resist!
After meeting with Ankit Patel, and realizing we shared eerily similar philosophies and approaches to both technology and leadership, it was obvious letting this opportunity pass me by was not an option. The icing on this cake was the prospect of getting back together with my favorite product leader, Wade Wegner. It all feels too good to be true!
What motivated you to pursue a career in engineering, and how has your passion evolved over the years?
My dad introduced me to Pascal and Basic programming when I was in junior high, and I was fascinated how lines of text could produce images, applications, games, or just about anything else your imagination came up with. I was also obsessed with finance, economics, and the stock market and ended up getting a degree in business.
After a few years in a more traditional corporate job, I had a chance to join a tiny streaming startup doing some very light scripting and whatever else needed to be done, including racking and stacking servers in a data center, cloning hosts, providing help desk support, picking up lunch for the exec team – you name it! The lure of getting to wear flip flops and baseball caps while learning how to work in tech was too much to resist. My manager at the time was previously an associate professor of computer science and during our lunch breaks, he basically gave me a BS in CS!
The more I learned, the more passionate I became about the transformative power of software. That company was acquired by Yahoo, at the time the leader in search, advertising, and rich media. I learned about real web scale, and how important planning and design was in the development process. It really drove home the need to do things the right way the first time, not when things are falling over or when you’re in crisis mode. It also revealed how terrible the employee developer experience was across most tech companies, despite the fact their most precious assets were the very developers that were not empowered to do their best work. That’s when my focus shifted to platform engineering, engineering leadership, and creating amazing developer experiences for employees and customers.
How do you foster collaboration and innovation within engineering teams?
My opinion comes down to two key topics: culture and culture. Ok, it’s really one topic, but it’s so important it deserves to be said twice.
Culture is everything in my experience. It’s the difference between an organization of grumpy, disengaged, but wildly talented humans, and hard charging, motivated, highly engaged and wildly talented humans who build amazing things together as one team. A healthy culture is one that encourages healthy debate. Anyone who says they have all the answers is a fool or a liar – probably both! I want organizations made up of leaders (and everyone is a leader, not just managers) who have opinions, the ability and willingness to share those opinions, the courage to defend those opinions in the face of adversity, and most importantly the intellectual honesty to realize their opinion might not be the best one – but they will damn sure keep their ears open and become the proponent of the person and the opinion that is. Many of the best ideas don’t come from someone with a C or an S or a V in their title!
What is your vision for engineering at Foursquare and its role in the company’s overall growth and success?
I want Foursquare engineering to earn a reputation as the place where great engineers learn to be world class. We should be known for more than the incredible products we produce; engineering should be a reason people in other departments come to Foursquare. Building with a customer-first mentality, and more empathy than the competition, makes us a company others clamor to do business with again and again.
You want net dollar expansion? This is how you get it. When you deal with extremely talented, wildly customer-focused engineers, you remember it. You tell your friends, family, and other businesses about it. It creates a sort of gravity that pulls in more greatness. That’s what I want Foursquare to become.
When employees join Foursquare, they’re always asked to share a fun fact. What would yours be?
So, I have a terrible track record of running into celebrities. I don’t mean seeing famous people at a sporting event or a restaurant – I literally mean running into them. I accidentally knocked R&B singer Erykah Badu to the ground when I was in a hurry and ran through a door without looking up to see if anyone was on the other side. Thankfully she was ok and she graciously accepted my apologies (her security team was less gracious).
I attended a film festival and had the opportunity to meet Robert De Niro. In my damn near violent excitement to introduce myself, I basically throat-punched him. I’m a slightly-taller-than-normal human and he’s slightly shorter – we were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Lastly, I was at a theater opening with one of the co-founders of the first startup I worked at and one of his guests was actor Andy Garcia. I got to hang out with him and talk audio/video, technology, etc. and asked him if he’d like a drink. I didn’t realize he followed me to the bar, so when I turned around to try and hurriedly give Mr. Garcia his Scotch…well, he got it. Spilled all over his beautiful suit and shoes that probably cost more than I made in a year. He was a trooper and had a good laugh at my expense since the look on my face was one of complete shock! Needless to say I spent the rest of that evening paying for Mr. Garcia’s Scotch (it was The Macallan 21 if you are curious 😉).