#117 Roopak Venkatakrishnan's career algorithm
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Roopak Venkatakrishnan 0:00 When you join one of these bigger companies, you get to meet with managers, you get to meet with the team and you get to see something. Another thing that matters to me is the product I work on and I want to, you know, I want to be able to contribute, like, I want to really like the product I work on. And it's very hard to find a mix of all three or find the perfect one and all three, right, like where you really like the team where you'd really like to product. And you really like your manager, I think these are like three things that you really want to. Oh, of course, and like when I say product also means like, how hard are the problems you're solving. If any one of those is not satisfied, you feel like you can do better.
Tim Bourguignon 0:45 Hello, and welcome to developer's journey, the podcast, bringing you the making of stories of successful software developers. To help you on your upcoming journey. My name is Tim Bourguignon, and on this episode 117 I received Roopak Venkatakrishnan. Sponsor: But before we get to our guests, did you know that Python was again ranked the top one to language on the 2020 StackOverflow survey by fellow developers from around the world. In the past few years, Python has become my language of choice. But I still have tons to learn. Is Python on your bucket list as well? Well, Michael Kennedy, who shared his dev journey with us in Episode 94, and hosts the talk Python to me podcast can certainly help. Among he is Python for absolute beginners, Python for the dotnet developer or countless other advanced courses. There's certainly one for you. Go have a look at his catalogue and use the link talk python.fm slash journey for a $50 discount. And finally, stick around until the end of the show for a chance to win Michael's Python for absolute beginners course. And don't forget to thank him for sponsoring the show. And now on to the episode. After a few stops at Spoke, Google and Twitter Roopak currently manages the app infrastructure team at Bolt. But when he is not working, you will usually find him hiking with a cup of coffee in one hand and tweeting random things with the other. Roopak, welcome to dev journey!
Roopak Venkatakrishnan 2:21 Hey, Tim, thanks for having me.
Tim Bourguignon 2:22 My pleasure. So, Roopak, the show exists to help the listeners understand what your story looked like and imagine how to shape their own future. So let's go back to your beginnings. Where would you place the start of your DevJourney?
Roopak Venkatakrishnan 2:39 I think the correct answer to this would probably be sometime when I was much younger, some some time when I was like, you know, six or seven years old. My dad brought the first like, you know, first computer home it was a Windows 95 machine. It was I was around seven years old. And you know before this, we had to dos Fox and that those are not really usually very interesting to kids. He brought this 95 machine home and I, you know, there weren't many games or there wasn't much I could do on it. But at some point in time, you know, he wanted to turn on screensaver settings. And I had seen this somewhere else. Of course, he didn't know what it was, neither did I know. And but I wanted to solve the problem solving the problem was very interesting for me. So I spent some time and I was like, clicking all over the place trying to find out what was going on. And I finally happened to figure out what a screensaver was. And you know, how you would go about setting settings. And I think the, my dad was, like, really appreciative. And I think that was when I was like, Hey, I was able to find something out completely on my own. And, you know, that was very exciting for me. And after that, there were tiny incidents like this over and over again, that got me very excited. And I think the final thing that seals This is going to be really, really funny. But at some point in the early 2000s, I read an article that said Google had free food, foods a big motivator for me. So I decided I was going to work at Google. Yeah, that was it. Right? Like there was nothing else. I just I heard there was free food at work. And I was like, Oh my God, that's where I want to work.
Tim Bourguignon 4:21 can relate to this. Going back before before we talk about food, and we can talk for hours about that. Going back to to Windows 95. Do you have to format your your PC every three months because you click so much everywhere, then everything was screwed up.
Roopak Venkatakrishnan 4:38 No, luckily, I never had to do that. So the only things that I ended up doing were I ended up like, you know, playing a bunch of games that came along with I found out at some point in time, someone came home and updated it to Windows 98 because I guess that came about at that point in time. But I found very interesting things on the windows CD. And you know, like, there were software that were in the windows CD that you would not find installed. And so we did some of that. But I think the worst thing that I did was I opened up the Windows registry once trying to make my own cheat code for a game, which they came like it was called The game was called chips challenge. And I found out the file where they save the high scores, and I just want it to be, you know, the highest score. I opened up the Windows registry and like, for some reason, like I thought the answer was there, because every time I save the file, it wouldn't reflect in the game. And I deleted some stuff off the Windows registry, and I think I lost a bunch of my dad's files. That's the worst thing I did.
Tim Bourguignon 5:42 I can relate to this. I grew up with Windows 95 as well. And I remember tinkering with the machine so hard and trying to make it through things that I had to format this pretty often. I think my dad pretty much left the machine to me and went back to these old Macintosh for his work because it was just screwing up ever since. I can relate to it. Yes. Okay, so before we go to, to Google and free food, there must have been a couple a couple years in between. So did you have an interest in computers all this time? Did you start learning how to to program or do things that Google would be interested in? How do you how they design yours look like?
Roopak Venkatakrishnan 6:29 Yeah, sorry. I think what happened in between is basically, you know, whenever you're good at something, and then you sort of get praised for it, you're more excited about that thing. Right. And this kind of happened for me throughout my career, right. I became or, like, at that point, not really clear, but throughout my life, you know, people would ask me for tech support, of course, tech support is not really programming and they're separate things, but I was the person who would fix everybody systems. I was the person who would like you know, set everybody's phones. So there was a bit of that going on. Somewhere in the eighth grade, I won the, like my school had a competition and I won this chance to go and learn programming. So, that point, I went to a course where I learned C, not c++, but just C. And you know, that was my first time doing some programming. It was a month long course over the summer. There was a lot of fun. But of course, I mean, I, you know, it was just something I did nothing much happened after that. I think the the next big thing for me was that at the end of grade 10, there's this big company in India called Infosys. And you know, Infosys has this had this competition called catch them young, where they brought, you know, school kids did a two week course where they taught them a bunch of stuff. And they picked the, the, you know, the top couple of couple of them based on an assignment to work at Infosys for a month and I managed to get into the list of people or the set of kids Who actually went to Infosys for two weeks? Those were amazing. Like they taught us, c++, HTML. And you know, also being on a campus where everybody was a software developer was very, very exciting for me. And I think I still remember, at the end of the two weeks, they called, you know, they said, we're going to have three people who are going to be here for the two month long project. And they were announcing the names one by one. And of course, my name was last announced. And I think there was only like a five second pause or anything between the names, but to me, it felt like an hour because I heard tuning in and I was like, Oh, my God, I hope it's me. I was sweating back there. I really wanted to be in that list of people. You know, luckily for me, it turns out that I did the assignment pretty well. And I was there for two months. So that was another big stepping stone. And after that, I think it was just a bunch of various things here and there at some point, Time, my dad started, you know, getting this company and he was like, he told me, Hey, you know, we have some software, do you want to come take a look. And so this is like after grade 12. And you know, I had already sorted programming for fun building stuff at home or, you know, just trying various different things. And at this point, I went over to this company, and I noticed that there were like, 40 people who, you know, they, it was a medical transcription company, and the thing that they would do is everyone would listen to audio, and they would transcribe it. And this was sent back to doctors in the US. So this is like, a field, which is probably getting, you know, which is dying right now. But this is a company that my dad was acquiring. And when I went over there, I saw that 40 people would like listen to various audio clips, transcribed them, and then the way these people were paid is based on how much audio they did. I mean, there was like, there were a lot of other things involved, like you know how much you hate to get a bonus and things like that, but there was their job. was one make notes of how long they spent transcribing. And there was another person's job whose whose job it was to take 40 people's numbers and aggregate them through the day. And I was like, This is so manual, why is someone doing this? Why can't we just like, you know, automate this. So I built this tiny website where all you did was everybody had a login, and then you could go and then you could put down the metadata about the audio that you transcribed. It turns out that this worked wonders, because one, they were able to see how much of you what he was doing in real time as opposed to getting reports when someone would aggregate them at the end of the day. And they were able to, you know, start seeing who their better performers were, they were able to say, hey, this person did a lot on a really hard day. And you know, so that's a software that I still kind of maintain it's, it's running on really old PHP, MySQL database that that doesn't have indexes. That's because I didn't know what indexes were back then. And I haven't Compact ad, that's a standard database.
Tim Bourguignon 11:03 If it's running,
Roopak Venkatakrishnan 11:04 yeah, I'm not touching it. That's every time I look at the code, I'm like, Oh my god, but there's also another part of me that says, if I if I touch it, I'll want to replace the whole thing, which I don't have time to do. That might be true. That might be true.
Tim Bourguignon 11:17 That's really cool. That's really cool. Yeah, I guess I'm scratching your own itch. And, and solving problems is always the case that the the best way to learn something. So she wanted to, to learn programming, just get get into it and solve problems. That's, that's how we do it. So this was still during your studies, or during during high school,
Roopak Venkatakrishnan 11:40 just after I finished high school, right? And, you know, at this point, like, it's a very Indian thing for your parents to want you to go to something like, you know, they call it an IIT. It's one of the most prestigious institutions in the country. And you know, my parents wanted me to go there too. But getting into computer science, there's really hard and, you know, I had all my parents hate I don't think I'm going to get into computer science over there because the odds are very, very low. And I know that my physics and chemistry, which were the requirements to get in and out there, and I told them, the only thing that I'm going to study is computer science. I don't care what college it is at, but this is what I like, and this is what I'm good at. And so what I'm going to continue and you know, they were, they were very supportive. So, where did you go to, to study? Yeah, so I went to a college in, in Chennai, which is in the southern part of India, it was under a university called honor University, and I did my undergrad there. So, the typical CS undergrad or anything special to the study, you know, just typical CS undergrad, you know, of course, like, as you know, nothing very special, just normal CS undergrad, I would say that during that time, I spent a lot of my time like, learning stuff online or on I made it sort of, I tried to make a side business out of going to company And then at that point in time, I'm not sure if you're aware, but Google was offering Google Apps, as you know, the G Suite thing for 50 users for free. And so one of the things that I would go to tech companies or small companies there, and I would say, Hey, I'll switch you over to G Suite over the random provider that you're using right now. It costs you nothing. If you have up to 50 users. And it's way better than the random email providers you're using for your custom domain. You only have to pay me this much. And so this was a way that I made pocket money. So I did like weird things like this during my college time.
Tim Bourguignon 13:33 That is neat. So I will do some kind of intrapreneurship on the side and making your own your own life.
Roopak Venkatakrishnan 13:40 Yeah, you could say entrepreneurship, but also, I think, I think the motivator there for me was just that I got to see different people and different things that they had set up, right. Every time I would go to a company, I would see some other different kind of software that they're using, or something different, which I had never seen before. And usually, it's very hard to get to see something like that. Nobody's gonna say hey, Come and look at all the software we use in our company. And I wanted to see it. So this was my way of getting in.
Tim Bourguignon 14:06 Yeah, it makes makes a lot of things where you always alone during that time, or did you have some kind of mentors or somebody guiding you? learning all this?
Roopak Venkatakrishnan 14:15 I would say most of my mentors would just be people who had met online on random forums, not really anyone, specifically in person, right? Like, you know, my dad would like help me or introduce me to different people. I would say like, towards the end of my undergrad, my dad introduced me to this guy called Mahesh, who runs alpha cloud labs. And I did my like finally or project there. He was really helpful because he like, usually when someone comes in during your undergrad, you don't really want to give them give them a big meaty project of the company sort of depends on it. However, he was just like you're we have this big thing that we have to deliver and then you can do it. Part of me was like, Okay, what if I failed, but another part of me was very excited. So that was a pretty interesting time. But
Tim Bourguignon 15:09 I bet I bet. Was it on your mind to continue your studies after your undergrad? Or do you always want to switch the industry in and get your your sleeves rolled up and, and get going with with work?
Roopak Venkatakrishnan 15:25 Actually, I'll be very honest, right? I think for me, the one thing I knew was that the minute I went into the industry, I was never going to study again. And for me, it was like, Okay, if this is who I'm going to be, I'm going to study everything I can right now because like, it's not that I did not like studying or undergrad or anything like that. I just found that there were a lot more creative problems you could do when you are working or creative problems you could solve when you are working. I was like, Okay, let me make sure that I am done and I thought like, at that point, I just, I don't know like I stuck my finger up in the air and I was like, Okay, I think a Master's is enough. I don't need to do a PhD because that's way too much. I think an undergrad seems okay. But if I know for sure I'm not going to study again, I'm going to do a Master's. So that's how I decided to do a Master's.
Tim Bourguignon 16:14 I totally understand. I wish it was so smart to have verbalized this back then. But when I finished my master's I really was fed up with, with with school and with with university and everything, and I was so eager to start working for real and, and one thing that I if I coined a few years after that was a I finally finished university now it's time to really get learning things. And that's really how I failed I had the feeling during university to just learn for for the next milestone and just learn what people were telling you to learn but not was what was interesting, not what what I was burning for. And as soon as I was off from university, off I went I just started learning things and and learning on the side and during evenings and during the weekends and during my work, and just being so absorbing all the things that is fun, real fun. So I wouldn't have wanted to continue my studies on you.
Roopak Venkatakrishnan 17:13 I feel it wasn't.
Tim Bourguignon 17:17 Okay, so was a spoke your first stop after university?
Roopak Venkatakrishnan 17:22 No after. So when I went to like I went to North Carolina State for my master's, during my master's, I did an internship at Google. That was finally what like, really like, this is the thing that I you know, that finally made me sort of like, happy with, you know, where it had sort of come because until then, it was just like, you know, I was doing stuff, but I was not sure, like, at the back of my mind, like initially it was a free food thing, but then later, it was just that I was a big Google fanboy. And when I finally got like, I think I was looking for different internships. And I think the minute I was doing the bench of interviews, I had a bunch of offers. And I think the minute I got the Google offer, I didn't even complete the rest of my interviews. I didn't even want to, like, do anything else. It was just like, yes. Like, they called me in the head. This is the thing. I'm like, Yes, I'm done. Like, I called everybody else back. And I was like, Yeah, I went with something else. I didn't even bother to like, look at the offers the pain, none of that mattered to me, it was just like, Okay, I'm going to Google.
Tim Bourguignon 18:22 Maybe the olders had free food as well.
Roopak Venkatakrishnan 18:24 I'm pretty sure some of the offers might have even been better a God was there were like some very interesting startups, too. But for me, it was just that I had to go to Google. I was a fanboy. And I had to, I had to take that, like, you know, hit that checkbox.
Roopak Venkatakrishnan 18:38 And yeah, it is that. Yeah.
Tim Bourguignon 18:42 How does one get an internship at Google? How does that work?
Roopak Venkatakrishnan 18:45 I that was a very interesting experience. So So I think, you know, everybody was starting to look for internships at my school and you know, everybody was applying online. And, you know, I applied online too, and, you know, I didn't hear back and I was I really wanted that internship. So my solution back then, was to go onto my LinkedIn, find out anybody I knew who knew someone at Google. And I would ping them. And I would be like, Hey, can you make an intro? And then they would make an intro? And I'd be like, Listen, I really want an internship. Could you refer me? I'll go through the interview process. I think I did this quite a bit. Until finally someone was like, yeah, I'll refer you. And you know, they're referred me and recruiter got back saying, Hey, we're going to set up an interview, I think, with other companies sort of getting that interview call was maybe somewhat easier. I don't know what it was with Google. Like, it didn't feel like a lot of students from my qualitative. gov call. And so when I got it, I scheduled this interview one month out. And for that next one month, I didn't do it. Like I stopped doing schoolwork. I was just like prepping for this interview. I didn't know what I was doing. But I was just like, going on sites like looking at what other Google interviews were, like leading up algorithms. And you know, that was that was what I was doing. for an entire month until I got the interview, the interview was not as, like tough as I thought it would be. Maybe I just lucked out. But yeah,
Tim Bourguignon 20:10 okay. Yeah, that kind of makes sense. And did you have to go through the the whole system again on the whole interview again to work at Google after that?
Roopak Venkatakrishnan 20:18 So after that, so the thing is like, when you're done with an internship at Google, they usually, either they asked you to interview again, or they asked you to, I don't know, they're all I remember was, I was told to interview again. And I think at that point in time, I want to like something was like, you know, I've done Google, I know I can get in I want to try something else. And I ended up interviewing a Twitter. I didn't really use Twitter back then. So I think the minute I like scheduled like, you know, the phone screen, the first thing I did was like, I opened up my Twitter account, which I had probably just tweeted a couple of times in, and I went made sure that I actually had Had the profile picture and did a bunch of stuff there. And it turns out, they didn't really care about that. But you know, I did it anyway, because I want it to look good. When I went for the interview. That was where I ended up going. First. I went back to Google after Twitter, but yeah, my first, like, full time job out of school was at twitter.
Tim Bourguignon 21:19 How was it? It was pretty early, wasn't it?
Roopak Venkatakrishnan 21:22 Yeah. So this was 2014. I will say I learned a lot of my job at Twitter was like, I think still very, very fun for me, right? When I was still exploring the kinds of things that I really, really liked. And I think my starting class at Twitter, I made some friends. You know, not just like, you get, you know, a team who you like working with, but I also had the people who started on the same day as I did, and there were a bunch of other new grads and I think I'm still in touch with all of them, right? My team at Twitter was really, really special. The friends that I had it for, they're really special. It was like one of the best experiences that I've had at a full time job. I can't even like put it into words. It's sort of hard, right? Like, there were a couple of us who would, you know, they Twitter had free breakfast, lunch and dinner like every other company. And one of the things that we would do is we would, we would work until six or seven, and then we would go get dinner, and then we would play a board game or to some evenings, and then we'd go back to work, you know, there'll be days when I would be like working until eight or nine. And it's not because there was a lot of work to do. But it was just because it was so interesting. This is the first time that I get to see some production systems, I can go modify. So I would go and see what my friends were doing, right? What are the systems that they're working on? What can we do and you know, this is also where, you know, we got exploring, trying to build stuff outside my team and your company was very they're open to people trying new things. It was not like, Hey, this is your job. Do only this and you've got to stop there. That was the thing. I've really really liked, like, my managers, pretty much everyone at the company was very open to that. I think the thing that I always remember about my Twitter experience is a friend and I somewhere, you know, somewhere in the middle of things, we've realized that testing a feature internally at Twitter was not as easy as it should have been, right. Twitter is a big company. And you know, they had various internal mechanisms of you know, turning on a feature, which has not yet launched externally, only for say, yourself, or your Android phone, or your iOS phone or your web version. But there was a lot of steps that you have to go through to turn it on. And so this friend and I, we, we were like, this is horrible, right? Like, imagine the CEO of Twitter wants to try out a new feature and he has to go and follow these 15 different steps to turn it on on this device. And you know, sometimes if you want to try three different features at once, you had to like, copy various things, stitch them together and paste it we were like This has got to be better, right? So we built this internal tool that just simply needed like, you go click a link, and whatever device you're on the apple, just get all that and add those features and turn them on. We were very excited by it. Because one, it was something that we had found as a problem we had solved. So we were both the pm and the engineers behind it, we had figured out how to solve the problem. And we had solved it. And like, it turns out that tool is still used at Twitter today by engineers and PMS. So that was something I really enjoyed.
Tim Bourguignon 24:39 Yeah, that is that is really cool. That's really cool. How was it to be in such a startup that that's a rocket ship that's it was probably doubling in size every two years. At that time. And being, as you said, in one team supposed to be doing something but at the same time seeing the whole Cake expand, and maybe being able to, to work right and left. How did you juggle all this as a as your new graduates in your first first assignment or folks first company?
Roopak Venkatakrishnan 25:12 Yeah. So when I joined Twitter, I joined the billing team. So we were working on billing, and it was a lot more, you know, back end, not really user facing, and I was there for about six months when I realized, you know, I want to do something a little more user facing, right. I wanted to, I wanted to be able to point and say, Hey, you see that thing? That that's a feature I worked on? So I said for a while and you know, I had like great colleagues, I actually work with one of them today, because he happens to be at both. But somewhere somewhere along the way, you know, I realized that I wanted something else. And there was this other company that was acquired by Twitter right around the time I joined and there was something about my twitter at this point was like, you know, thousand plus people are a must assume I don't know the actual numbers, but there were a lot of people, but this team would be, they would set about, like, somewhere close to us. And I would see them always, you know, something about that team, they were always like very excited working on something, there would be a lot of noise from that area. And that was yes, I really liked that. So I went up to that manager one day, and I was like, Hey, man, do you guys have any openings on your team? You know, I ended up joining his team and that was that that's the team that I say that you know, I'm still in touch with we have a Twitter dm group where we're all still chatting. I don't think any of us is at Twitter anymore. However, we're all keep in touch. And I think like, he's like, our, like the manager I had there. He's he was really good at what he did, like, you know, helping each person, figure out what they want it to do, how they want it to learn and making sure that you know They got one step ahead in their career is something which I think he did a really good job in helping me figure out and do.
Tim Bourguignon 27:08 Did that influence your, your future or beginning becoming a manager yourself?
Roopak Venkatakrishnan 27:14 Yeah, I still think back like, so I, you know, I started managing like earlier this year and every time I mean, this was officially managing, but before that, you know, it's sort of like mentor and things like that. And every time I would think back, I'd be like, Okay, what would I do if he was here? And you know, that that's, it's, it's something that I constantly think about, and I feel like there is like, it seems easy, but every time I think back to how he handled a different situation, if it's something that I still do today and I and try and learn from
Tim Bourguignon 27:49 Do you want to continue be a manager or do you want to oscillate between individual contribution and management that Well, what's what's your plan there?
Roopak Venkatakrishnan 27:59 I If I'm going to be very honest, I actually don't know the answer there right now, I do want to try management because I think I learned a lot or, you know, I felt like, you know, from the various different managers I've had at different companies I've like benefited a lot from, you know, the way they helped me grow my career, and being able to have as an individual contributor, right, like you go deep into something and the, you know, the skills that you own are going to be somewhat different from the skills that you own as a manager. And it's something I've wanted to try. However, there is another part of me or there's another Ah, I can scratch where, if you become a manager for much bigger team, you'll have to start coding on an everyday basis. I don't know how okay with that I would be right now I'm sort of in this position, where my team is not big enough that I still have some time to actually code. And if that were to go away, I'm not sure how I would feel yet so still exploring
Tim Bourguignon 29:00 Yeah, what I've often heard from the guests I talked to, is they, they tend to oscillate and, and go toward full management if we pick air quotes and and dip their toes in there, and then swing the pendulum back to individual contribution, and have a way better understanding from all of the problems a manager faces and way more empathy for the managers they work with and become way better contributors by having this experience having had this experience, and then going back and forth and always keeping their their skills, the coding skills sharp by being in contribution, and then going back to management a little bit and then back going back and forth. So it kind of makes sense for from, from my perspective right now.
Roopak Venkatakrishnan 29:52 Yeah, actually, I mean, that I've never heard it put that way. But yeah, it definitely does make a lot of sense.
Tim Bourguignon 29:58 If you feel if you want to To read more about this, I think it's charity majors who wrote in length about this pendulum. And she's very adamant to talk about it. See, she has a big a big blog post. I think it's called the manager, pendulum, something like this. Not sure what g majors username should look into it.
Roopak Venkatakrishnan 30:21 Yeah, I'm definitely going to look that up.
Tim Bourguignon 30:22 But, but I have a hard question for you. Okay. What Why did you leave Twitter?
Roopak Venkatakrishnan 30:29 It's very, I'm actually trying to think back right now. I think in the moment, you have various different reasons that you tell yourself. And, you know, like, I know, at that point, some of the reasons that I was saying were like, Oh, you know, I feel like I'm not like learning anymore or things like that. I think a part of it might have just been that I had been there for two years. And you know, the manager was telling you about sort of left and I think for some reason Something there just like, triggered me wanting to leave. And I started looking at other opportunities. where, you know, I think that was a part of it. And another part of it was just simply because I felt like I was doing the same thing over and over and I want it to be or feel a little more challenged. I'm not very sure to be honest. Because at that point in time, I would say, you know, oh, you know, I don't like this one thing, or I don't like that other thing. But when you look back in hindsight, I think those are just like excuses you give yourself at that point in time to say you're looking for something different.
Tim Bourguignon 31:31 Yeah. What what I'm curious about is, Twitter is a bit is a big company, you said, thousand people give or take? And so I would expect there would be another team where you could be doing something else entirely and still be working for Twitter button. Oh, yeah. A change of view of real change of landscape.
Roopak Venkatakrishnan 31:54 Yeah, I think that's fair, right. Like for me, however, when I say a change, I mean, like a complete change, right? Like, if you're going to move to another team within one of these big companies, you aren't going to see a change. But you're not going to get to see like, you're still going to use the same tools, right, you're still going to be probably working, you probably work with the same people, you'll probably solve a different problem, that's for sure. But another part of me and something that I've always wanted to do, like, I don't know where this is, is like, learn more like learn more about various different systems, right? And what I would notice is like, if you're going to like Twitter at that point in time, like they're going to use some kind of version control system, that way, they're going to be deploying something. And that's not really going to change, like by the different teams that you go to. And I just want us to see something completely different, right? Like, I felt like Twitter was like, at that point, I used to call it medium, probably too large right now. And I wanted to go into something like I wanted to go back to Google, where I felt like I really think at that point, I honestly only interviewed at Google and Facebook and I ended up going to One because I was a fanboy, but too, because I just wanted to see, you know, how does a company at that scale sort of work?
Tim Bourguignon 33:07 Or it's all about the food. And after two years of Twitter, you just cannot handle the same food again.
Roopak Venkatakrishnan 33:13 It's probably true. In record.
Roopak Venkatakrishnan 33:17 I will say Twitter had way better food, at least. Or maybe that's what I think right now. I will say Twitter had really, really good food.
Tim Bourguignon 33:27 First problem, but yes. Awesome. So you went back to go? And did he? What did you work on?
Roopak Venkatakrishnan 33:36 Yeah. So I think towards the end of my time at Twitter, I had started like getting into Android, something you know, something about that was like, you know, I'm going to become an Android engineer. And so when I joined Google, I was working on the core Android team. I was there for six months before, I learned that one of the directors at Google actually, head joint. I mean, one of the directors from Twitter had joined Google. And so you know, I ended up Grabbing lunch with him one day. And he was working on there was this the chat software by Google one more chat software by Google called aloe. And I ended up like joining his team. They were working on customizable stickers somewhat like bitmoji, I guess. And know, his team was just starting off. And something about that just like felt very interesting to me. So initially on, you know, again, my free time, I would just spend some time, you know, working for his team, like sending them pull requests, or like internally, they call them CRS. So it'd be sending that for his team. And something like Yeah, I just really liked it. And so you know, I asked him, Hey, is it okay, if I join your team? Do you have an opening and you know, he did. So I ended up there, which is where I spent the rest of my time at Google was on his team.
Tim Bourguignon 34:52 That's, that's interesting. The second time you say this, going up to a manager and asking if they have an opening and and moving Or sliding laterally inside a company? Is this something you did? deliberately? Did he really whereafter? Is it something that you thought through before? Or is this just in the heat of the moment? This was the, the, the appropriate thing to do.
Roopak Venkatakrishnan 35:17 I don't Yeah. I mean, like, it's interesting, right. I've done this twice. And I and I think part of it is part of it is like when you join one of these bigger companies, you get to meet with managers, you get to meet with the team and you get to see something that you're not going to really find. Another thing that matters to me is like the product I work on and I want to you know, I want to be able to contribute like, I want to really like the product I work on. And it's very hard to find a mix of all three or find the perfect one and all three right like where you really like the team three, I really like the product and you really like your manager I think these are like three things. That you really want to, oh, of course. And like when I say product also means like, how hard are the problems you're solving. If any one of those is not satisfied, you feel like you can do better. And for me, I think, you know, when I worked on core Android, it was a lot of fun. I was definitely learning a lot. But, you know, I didn't feel like I liked the product as much or I think maybe I just like the product that the other team was working on. So I went up and you know, I did talk to various other teams along the way, but this is the team that I really liked everything so I sort of like ended up moving to that team.
Tim Bourguignon 36:36 I like the algorithm. By the way. You You seem to first have a very clear idea of what kind of company you want to join and then find a way to get there. Also if the team is not perfect and the product is not perfect and the manager is not perfect. And then optimize once you are in there and then try to optimize the product. To optimize a team and go one step of the other, instead of going full phones trying to find the right product, the right team at the right company, which might never happen, or will very probably never happen, that that is really nice algorithm.
Roopak Venkatakrishnan 37:16 I have fingers crossed. It's worked for me so far.
Tim Bourguignon 37:20 Yeah, well, we'll see where you go after, after bolt if that, if that works out again. So, so tell us about the about bolt. How did you get there? what's what's the story there?
Roopak Venkatakrishnan 37:31 It's actually very interesting. So after Google, I went to a company called spoke. But the thing that's interesting is I I interviewed that bolt three times, and I accepted the offered third time. It and you know, like, the first time was right after I joined Google, there was this colleague who I'd work with Twitter. You know, I had just signed the offer from Google. And he was like, Hey, I'm joining the startup. And you know, a startup is like, in Silicon Valley. A lot of people talk about startups. And you know, something I really wanted to do. But the part of like, there was a big part of me that was like, very afraid about joining a startup, right? It was like, okay, it's going to be a very small company, the chances of like a in a big company or one in a lot of developers. So if you make a mistake, it may not be noticed. And you know, like, I had those worries, am I going to fit in? Am I going to be able to do the right thing? And so I never ended up and so I was like, dude, you had to tell me after I signed, you know, if you told me before, maybe at a joint with you, because I want to have a buddy and I don't want to, you know, dive in alone. And so I interviewed them. But I didn't end up joining I just stayed at bolt. I mean, I sit at Google. And when I was deciding, you know, at Google after some time, I was like, Okay, I really need to go do a startup. Now. I can't wait any more. I feel like I need to do it. I talked to two to two startups. Right. It was spoken both And again, you know, there's a part of me that was really afraid. But I wanted to do it. And at that point in time, I again interviewed with both with both bolts and spoke. I knew more people that spoke. So one of my closest friends from the team I was on Twitter ended up joining spoke. So I was like, Hey, I know like three people at spoken one person at both, I'm probably going to be going to spoke. I mean, like, there were a lot of other factors. But I'm going to say, like, if I'm going to be very honest, it was just like, where would I be more comfortable? And I ended up saying, Okay, this is my first time doing a startup, and I'm going to be really comfortable. So I went there, like, I learned a lot. I will say that if you've been at big companies, and you go to a startup a, it's very different. You get to learn a lot. And yeah, I think finally after that this guy who was at fault was like, Hey, man, you've interviewed twice, I know, but like, let's make this happen. I want to work with you again, and That was the time when I left spoken to both and that's how I ended up at both.
Tim Bourguignon 40:04 That's my story and at any fits this algorithm again, you optimize this time for the for the people and the team and being with the people you to try and get this risk of going to a new startup reduced if I may say it works out again. Yes,
Roopak Venkatakrishnan 40:23 it does make right like I've never actually noticed a pattern but now that you pointed out Yeah, it does.
Tim Bourguignon 40:32 It might be a bullshit pattern but but it makes sense in my mind, it's kind of late here in Germany, but it makes sense perfectly. So how long have you been a bolt
Roopak Venkatakrishnan 40:45 now? It's been one year and two or three months.
Tim Bourguignon 40:49 But what are the the highs and lows in these in these 15 months?
Roopak Venkatakrishnan 40:54 Ah, okay, so I think the highs are for me every time I solve a problem. For me, it's a big high, right? Like, there are many, many problems. And I think the one thing that I particularly care about is not only solving a problem, but also identifying a problem, I think that's the part that I cared the most about. Because what happens at a lot of companies is like, you know, someone's already identified a problem, right? bigger companies, if you're working on a product feature, it's usually like, you know, PMS are going out there talking to people doing research, and they've identified a problem. And then, you know, they have a potential set of fixes. And your problem is to solve the technical part of it. However, you know, as you go to a startup, it's not necessarily that you're going to have all the resources to the same thing. And I both I think the first problem that I felt like I solved was, you know, developer productivity at both. I think when I joined there were about 10 developers, and the way they would, you know, test, like a lot of features was by deploying to staging and, you know, in my mind, that was not okay, right? Like when if you made a code change, you should be able to test the whole thing locally and be confident that when you when it goes to the staging environment, it's not going to break. And so I think as soon as I joined, they were like, hey, do the starter project and change this part of the UI, UI. And finally, this is this is the kind of thing that I was like, very interested in at a Twitter, right, I really wanted to solve user facing things. Over time, however, I've sort of moved towards the back the back end of stuff and you know, it's like, Okay, I'm going to solve developer productivity, which, by the way, has now become sort of like my thing. I like making developers more productive, like improving build systems deploys. That's like, that's the stuff that really, you know, gets me excited today. Yeah, so solving that and like making it from taking developers from like, you know, from what used to take 2025 minutes to test something down to like a couple of minutes was, I think the biggest high or has been the biggest Hi, at my time, Twitter, I mean, I meant I'm old,
Tim Bourguignon 43:03 and probably for your colleagues as well.
Roopak Venkatakrishnan 43:06 I share them say this is great. But I don't know if it's encouragement or if it's true. I mean, hopefully it's still
Tim Bourguignon 43:14 that little part. If some of them listen to this interview maybe after what they will come to you and offer you your preferred tweak sweets and to say thank you before because because you did bring down the the productivity or bring up the productivity, bring down the latency. Okay, so that was a high Did you have a low some kind of drawback during this time, something that that was harder, harder to, to, to digest?
Roopak Venkatakrishnan 43:46 I think there are many of those, right, like, for me, I think I personally don't like breaking things. And so I mean, it's a part of like, every developers journey that you are going to break something in production you cannot not break something otherwise you're not taking enough risks. But every time I break something I'm very upset with myself. So there's one of those times when you know I broke something not good and you know we didn't realize that I broke it for like it It wasn't like a user facing thing but it was definitely broken and we didn't realize 15 days you know, we had to do a post mortem and you know, I was very upset with myself But yeah, I you know, you get over it over time but I remember that day I was not happy at all
Tim Bourguignon 44:38 How do you cool down the the nasty voice in your head when when you do something that you don't like and then try to not not hit yourself too much because you're you're the harshest with with yourself. Probably.
Roopak Venkatakrishnan 44:53 That's that's very true. I think like you know, I broken stuff, like, broken a lot of stuff. I think that's the truth. things that come to mind are the one time it bolt in the one time it spoke. I think the one that spoke like was worse for me because I think what I did was within three weeks of joining there was this question, which was basically, there was this task where we basically had to run a migration on the database. And, you know, I wanted to be sure that I was not going to break anything. This was my first migration, right. And so, I actually was, you know, being very careful. And in the process of being very careful, I was so careful that I did something which we shouldn't have done. And I ended up mailing or sending out mails so we sent out 300 mails out of which I think 28 of them went to customers and there was this test mail that literally said, this mail is a test and you know, the head FCS back saying, Hey, what is this email and I saw it and I knew what had gone wrong, right? Like, oh my god, even if I think about it now I cringe so much, right? Like Took us like, within, like, you know, within an hour, I was able to figure out like everything at that point in time. The first thing for me was like, Okay, let's figure out what what the impact is. And then, you know, I can beat myself up afterward. So we figured out that we sent out 300 emails and 28 of them went to actual customers and the CS team went out mail those customers and apologized. And everything and you know, after that I got, I just like, watched Pete like, you know, once everything was done, I just like watch TV for the rest of the night. I really needed to sleep it off. I will say though, one of my close friends at Twitter, his name is Will Potter. The next morning I came in and you know, like, he had some good fun moving at the end. And, of course, everybody knows that you're like, not like you did something on purpose. And you know, they he gave me a little bit of a hard time for it. But at some point, he realized that I was feeling so bad that he stopped. He was like, I can't I can't do it. Your face is just like so sad.
Tim Bourguignon 47:00 Yeah I guess it's for to tease you a little bit but but you have to be empathetic enough to realize that the person is really down and wise pretty quickly Okay,
Roopak Venkatakrishnan 47:11 I you know I thought I thought you wouldn't beat yourself up over it It happens to everybody I was like No, I just got used to it or I'm not happy with my
Tim Bourguignon 47:20 you're always gonna hear this the stale phone phone and you hire being able to delete a database in production on the first day and the learning here is that your your process your processes screwed up if you're new I here is able to to delete a database then your process has messed up not not the new hire. Yeah, it's really your process. So if you were able to to male clients with test customers that something was often there you're not necessarily on to blame putting necessarily because I don't know whole story but a little bit
Roopak Venkatakrishnan 48:00 We did go and like, you know, we had a post mortem. And like, I think the thing that I followed up in the next couple of weeks was the, you know, go and plug that hole like now if anybody had spoke tracing, does it right, the console will just like exit and with big red letters, it'll be like, are you sure you're supposed to be able to do this and then you know, add a flag of I am 100% Sure. And then it'll actually do it otherwise it won't sort of thing but
Tim Bourguignon 48:26 yeah, and and you're absolutely the right person to this because you're the one who was really bitten by this and then really can relate to how bad it feels to to fall into this pit. Hundred percent Awesome, awesome. So we reached the the part of the interview where I want to, to hear an advice from you. What what would be the one advice that had the most the biggest impact in your career so far?
Roopak Venkatakrishnan 48:54 I'm not sure the best way to phrase it, but I'm gonna try. I think the one thing that's always on Never Never take an answer. And then just like never accept it, right? If people say something is not possible, or that's the way it's always been, don't accept that answer. Go figure out why and make sure if that answer still holds. There have been multiple times, where, you know, you know, this is just the way we've done things is, is sort of like, you know, I think a lot of people talk about this, but this is something that, you know, I've heard many times, and the things you don't realize are one, this might have been an answer, you know, six months ago, or one year ago, you have to evaluate if it's still the answer, have things changed, right. And that, for me has been like the one thing where that's how I found a lot of the problems and solve certain things, or many different things, I think, in my career have been because I've refused to accept. That's how we've done things or you know, like, sometimes there's not even like nobody even says that right. It's just there. Nobody ever goes and looks at why something is done that way. Like, go figure out why something is done that way and then see if that can be made better, because over time, nobody's going to look at different things or different decisions that have made have been made, and then go and see if they can be changed or should be changed. And I think that's the one advice that I would give anyone.
Tim Bourguignon 50:19 The very well known we've, we've always done this this way before. So that's the way it has to be done. Yeah. When you come with a fresh pair of eyes on something, and you might see something that people didn't see before and so this, this, this statement might not necessarily be true anymore. That that's very true. Like,
Roopak Venkatakrishnan 50:40 that's pretty cool. Yeah, definitely. I think one is people seeing it nowadays. I don't even think people say it anymore. But the other part of it still is there, right, which is they didn't mention it or Nobody. Nobody looks at something right. Like there are parts of the bolt code base that nobody has looked at for like over one and a half years. I'm pretty sure something's missing. could be done or something could be changed, right? So go look at things that people haven't talked like, go figure out why we're doing certain things. Awesome.
Tim Bourguignon 51:07 That makes a lot of them. Thank you.
Roopak Venkatakrishnan 51:09 Thank you.
Tim Bourguignon 51:10 So, Rupert, where would be the best place to continue this discussion with you?
Roopak Venkatakrishnan 51:15 Oh, yeah, you guys can. Anyone can find me on Twitter. It's twitter.com slash rupak v r or P AKV. You can see me tweeting random things. As Tim mentioned earlier on. I'm usually like, pretty active. They're talking about the various side projects that I'm trying to build or talking about random things that amuse me. So that's, that's the best place.
Tim Bourguignon 51:44 Do you have anything on your plate coming in the next weeks or months that you want to plug in?
Roopak Venkatakrishnan 51:49 Yeah. Okay. First off, if anybody's looking for a job, please reach out to me. We're actively hiring at both and the application in first For the platform's team, really fun place, we solve a lot of hard problems. And so that, yeah, if you're looking for a job, reach out, and when the other thing is I'm building a bunch of tools, and first for ci and CD, which I particularly like. So if people are interested in, you know, like talking more about ci or CD, or like, I just like meeting people and chatting about why they do certain things in certain ways. So if that's something you'd be interested in, definitely hit me up on Twitter!
Tim Bourguignon 52:31 People. You've heard it, do it. Um, Roopak, thank you very much. It's been a blast listening to your story. And this has been another episode of dev journey was each other next week. Bye. Sponsor: Even though we developers learn all year long, I still think about September as the back to school time. This time, I am focusing on my Python skills. Dev journey guest number 94 Michael Kennedy is gifting five of you Dear listeners, he's heightened for absolute beginners course to enter the raffle and maybe win one of these five keys. Subscribe to the dev journey newsletter at dev journey dot info slash news during September 2020, and we will pick a winner each week. Good luck. Tim from a different time and space with a few comments to make. First, get the most of those developers journeys by subscribing to the podcast with the app of your choice, and get the new episodes out to magically right when they air. The podcast is available on all major platforms. Then, visit our website to find the show notes with the old links mentioned by our guests, the advices they gave us, their book references and so on. And while you're there, use the comments to continue the discussion with our guests and with me or reach out on Twitter or LinkedIn. And a big big thanks to the Patreon donors that helps me pay the hosting bills. If you can spare a few coins, please consider a small monthly donation. Every pledge, however small helps. Finally, please do someone you love a favor, tell them about the show today and help them on their journey.