Aug 12 2019

WhatsApp Q&A: Building for One Billion People Across the Globe

By Meta Careers
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We hosted a Facebook Live panel discussion with four engineers at WhatsApp to get an inside look at what it’s like to work on a product with such massive scale. With over one billion users around the world, WhatsApp often serves as a lifeline for people to stay connected to their loved ones—no matter where they are in the world. So what makes this app so critical for people across continents? The key is WhatsApp’s laser-focus on creating an app that is simple, reliable and secure for everyone.
Engineers Manpreet S., Jean L., Wayne J. and Ryan M. shared their thoughts on the engineering culture at WhatsApp, what it means to be successful, and a few other favorite memories. Read on to learn about some of the reasons why people want to join the team.

What are the principles that guide your work at WhatsApp?

“There are several core engineering values that we discuss here at WhatsApp, and a couple of them really resonate with me,” says Jean L., Software Engineering Manager. “The first one is to focus on building features for the most underserved populations in the world. When we build a new feature, we always start by thinking about the people who might have a smartphone for the first time, use low-end devices, or have minimal connectivity. This kind of thinking informs our entire development cycle. We want to make sure everyone—even people who are coming online for the first time— can enjoy the features we build.”
“Another core value is simplicity,” Jean adds. “I remember leadership used to tell us, ‘I want to make sure even a grandmother who got a smartphone for the first time is able to open WhatsApp and use it intuitively.’ This concept guides our work.”

What are some of the most challenging technical problems you are solving at WhatsApp?

For Manpreet S., WhatsApp Engineering Site Lead in London, launching features is one thing, but the biggest challenge is building for a diverse set of people across a variety of devices, networks, and connectivity levels. “I worked on voice and video calling for WhatsApp and getting everything to work reliably is a massive challenge. When someone places a call in one part of the world and another person answers with a different device and much lower connectivity somewhere else, the quality should be good on both ends. This never-ending challenge has led our team to come up with a lot of great ideas and solutions. We’re constantly working to improve quality, and as it gets better, our challenge grows. There’s no limit to solving it.”

Can you share a bit about your experience with Bootcamp?

Ryan M., Software Engineering Manager, has been passionate about Bootcamp ever since he joined the company. “What really helped set Bootcamp apart was that I could actually talk to the engineers working on products, or attend presentations by people who were subject matter experts,” Ryan says. “This is very different from a typical onboarding process, which typically calls for reading an outdated Wiki or trying to talk to another engineer who is just as confused as you are! Being able to put a face to a name and follow up with industry experts to get meaningful answers was a super transformative experience. It helped me kickstart my career much more quickly.”
“Now as a Bootcamp mentor, I try to give engineers the same experience I had when I went through the program. My goal is to make sure they can ramp up as quickly as possible. As mentors, we focus on helping people learn our culture, the lingo, and the kind of work we do, so when they complete the program, they’re ready to make an impact right away.”

What has been your favorite day or moment since joining WhatsApp?

For Software Engineer Wayne J., one of his most memorable moments came from feedback from a user. “One of my first projects at WhatsApp was working with the voice recording feature. With the original version, you had to press on a microphone icon and hold it down while recording a message. We added a feature to where you can lock the recording mode and record a message hands-free. Soon after we shipped it, we heard a powerful user story: Someone had a stroke and because they were able to lock the recording, they could send a message to get help. This ultimately saved their life. It was one of a few moments when I could really see how my work impacts people, and it gave me a lot of pride.”

What do you think makes a great engineer at WhatsApp?

“One of the most important qualities of an engineer at WhatsApp is the ability to put the user first,” says Manpreet S. “It’s great to be able to build something that is solid and high quality, but keeping our users in mind when thinking about the experience is the hallmark of a great engineer or engineering manager.”
Ryan M. adds, “One thing I like to see in an engineer is curiosity. If you see something that doesn’t look right, look a little deeper to see if you can understand what’s going on. This leads to some of the greatest breakthroughs. For example, we recently noticed the web pages we were serving on WhatsApp were larger than intended, particularly in places with lower data-usage needs. When we looked more closely, we found a way to drastically reduce the size of web pages by simply turning on one switch. Often times, a small fix can make a significant difference.”

What keeps you inspired/motivated to work at WhatsApp?

"More than a billion people around the world use the app every day," Wayne J. says. “Understanding the impact our work can have on people’s lives drives us to build the best products we can. It’s an amazing feeling to know that we not only bring people across the globe closer, but we connect those who may not have the best devices, network, or resources. All you need is a device and connection to use WhatsApp and it’s free. It’s a beautiful thing.”

Check out the full panel discussion here:

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