Interview with Shyam Anand, VP Engineering @ Lookup

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[This interview is sponsored by workspot.in, India’s leading aggregator of co-working spaces, meeting rooms and shared offices. If you have additional office space and are looking to rent it, please do list it on workspot.in. If you are looking for space for your startup, do visit workspot.in]

 

With the increase in number of smartphone users in the country, the number of people using mobile as the main source of information is also increasing. More people than ever are now using their mobiles to retrieve all kinds of information. LookUp is another app that makes use of mobile as a platform to connect users to merchants nearby and chat directly with them without revealing their identity. The company is founded by Innoz (developer of SMS Gyan, an SMS search app) founder Deepak Ravindran.

Chat has risen to an extreme height of popularity and the one billion downloads count of WhatsApp Messenger is a big evidence of that. LookUp wants to make use of this messaging wave to transform the local commerce in India. The company has already raised more than $2.5 million from investors worldwide including the likes of Twitter co-founder Biz Stone and Infosys co-founder Kris Gopalakrishnan. This funding would be used by the company to enhance the existing technology and increase the customer base. The app is currently functional in Bangalore, Mumbai, Delhi and Pune, and is expanding to other cities.

We reached out to Shyam Anand on behalf of the Digifire readers to know more about this tech startup.

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Give us a snapshot of your professional journey till now.

I have been fascinated by technology and computers since the time I was a kid. I opted-in for computer classes in school and started learning programming in BASIC there. I really got hooked and knew it’s something I’d love to keep doing. I took Computer Science in my engineering at LBS College where I was classmates with Deepak and 2 other founders of Innoz, the company I started my career with as the first employee. I worked as a Software Architect and headed the engineering team at Innoz. I learned a lot there as we were starting something from the scratch.

After Innoz, I joined ZipDial and worked on some different challenges. I met some great people there and had the chance to learn a lot from them. ZipDial was acquired by Twitter in the beginning of 2015, and it was a good experience to be a part of the transition.

Deepak called me back to join him at Lookup, and I felt the product was brilliant and Lookup would align perfectly with the kind of work that I’d want to do, plus I would fit in with the team too. I did not have to think a lot to make the switch, and here I’m now.

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When & how did the entrepreneurial bug bite you?

I have always loved building things and solving problems. I loved coding and writing applications on my own ever since I started learning programming. This is what I’ve always wanted to do, and I guess being entrepreneurial means a very similar thing.

What were the early days at LookUp like?

Lookup started with a very good team. The first app versions were released really fast and there was constant learning and changes in, not just tech, but also business and operations. There has been changes since, but our mission to help users get what they want easily has remained the same.

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Can you please describe what a typical day at office is like?

Our day starts by around 10-10:30 in the morning. The engineering team follows agile methodology and have daily scrum meetings, where the team updates each other about their tasks and resolves dependencies with each other. This enables good communication between the team members and helps the team function effectively. One of the great things about the team is their commitment and their drive to complete each project in time. We have a challenging yet nurturing working atmosphere in the office and we have great fun too. We don’t really mind stretching our working hours to meet tight deadlines.

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Can you tell us about the technology stack used at LookUp?

The initial version of the platform was written in Python and PHP, with an Erlang XMPP chat server. We are switching to a whole new stack, with the platform (including chat server) running completely on Java. The platform is deployed on AWS, and we make use of a lot of services from AWS. We use MySQL as our main datastore, Redis for caching and Elasticsearch for searching, logging and analytics.

Our front-end is written in ReactJS with a PHP backend.

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Is there any technology that you’re personally betting on to help you scale up?

Yes, as I mentioned earlier, we are already revamping the platform by making use of JVM to scale up. I’m not saying we couldn’t have done that with the earlier stack, but rather, it makes it easy for us to do it now for reasons starting from the availability of engineers with expertise in it.

But more than betting on just the technology, we have also introduced better processes and tools for software engineering. We have set up DevOps processes, and are making use of tools such as Git, with Jenkins and Capistrano for Continuous Delivery. These have helped us achieve faster release cycles. We are also building our QA team and are using automated testing tools to monitor the quality and productivity of the development process.

How are you using Business Intelligence and analytics at your company?

We treat data with its deserved respect at LookUp. Our decisions on improving our technology and operations have been driven by analysis of data that’s being collected every minute. We have dashboards with real-time data and have timely analysis and reports that help us make decisions well in advance so that we can make sure things happen smoothly.

How else does technology help your company stand apart from its rivals?

Rather than doing a lot of different things, we focus on what is important. We look at what worked and what needs improvement from the data we collect. Technology helps us arrive at these decisions, and also to improve our operations. We rely on technology to keep track of smooth functioning of our technology stack itself, and it enables us to be on top of the things at all times.

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What has been the biggest technical challenge you’ve faced while running LookUp?

The biggest challenge so far has been our migration to the new tech stack. We did away with XMPP and built our own system for real-time chat. This posed new challenges in terms of achieving real-time communication from and to mobile devices. We’re glad that it’s been going well.

What are some of the attributes you look out for in prospective technology employees?

One of the important things we look for is the passion for what they do. We look for people who are problem solvers and who can “own” their tasks, rather than coders who just do what they’re told to. People who can learn fast and can get things done fast fit right into our culture.

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How do you keep up to date with the latest happenings in the technology world?

I, personally, follow online articles — I have Twitter lists for tech news from various portals like Hacker News, Reddit, TechCrunch, etc. and also follow a lot of great people on Twitter and Medium.

Most people in the team are also followers of tech news and trends, and we share what we find interesting with each other, and often discuss them over lunch.

What gets you excited about coming to work every day?

Each day at Lookup we have some new problems to solve. We are constantly improving — not just the technology but ourselves as well, as we learn something new every day.

What sets LookUp engineering culture apart?

Our engineering team has the freedom to experiment and make mistakes. We appreciate self learners, who can find solution to problems quickly. The organisation itself is flat, and the team doesn’t have to deal with any bureaucracy if they want to try something new. We discuss plans with the team and get inputs from every member while the decisions are made.

Which LookUp value resonates best with you?

The core value of Lookup is to help people get what they want, easily. This is what I too want to do with technology — enable people to solve problems by leveraging technology.

Any piece of advice for the techies out there?

Be passionately curious, make mistakes and keep learning!

 

[This interview is sponsored by workspot.in, India’s leading aggregator of co-working spaces, meeting rooms and shared offices. If you have additional office space and are looking to rent it, please do list it on workspot.in. If you are looking for space for your startup, do visit workspot.in]

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