A couple months have passed since Japjit Tulsi joined StumbleUpon as our vice president of engineering, and we wanted to share a little more about his background, approach to his role here, and pastimes (flying!). Check out his answers to our questions below.
Why’d you come to StumbleUpon? How is your role here going to be similar/different to your previous experiences at Microsoft and Google?
I personally consider three things really important in a job: How much fun can you have at work? What are the people like? And what does the idea look like? SU does really well across the three. The aspect of fun was evident in the culture of the company as well as the executive team. It also goes for the quality of people at SU. The idea behind SU is also something that has reached a tipping point in terms of growth both as a company and in its userbase. The idea is simple at its core: connecting users with sites they will love. It is also a balanced mix of human curation and algorithmic technology, which appealed to me. StumbleUpon also has invested heavily and has done their part to scale open source platform technology like HBase/Elastic Search. Both open source development and giving back to the technical community is an important facet of what I enjoy doing.
In my career I have progressively moved to smaller companies. Both at Google and Microsoft I have helped start teams from scratch and taken them to large scale teams while scaling the technology at the same time. That should be very similar at SU. What SU does offer that is different is the pace of innovation and ability to effect direction. It is very empowering.
What made you realize that you wanted to be an engineer?
I have worked on computers since I was in grade 5. Computers just work for me! I don’t think I ever envisioned being away from them in whatever field I ended up being in. By the way, just like any 10 year old, I wanted to be a space astronaut and fly jet planes for the military (while working on computers).
What makes for an innovative engineering environment?
Five things not in order – agility, listening, fast decision making, trying things out, and keeping cruft out:
1. Agility – Not just speed but methodical light weight process, test driven development, focus on continuous improvement.
2. Listening – to the users, to the engineers and to the partners. An important step towards continuous improvement.
3. Fast decision making – Decisions need to be fast and course corrected even faster. A very important step towards agility.
4. Trying things out – fast failure is a key step in innovation. Keep trying new things and course correct from there, discard quickly.
5. Keeping cruft out – Technical and usability debt will hamper innovation. Take small steps to clear cruft and think modularity, think leaving in hooks for the future. Balance time to market and time to right.
What’s one of the biggest challenges you’ve faced professionally?
Learning to work with the media industry. It was a interesting cultural shift coming from technical scaling at Google Analytics to working with the media industry at YouTube in regards to long form content. Certainly learnt a lot from that experience.
What do you do in your spare time to clear your head or get ideas?
Do other things – Fly, play golf, go out for a night in town, talk to other people, elicit ideas. I consider myself a better sounding board than an idea generator. I also have an adage adapted from the Boy Scout days – “One good idea a day – that is all it takes.”
It’s 2016. What does StumbleUpon look like?
SU is the syndicated platform of choice around the world that helps users discover content of all types across devices – that they would love and would not have found otherwise. It keeps curiosity alive: what’s next around the corner?
What are some recent stumbles that you particularly liked?
Batman street-legal car, plus flying-related stuff, and the Truth about the Economy in 2 Minutes. I’m a huge photography fan, so pictures composed well are definitely high on the favorite stumbles list.
Japjit oversees all of StumbleUpon’s engineering functions including product development, recommendation science and infrastructure. He joined StumbleUpon from Google, where he spent the last six years as a director of engineering, responsible for building Google Analytics into one of the world’s largest Web analytics systems and most recently leading the development of YouTube’s long-form content efforts. Prior to Google, he was a group manager of engineering at Microsoft, where for more than five years he led a Web services incubation team, a data mining group and data warehousing. Japjit is a graduate of Punjab University and was pursuing a masters degree in Law when he decided a career in technology would be more rewarding.
Want to work with people like Japjit? We’re hiring!