The business and technology industry, particularly software engineering, is more dynamic and vital today than ever before. It’s an environment where innovation, efficiency, and scalability are not just valued but demanded. Software engineering is at the heart of this, providing the foundation for developments in everything from e-commerce and healthcare to smart homes and beyond. As technology evolves, so does the role of the software engineer, transitioning from coder to visionary strategist.
Anuj Thapliyal’s career is a testament to this evolution. With over 16 years of experience across server, web, mobile, and embedded systems, Anuj has not only witnessed but also contributed to the significant transformation of the software engineering field. His journey is marked by notable achievements and leadership roles, particularly at Amazon, where he’s currently building the next generation of operating systems for their devices. His work on cross-platform application development frameworks and the Stellantis Digital Cabin platform highlights his innovative approach and deep understanding of technology’s potential.
Anuj’s expertise spans a wide range of technical skills, including Linux graphics, rendering technologies, embedded systems, and various programming languages. This diverse skill set, combined with his leadership experience leading over 100 engineers, showcases his ability to manage complex projects and drive substantial results. His contributions have not just improved the efficiency and scalability of Amazon’s offerings but also enhanced the customer experience, reflecting a deep commitment to innovation and excellence.
We had the privilege of interviewing Anuj Thapliyal to delve deeper into his leadership and impact at Amazon. Anuj’s story is not just one of individual success but a reflection of what’s possible at the intersection of technology, innovation, and leadership. As we continue to navigate the ever-evolving landscape of software engineering, leaders like Anuj are not merely participants but pioneers, shaping the future of technology and, by extension, the world around us. Read on to learn more about Anuj’s inspiring journey and transformative contributions.
It’s great to have you here, Anuj! Can you describe the vision and strategic process behind the application frameworks you developed for Amazon devices? How did you ensure they met diverse user and technological needs?
The vision for the cross-platform application framework was that developers would write their application once, and it would run as is on multiple Amazon devices like Fire TV and Echo Show devices. They wouldn’t have to worry about the underlying software powering the device. This saves them time and effort in maintaining multiple apps for each platform. Developers have to only maintain one code base, which can be used to create apps for different app stores, saving both time and resources.
Leading a team of over 100 engineers is no small feat. What leadership philosophies or strategies do you employ to foster innovation and maintain productivity within such a large team?
Amazon has a leadership principle of “hire and develop the best.” This means that when we hire people, we spend time mentoring any new hire by ensuring they understand how to navigate day-to-day work and also have a long-term career plan. We create processes that suit the team and help them deliver faster, rather than having the team follow some rigid process. We continuously evaluate the team’s progress and take feedback from all team members to make sure we are on the right track and course-correct as needed. Likewise, we set up one-on-one meetings with engineers to ensure they can ask any questions, express doubts, or seek any guidance.
In developing the Amazon shopping app and Stellantis digital cabin platforms, what were the biggest challenges you faced, and how did you overcome them to achieve successful implementation?
For the Amazon shopping app, the biggest challenge is the amount of traffic the app receives. We cannot launch anything that is not performant or, worse, causes an issue due to which shoppers are not able to use the app. This can adversely affect our order rate and performance. To ensure this does not happen, we run lots of tests where we soft-launch a feature in the background, study its performance, and monitor for errors. Once everything looks good, the feature is slowly dialed up across all regions we operate in. If any issues are observed, we have mechanisms to roll back features if needed.
In building the digital car cabin for Stellantis, one of the main challenges was how we could display multiple apps on one big screen and make this experience configurable based on what the driver is doing. This was accomplished by creating APIs for talking to the system compositor, a program responsible for displaying content on the screen and giving it instructions to partition the screen into a set number of windows placed in a certain configuration in which apps will be placed. A lot of work went into optimizing this and ensuring that apps can be resized with smooth animations if the driver wants to configure their experience.
How do you prioritize and manage the various innovative projects under your leadership, ensuring they align with Amazon’s broader goals while staying on the cutting edge of technology?
We make both quarterly and yearly plans based on our goals, ensuring we prioritize tasks that will have the biggest impact on moving the needle for our business. We then break down tasks and schedule bi-weekly sprints to execute our goals and track them closely. We readjust our plan based on where we are with respect to our goals by organizing retrospective meetings at the end of each sprint.
Can you share an example of a particularly innovative solution your team developed under your leadership? What was the impact of this innovation on Amazon’s operations or customer experience?
One of the innovative solutions we developed is karaoke mode on Alexa-based Echo devices. When a song is playing on the device, we display its lyrics and then highlight the line currently being played. We created an optimized implementation where the text is first broken into lines, and for highlighting, we just draw over the line we want to highlight, thus avoiding any unnecessary operations, creating a very fluid and smooth experience for the user.
How do you cultivate a culture of scalability and innovation within your team, and how do you measure its success?
We encourage anyone on the team to put forward their ideas or speak freely if they don’t agree with any decision we have taken. There is the concept of a two-way door decision where we can quickly experiment, and if it does not work, we course-correct. This helps us innovate at a faster pace rather than getting stuck in analysis paralysis. As we are a data-driven company, we make sure to measure and define key performance indicators for our systems that are continuously measured and improved. In some cases, we have weekly meetings to ensure things we have launched are working in the most performant manner by going over our metrics and dashboard. Any major issues are addressed with high priority, and we also create long-term goals to fix any inefficiencies in our system.
What role do collaboration and cross-functional teams play in your leadership approach, especially when working on complex projects like the application development frameworks?
Cross-team collaboration is one of our keys to success. To ensure we move quickly, we generally set up small cross-functional teams for a project, and they have their dedicated chat room and daily sync meetings. At any given time, there could be dozens of teams like this working in parallel, building different parts of the system and executing our goals. These teams also collaborate among each other by learning from each other and providing guidance based on their specific expertise and experience.
Looking back on your achievements at Amazon, what do you consider your most significant contribution to the company’s technology landscape, and why?
The project that stands out is our cross-platform user interface toolkit that is part of our application framework. This was uniquely challenging as it required us to have expertise in user interface design and computer graphics and understand how pixels are rendered on the screen with utmost efficiency, leading to a smooth customer experience. The cross-platform aspect made it especially challenging, as we had to create interfaces that work on different operating systems and ensure that an application developer does not have to worry about the underlying implementation. It was particularly challenging to ensure that this experience is performant even on low-cost devices. This gave our customers the best value for their money, matching the performance of high-cost devices from other companies.
As we conclude our exploration of Anuj Thapliyal’s remarkable career at Amazon, his story stands as a beacon for aspiring software engineers and leaders. Anuj exemplifies how passion, dedication, and a relentless pursuit of innovation can lead to groundbreaking achievements in technology. His journey from developing intricate software solutions to leading a team of over 100 engineers at one of the world’s most influential tech companies is a testament to the power of visionary leadership and technical prowess in the ever-evolving world of software engineering.
For those inspired by Anuj’s story, remember that the field of software engineering offers endless possibilities to innovate, lead, and make a significant impact. Whether you are just starting out or looking to elevate your career, there’s never been a better time to dive into the dynamic world of technology. Embrace the challenges, be open to learning, and you too can contribute to shaping the digital future. We encourage you to explore the exciting opportunities in software engineering and leadership, and to boldly carve your path in this transformative industry.
Laila Azzahra is a professional writer and blogger that loves to write about technology, business, entertainment, science, and health.