Employee Spotlight: Haile Xiao
WordStream has some impressive employees in our ranks: from industry influencers to marathon runners, from analysts to authors. The Employee Spotlight series aims to highlight the talented individuals who work here. Each month, we’ll be featuring an interview here on the blog and on our social accounts.
For this month’s Employee Spotlight, we talked with Haile Xiao. Originally from Houston, Texas, Haile moved to Boston for the technology job market and stuck around because he loves the seasons—as well as the duck boats. Haile joined WordStream as a software engineer almost two years ago, and since then he’s worked on a variety of free tools—including, mostly recently, the Smart Ads Creator.
Haile driving a duck boat.
How did you hear about WordStream? Why did you want to work here?
Well, Pablo and I were actually in the same class at Launch Academy. The Launch Academy alumni had a slack channel, and we would regularly post opportunities. One day I saw Pablo’s post about an open software engineer position at WordStream. You hear about advertising technology a lot in the news and media, so I was curious about how it worked. When I came in to interview, I talked to all these awesome people who were working on really interesting projects, and I knew I wanted to work here with them.
What's your favorite thing about working at WordStream?
The people, definitely. This is the best work environment I've had anywhere. There's enough structure that you can you're supported and not just floundering, but there's enough flexibility that you can speak your mind and propose projects for yourself and your team.
What's your favorite project that you've worked on?
Revamping the process of setting up software when prospects become customers after completing a trial. Previously, you could only connect one account at a time—so just Google or Facebook or Bing—and the process was pretty bland. The user just sat looking at a spinning wheel that said how far along they were—“8% Complete” or “20% Complete.” That’s so boring. We decided to create a QuickStart process where the user was introduced to the software capabilities instead, and we made the information highlighted dynamic based on how the user entered the software. Now, if users come from a Facebook Grader, for instance, then their process will focus on our software’s Facebook features.
What's the most challenging project that you've worked on here?
The Smart Ads Creator tool, which we just finished. It’s a free tool that creates display ads by crawling a user’s website and using the best images available. I worked on all the front end development.
The challenge was that the technology is actually a feature we have in product. We needed to use that technology and feasibly create a useful version that we could offer for free. We also wanted to make sure that the technology in both the tool and the product were synced, so that if we make any changes or improvements in the product that it would automatically upgrade the free tool. It was a lot of code, but we were able to do it.
What’s next project you’re working on?
Well, I’m actually going on vacation for the next ten days. I’m going to Nevada to see the dark sky, which is an area where you can see the night sky without any light pollution—just as we did pre-civilization.
I've been to other dark sky places before. I went once in Canada, but the problem was that it was during the full moon, so the sky was really bright. It was the best moon I’ve ever seen, but it was still only the moon.
What's the best thing that you've learned on the job?
How to work with designers and product managers. At my previous companies, the design teams and product managers were often siloed, so you didn’t get much feedback or work that closely with these other teams. Here, I sit next to the designers, which is awesome.
What does your workspace look like? Minimalist? Homey? Neat?
It's a combination of messy and minimalist. I still have the boxes for my computer, my keyboard, and my mouse, all of which came in when I first started. But otherwise it’s pretty bare. I see a lot of developers with three screens, but I’m fine with two. I also still have a phone on my desk, which isn’t activated and no one in the office actually uses anymore. It’s kind of like decoration—like having flowers, maybe.
What's the first thing you do when you get to work each morning?
I check in on everything—email, Slack, Jira. Then, I talk to the people on my team to see what’s going on and what we all have to work on for the day.
You need to put your head down and get some work done ASAP. Do you have a go-to song?
I listen to symphonic metal, folk metal, or lyrics-focused hip hop. Right now, I really like this Swiss folk metal band Elueeltiv.
What was your favorite class in school that you feel like you’ve used at work?
I have to say scientific communication. I don’t really do much science in my daily life anymore, but communication is one thing I use all the time. Whether it’s making presentations, writing papers, sending email, suggesting projects, proposing changes—everything.
Another class that I still use is fluid mechanics. That class is all about reducing problems to math, and I find that almost all problems are easier to solve when I reduce them to math.
Do you have any hobbies or secret talents?
I’ve been cooking for a very long time. I started in college and I never really stopped. Every now and then I really like to try to cook something new. There are a lot of dishes that try to make food taste like chicken or pork or some other dish. There’s a Chinese dish I tried recently that does the opposite: it tries to make chicken taste like tofu. You cook chicken, chop it into super fine pieces, and try to make it look and taste like tofu. It took about four hours, and it felt kind of like eating tofu, but the flavor was still like chicken. It was interesting.
My favorite thing to make is Mughlai chicken. It's an Indian dish with chicken and heavy cream sauce with a toasted almonds on top. It’s delicious.
What was the last movie you saw in theaters?
I saw Avengers: Endgame. I liked it—it was a good conclusion to everything we've seen so far. And it ties up the story a lot better than this final season of Game of Thrones. It’s been so disappointing—the writers got senioritis, I think.
What’s the first thing you do to unwind when you get home from work?
Well, first I put on music, but I’ll also put on the tea kettle. Peppermint tea is my favorite for relaxing.