Satwik Hebbar is proof passion binds life and work like nothing else
[ Note: This blog post is part of our Freshworks Friday Series. Why ‘Friday’? Well, let’s just say building great software comes easy as Fridays to us. Read on and you might discover more than that. :)]
Satwik Hebbar leads Engineering for the Freshworks Developer Platform. As an engineering leader he enjoys the human side of product development, motivating the best out of engineers and aiming to delight customers. He enjoys its engineering aspects too, breaking down complex problems and iterating to the finish line.
Satwik has spent 16 years in an engineering career spanning a fledgling startup, a fast-growing unicorn and a technology behemoth. In the early days, he worked with senior engineers and solved challenging problems together. Of late though, he enjoys helping engineers break the glass ceiling and bringing the best out of them.
What makes working at Freshworks fulfilling? Let’s hear it from Satwik Hebbar.
Describe your career journey. What led you to Freshworks?
As a young graduate, I joined CalsoftInc and got thrown straight into the bowels of a fledgling startup named StoredIQ, which was looking for help building connectors to various file-systems. Before I knew it, I was working shoulder-to-shoulder with their System Engineering team in Austin, Texas. I learned everything from humble, down-to-earth senior engineers as we built a Big Data Governance solution using the latest knick-knacks like virtual machines, postgres, lucene. We built clustered, scalable systems and dreamed of becoming an enterprise fixture in the Big Data world.
After eight years into this journey of evolving StoredIQ into an enterprise product, IBM came knocking and I moved from a 50-member startup into a 400,000-strong technology behemoth. At IBM, I took my first steps into leadership and learned what it takes to build and coach a young engineering team toward sustainable success. We continued to dream of big things and attempted to pave our own path. Four years on, however, I started to miss the freedom and the pace of a fast-growing startup. I started to grow tired of achieving technical consensus across time zones. I also realized that I was missing out on the next set of technology transformations that were already under way.
That is when I met the leadership team at Freshworks and realized that a rapidly growing SaaS startup, with all their engineers based here in India, would be the right recipe to plug the gaps I was witnessing at IBM.
How has your growth been since you started working at Freshworks?
To me, three terms appear to define clearly what Freshworks has to offer in terms of career opportunities:
- Freedom with responsibility – Right from Day One, Freshworks has afforded me the freedom to choose how I achieve the goals and the vision set for my team.
- Scale – As a fast-growing startup, everything around you is growing all the time. You have to always be on your toes to keep up.
- Opportunities in responsibility – We grow faster than we can practically hire, leaving enough room for people to grow into the available responsibilities.
I have always had the space and time to figure out what practices work for us, prioritize technical debt over feature development whenever necessary, and invest in engineering excellence. Starting from playing an engineering manager’s role for a squad on the team, going on to manage the whole engineering team, to leading the technology practice for the developer persona at Freshworks, I have personally benefited from the investment Freshworks has made in my career in my time here.
I have learned to work with cloud technologies, develop excellence in CI/CD, manage and work with large engineering teams, partner with sales and marketing teams, invest in long-term hiring practices, build architectures for scale and flexibility, and most importantly represent the voice of the developer and the engineer within Freshworks.
With the freedom of execution, the freedom to experiment, and the freedom to learn on the job afforded to me and my team, we have managed to evolve into a scalable, reliable platform that customers, developers and internal employees would enjoy working with.
Tell us about a recent project you worked on or a nice encounter you had with a coworker.
We recently launched our own Freshworks-styled component library for web development, and I should say I am proud of how the team pulled this together. Starting from ideation, we constantly strived to push the envelope. One should remember that in a global competitive sense, Freshworks is perceived to be in the chasing pack of competitors. This forces us to always imagine leap-frogging ahead when we embark on something.
When the competition was pleased to support specific web frameworks (mainly ReactJS), we wanted to support all kinds of frameworks. We wanted our library to be open source and driven by the community of users that adopts it over time. We wanted it to be super-easy to use and integrate into the apps people build today. We also wanted it to have a fresh and playful name to encourage developers to be excited about it – Crayons!
We launched this library in Jan 2020 under a closed Beta, ran an Early Access Program with a bunch of developers, helped them build and update their apps using Crayons and publish them to our Marketplace. In the process, we learned about all the creases that needed to be ironed out and the bugs that needed to be addressed. Crayons was launched in May 2020 as an open source library, and has already crossed 1,000 weekly downloads on npmjs!
How would you rate your work-life balance? And what do you think are the important contributing factors?
Honestly speaking, work and life are easier to balance when you can enjoy them both without any guilt. Work becomes enjoyable when it aligns with what and how you wish to be spending the majority of your work day on. At Freshworks, we encourage people to find exactly what will give them the most joy while contributing to the success of the organization as a whole. In a position where I can lead a team full of smart engineers, work with young and energetic professionals, and build a one-of-a-kind platform for developers the world over right here from India, I tend to find my joy.
This then translates to a happier life situation. What additionally helps is that most people I need to collaborate with are in the same timezone as myself. The freedom to make decisions independently goes a great way in doing your work independently as well. This minimizes the leakages from “work” into “life” helping maintain the so-called “balance” we all care for.
Are you inspired by the vision and mission of the organization?
Freshworks aspires to help businesses retain “customers for life”. Having grown up in the streets of India, I can relate to exactly how that feels. The shopkeepers on the street knew our names and remembered our tastes. They were happy to help and extend credit. They realized the experience we had in their shops every day kept us coming back. Even when times were tough, we as customers would want to extend a helping hand to the shop owner because of how they treated us.
This is precisely what Freshworks wants to enable through our suite of products. We realize that the moments of “wow” people experience regularly when they show up at a store front are what keeps them coming back and builds loyalty. As the last mile of this puzzle —the one that helps build a customized experience for our users and one that must scale with them — we realize exactly how we must empower developers around the world to deliver these moments of “wow” on our platform. We must do things differently than our competition because experience is as important as function and scale. This challenge certainly inspires myself and my team each day.
What’s your favorite Freshworks memory thus far?
On the engineering side, we hold monthly Aspirations sessions where we share highlights, achievements, roadmap and challenges with the rest of the team and external stakeholders. I enjoy collecting and reporting metrics for my team for these sessions every month. The numbers always tell a story of how fast we are growing both as a company and as a platform.
I remember that when I had joined 3 years ago, we were clocking a million serverless app invocations on our platform every month. This was a large number in itself given we had just launched this feature. But I treasure the day when we realized we had passed 30 million a month, and I was able to tell the team that we had gone from a million a month to a million every day, and it only took a year to get there. We realized as a team that we were in for something really exciting, and as a company, we realized this platform was worth investing in. From that day forward, we have not looked back as we closely track these numbers and proudly celebrate what we are able to deliver to our customers and developers through our platform.
What do you like about Chennai city?
I was born in Chennai, but never lived in the city when I was young. When it was time to return home from Austin, Texas, Chennai was home because my parents had settled here. The so-called “tech scene” didn’t matter because I was a remote employee for my startup and later for IBM post-acquisition. With Freshworks leading the SaaS revolution, Chennai is now a fast-evolving startup hub, especially for SaaS companies and I am glad to get a piece of that action.
Considering myself health-conscious, I find Chennai to be less polluted than other major cities, traffic less stressful (for now), and enjoy gorging on delicious South Indian fare that is often so light on the tummy. While I do wish we had easily accessible trails for walking and cycling (a few are under construction around us), my young family enjoys an evening on the beach followed by hot filter coffee at a traditional outlet or masala tea and vada pav at one of the many chaat outlets that have sprung up everywhere.
Why should someone join your team?
At Freshworks, we are inspired by the belief that we are ready for the big-time winning and pleasing customers the world over, solving increasingly harder problems over time, regularly scaling to new heights in engineering, and doing all of this from right here in India, with the best talent we have at our disposal. My team is no different, except for the fact that we have to please both customers and developers. Besides Postman, there is barely a developer brand or platform built out of India that developers have fallen in love with. We are driven by engaging with developers around the world and helping them succeed, and making sure they come back for more.
Unlike our competitors, Freshworks has charted a different course with our platform, which has made us more like a Platform-as-a-Service rather than simply an integration platform with APIs and an SDK. We have seen our serverless platform grow 400x in 3 years. We push the envelope to solve more problems with a PaaS rather than just an SDK. We thrive in agility and enjoy pushing out releases multiple times a day. If you love solving for scale, building for both developers and customers everywhere, aspiring to be world-class in continuous integration, and do all this from right here in India, the developer platform is the right fit for you.
Cover Image and Design: Deepak Kumar J
Feeling inspired by Satwik’s story? Freshworks invites passionate candidates to explore working with the various leaders and team members in our engineering and other functions. Do read more about our culture code and check out our careers page: https://www.freshworks.com/company/careers/
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