Black History Month Employee Spotlight: Ian Osawaye
To celebrate Black History Month, Zynga is exploring the theme of ‘inspiring change’ to uncover how every individual has the power to make a positive difference in their workplace and community. As part of this, we are excited to share some of our employees’ stories over the course of the month.
This week, we’re getting to know Ian Osawaye, a software engineer on the Words With Friends team. Read on to hear about his career path at Zynga, the typical day as a gaming software engineer as well as his belief that active listening is the first step to change.
Tell us a little about your background and how you came to Zynga.
I was born and raised in Nigeria and moved to Canada a day after my 14th birthday. I remember the transition being very exciting, but also sad because of the many friends I was leaving behind. I went through boarding school for a year and a half in an international school in Hamilton, Ontario. That was where I got introduced to computer science and wrote my first lines of code (in Java).
I applied to different universities for their engineering programs but had no idea what area I was going to focus in. I ended up going to the University of Waterloo and started in electrical engineering but after my first year, I knew that it wasn’t a right fit for me. Thankfully, computer engineering shared the same courses, so I was able to make the leap to computer engineering, and it was the best decision I made.
It was a struggle to get internships initially since I had no work experience of any kind coming from Nigeria. I eventually landed an internship at Zynga. I was so excited to have gotten my foot in the door. I worked in the Toronto studio for two internship terms. The office was so cool and had lots of great people to work with. In 2017, I was offered a full-time position. It’s been almost five years already and has been such an amazing journey with lots of twists and turns along the way.
What is your role at Zynga? Walk us through your typical day.
I’m a software engineer on the Words With Friends team. I started primarily as an Android mobile developer in 2017, but I’ve been growing towards a more full-stack role on the team.
A typical day for me would start with coming online (prior to COVID, I would also enjoy my commuter train ride to the office) and catching up on emails and messages that I couldn’t get to the day before. I try to get everything to a “read” status before starting work. It makes my mind feel cleared and ready to go for the day.
Throughout the day, I’m checking game reviews and leading feedback for my teammates. There are always meetings that are scheduled for different things throughout the day so I’m usually in at least one meeting every day (even if it’s just a daily scrum sync). I enjoy interacting with co-workers, so if I was in the office, I would usually take multiple breaks throughout the day to get water and chat with someone in the kitchen or play a game of ping pong (usually multiple games if I’m facing a rival at work).
The day typically ends for me once I’m exhausted, or I’ve reached my personal cut-off time. I shut down everything work-related and avoid returning to it until the next day to ensure I keep a healthy work-life balance.
Since starting with Zynga, how has your own growth and development progressed? How has the company supported your growth?
From my internship days, I remember being given a lot of autonomy to learn and build features for our live players. That in itself was so cool to me that I was thrown right into the mix with seasoned engineers.
Since my internship, I have seen a huge growth in my coding skills and my ability to communicate my ideas effectively. I have also grown in confidence as a leader in my own way. Zynga has really helped me to step out of my comfort zone and feel confident about sharing my ideas. Working in a company that allows me to fully express my personality has really created a safe environment for me here.
From my time here, I have learned that my unique background and experience really serve as a superpower for me. I’m oftentimes able to bring valuable perspectives to team conversations that perhaps in my early days, I would have been too timid to share.
How do you inspire change?
As the saying goes, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world,” and that’s really where it starts for me. Change in any area of life starts by identifying that there’s a need for it and being bold enough to speak up and take action. However, I strongly believe that a person’s life and character speak louder than any words they can say to inspire change. No one admires hypocrites, so I try to embody the change I’m trying to push forward before asking others to do the same.
Have recent events that have demonstrated continued systematic racism and racial injustice in the U.S. changed your views on what change is needed?
As I reflect on different events within the black community and beyond, I have come to find that the biblical principle that says, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,” is very relevant for the times we live in. With such easy access to a myriad of information at any given moment, it’s easy to act in a reactive way without taking the time to process and understand the varying situations. I think issues can be actioned on in more fruitful ways if we took more time to actively listen to each other (both the marginalized and un-marginalized groups).
How are you empowered to make a positive change in your role at Zynga?
By simply being within a company culture that welcomes and encourages employees to step up, through employee resource groups (ERGs) and other avenues, it’s empowering to know that there are people that truly want to take action and partner to bring change in various areas of the company.
Tell us something surprising about you.
I make music on the side when I can and I’m slowly growing my music presence online with some of my work on SoundCloud, YouTube and Spotify. I enjoy a wide range of genres, but I can vibe and freestyle to lofi tracks all day. Singing is my main strength, but I want to be a multi-instrumentalist and producer someday, so I’m also taking steps towards that goal. A lot of my music is centered around biblical truths as I love making music that points people to God.
A fun part of cultural history months is celebrating what food means to culture. What is the food that best reflects you and your culture?
I LOVE plantains and it’s such a big part of mainstream Nigerian cuisines. I don’t think I’ve ever met a fellow Nigerian that doesn’t enjoy them. It’s like the perfect complement to a nice plate of Jollof rice and chicken. The most popular way we prepare them is to fry them, but I tend to take the healthier approach and put them in the air fryer which gives them a semi-roasted flavor. It reminds me of a roadside dish back home called Boli which is essentially charcoal roasted plantains. It’s popularly accompanied with peanuts when bought from a roadside vendor.
Zynga’s zCulinary team is also celebrating Black History Month by featuring some of their favorite recipes that emphasize ingredients in connection to African heritage. Check them out on the zCulinary blog.