Both were junior players at Auckland Marist and Gissing could tell Howlett, now New Zealand's record try scorer, was destined for greatness.
Gissing said: "We played club rugby together for a couple of years before he was taken into Auckland's NPC team pretty quickly - he would have been about 18 at the time.
"When I first trained with him it was obvious how good he was. He was the quickest guy around at that time.
"He was always quick and scored loads of tries for the Marists.
"So I wasn't surprised to see he has gone on to have a good career in the game."
Edinburgh's upturn in form under Andy Robinson has pushed them into third place ahead of Friday's clash at Murrayfield and given them hope of launching a title challenge.
But Gissing is quick to point out that judgment can only be made after the final eight games of the season.
The former Ireland A international said: "You can't say anything about progress yet because we're not at the end of the season.
"I think these next two games are very important to us and then we will see where we are. Then we will get everyone back from international duties and re-evaluate it after that.
"This game is hugely important. We will be looking to play the exciting type of rugby we have been playing."
Edinburgh lost 19-16 to Munster in November after conceding some late penalties but ever-present Gissing believes they have ironed out their flaws through teamwork.
The 32-year-old said: "Game management just comes from playing games together. It is all about the team - it is not about any one individual.
"If the coach thinks he can improve the team by bringing someone else in then that is what he does.
"Also if you look at our team sheet we don't have any star names, we just have good honest players.
"We all want to play for each other which is the main thing and nobody wants to let anyone else down.
"The team wants to play for the coaches. The coaches are putting the effort in, the players see that and are responding to that."