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Meet Jezz – Our Chief Product & Technology Officer

By February 14, 2024No Comments

At SuiteFiles, we’re proud to have a team that blends deep industry expertise with a passion for innovation. Among our standout members is Jezz Santos, our Chief Product and Technology Officer, whose wealth of experience is guiding our journey forward. We recently sat down with Jezz to get insights into his professional journey and the fresh perspectives he’s bringing to SuiteFiles.


Can you share a little background on your work history and experience prior to joining SuiteFiles?

I started my career at Nokia in Finland in R&D figuring out the future of mobile devices, and then made my way around the world to New Zealand, initially as a backpacker. My wife and I fell in love with this place, and I sunk my teeth into a few startups, gaining valuable experience in that world that served me well in all my future roles. I was then offered an opportunity to join Microsoft, a role that took me back all around the world, before finally going full circle back to NZ a decade later.

I’ve now worked with over a hundred different organizations all over the globe with a focus on product & engineering excellence. I’ve learnt that some behavioral patterns that span even cultural and geographic boundaries. We came back to NZ in 2011 and I decided to launch my own startup business, and ever since then I have been building product teams, primarily in the startup space.


Looking back on your career, what pivotal moments or decisions were crucial in your journey to becoming a CPTO?

I am a rare breed of engineer who fell in love with, and then pursued excellence in product thinking. Programming is fun, and I love making software among other things (and I’m still pretty good at that – see my github) but it’s all for nothing if markets aren’t interested in what you create. I learned that the hard way while working at Microsoft. Working with some of the smartest engineers in the world makes no difference if the tech and product you are building does not directly solve a problem relevant to your market. So much good work and passion goes to waste by being too focused on the coding and not looking at what the market is actually doing (or not) with your beautiful creation.

Working in startups forces you to focus hard on that aspect, but a pivotal realization (that took time to discover) is that the process of making software is not the same in every kind of organization. The biggest realisation, and one that many in this industry have still yet to discover, is that making software for one business to solve a problem they have internally is 180 degrees different than making a software product to sell in a market. The job uses the same tools, the same languages, and some of the same processes, but it’s completely different work, performed by people with different skillsets in different roles. Largely, the two contexts are not as transferable as many people think they are. Founders are guilty of this too. Thinking that they should build their new tech organization and copy what they learned about IT at their last corporation.


Given your extensive experience, how have you seen technology evolve in the workplace, and what key lessons have you learned about driving technological change and adoption?

Funny, not much in the space of writing software has changed in the last 25 years. Believe it or not. Sure, the tooling today is far better than it was, and some of it is a game changer today. Technology keeps advancing of course, but it feels like that happening at a pretty steady pace – as expected.

The struggles today for software people are pretty much the same everywhere as they were 20 years ago. We seem to be an industry with a very short memory. One that forgets what has already been learned, partly because of the rapid growth of numbers of new people entering the industry year on year (doubling every 5 years). One major struggle today is that there are so many people doing these jobs with so little experience and thus, so few experienced teachers around them. Many teams are completely leaderless, stumbling around in the dark, prone to cargo-culting what they see elsewhere. In a big way, we are still in the black and white movies of the Wild West in the 1800’s in that respect. Too many petulant wild young men riding around and shooting the place up for fun.

Driving change and adopting “new things” (that are just “old things” anyway) is still primarily propelled by old-fashioned working effectively with smart people. That won’t change much in the future either. Many of the complex problems you face working in this industry are problems caused by people working together. It is not solving technical problems anymore. Tech is the easier of the two activities, and ironically those technical people who want to be doing that the most, sure didn’t get into this industry to deal with the people problems that come from doing it well! The biggest part of the job today is working on more effective ways to communicate and collaborate. It is not a problem that can be solved with process or more advanced tools.


As a CPTO, what is your philosophy on leading a tech team, and how has it evolved? Can you share an experience that significantly influenced this philosophy?

Empowered product teams are the only effective way to go in product companies – if you want to grow fast and make it sustainable. Despite what most people think works for motivating smart people in creative workplaces (significantly tainted by the industrial factories of the Edwardian period). Spoiler alert: It is not more pay, or the reward of becoming a manager. There is no more effective way to tackle and overcome complex, difficult challenges than to engage the brains of all the smart and creative people who do the actual work in collaborative teams.

Point them at the important problems being faced and give them the resources they need to resolve them. Don’t point them at your presumed solutions, expecting them to generate miracles. Solutions that sound good to you are not likely to work in the real world of markets.

Certainly today, in the context of product companies, the way to go isn’t having the managers far from the actual work, with limited information, come up with the processes and solutions of the future. Why? because they are guessing in the dark. Of course, those in control of making this happen (those who build the organizations), get this wrong often. You manage things, you lead people. Those traditional managers either don’t think what they are doing is that hard (i.e. they are overconfident in themselves and what they know), or they haven’t experienced it done any better than what they know today (lack industry experience). In either case, they fall back to a model that distrusts people doing the hard work, resorting to outdated and overbearing management thinking to solve the problems. The problem with the traditional approach to software development is that so much of what is important to their remit is utterly invisible to them, so that it cannot be effectively managed – since it can’t be seen. Those that do see it and deal with it every day, are then not empowered enough to do much about it, and managers remain blind to what really matters in the long run.

It wasn’t until I studied Teal Organizations, and then The Toyota Way, Lean Manufacturing, and the entire journey behind uncovered Systems Thinking, some 15 years ago, that this came into clear view to me.

More and more people are starting to reap the benefits of that old knowledge these days, and that is good to see, but it is slow progress across the industry. Not to mention all the damage the Agile Industrial Complex and “process people” have caused most organizations and set them on exactly the wrong path – ironically.

Fortunately, in the last 5-10 years we’ve had a mini-revolution in the product world thankfully predominantly led by a few industry luminaries (like: Marty Cagan, Teresa Torres et al), that has certainly helped to put most organizations back on track with teams and empowerment when working in product companies – but unfortunately it has already cost the industry dearly.


What have been the most challenging aspects of your role as CPTO, and how did you overcome them? Conversely, what achievements are you most proud of?

I’ve just got my feet under the table here at SuiteFiles, so the wins I have had are small and limited so far. However, we did just spend two weeks offsite helping the product unit reset how it was going about doing their work last year. Since then, we’ve come back fresh and keen to learn new ways of working and we are trying a bunch of new ways to think and act that is better aligned with where the company needs to head. Learning primarily how to work towards outcomes with strategic thinking leading the way. Outcomes that they understand, define and design solutions towards achieving. A critical skill and muscle to grow for a team to come together to move from once being a “feature team”, to being a “product team”. The difference being that one kind of team does only what it is told by someone else who makes all the decisions, and the other kind deals with problems and finds solutions that actually work in the market, with evidence to prove it. The other super important skill to develop is better communication outside the product unit, to the other business units that depend on product doing its thing well. That’s another thing that many product companies have yet to learn to do properly and effectively.


Based on your experience and current trends, what predictions can you make about the future of technology in SaaS? How should companies prepare to stay ahead?

Not sure I have any strong opinions or predictions about SaaS in general – it’s too complex to generalize. Some might say it’s had its day in the spotlight, but SaaS or not, software products delivered over the web are not going away anytime soon.

Of course, the PLG (Product Led Growth) trend is popular right now, and every SaaS founder wants to adopt it for all its stated benefits, so they are enamoured by the idea of it. But the sad truth is that most of these businesses probably can’t/won’t create the organization and culture that can deliver PLG effectively. What PLG requires is a more focused, simpler product and better product techniques that can’t be achieved without trusted, high performing, autonomous, customer responsive teams focused on what actually works in the market. And that is not achievable by traditional disempowered “feature teams” taking orders from smarter managers/stakeholders higher up in the organization, seeking world domination, with their uber Swiss-army-knife do-it-all for everyone product.


What about the future of SuiteFiles excites you the most?

Oh, that’s easy, and funny, it might sound pretty dull to the “technologists” out there who prefer to dream up new techie thingies and just expect them to go gangbusters – just because they exist.

Been there done that.

What they might be missing is that the problems to solve that matter aren’t in the heads of the technologists themselves but are out there with the people in the markets you want to sell to.

So, to me the most exciting opportunity for SuiteFiles is the market opportunity we have in front of us. That is what is attractive to me. There are so many things about the product itself and the positioning and potential that open so many more doors to us to innovate something very exciting.

I don’t know exactly what that is yet, and I don’t really need to have that grand master plan ahead of where we are going. That’s because I don’t have a crystal ball up my sleeve, and I know it. But what I do have is trust and experience that with the brilliant people we have, we will diligently discover from the markets we carefully select to go after what those real problems are that we need to solve. We just have to listen and act better than the rest to get there.

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Riley Malins

Author Riley Malins

Riley's expert advice on streamlining your business processes with SuiteFiles.

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