What it’s like to connect one billion people around the world as a software engineer at WhatsApp
In our monthly series Working Girl Diaries, accomplished women with fascinating careers give us a peek into three days of their lives.
How many of us can say that we spend our work hours connecting one billion people across the world? That’s exactly what Shruthi Murthy does as a software engineer at WhatsApp, the social messaging application that literally one billion people use to communicate with their friends, families, and colleagues over text, video, and voice calling. Not to mention, WhatsApp has been a key tool helping refugees navigate their journeys and stay in contact with their loved ones.
Shruthi was one of the very first female engineers to join the small team at WhatsApp, where she focuses on app security and reliability for users and helps build new WhatsApp features. She uses her career expertise and lived experiences as a woman in the tech industry to empower girls and women, often speaking at conferences.
For this month’s Working Girl Diaries, we are lucky enough to witness three days in Shruthi’s world as she inspires girls around her, enjoys life with her husband and two sons, and helps keep WhatsApp functioning for users all over the globe.
7 a.m.: I’m an engineer and a night owl. My husband and our two boys, on the other hand, love their mornings, and like to follow the “early to bed, early to rise” adage. My boys wake me up with demands for breakfast, as is the case on most days. They are lucky because my husband loves to make a good breakfast as well.
7:30 a.m.: My husband whips up a hot breakfast for the kids with waffles, cream, and fruit. I pack lunch for the boys as they get ready for school. They bike to campus and I get ready to drive to work.
9 a.m.: Traffic is pretty smooth today and I reach work fairly quickly. I pick up some freshly squeezed OJ from the lovely breakfast spread at our cafeteria before heading to my desk. I check my WhatsApp messages, juice in one hand and my phone in the other. A lot of work at WhatsApp happens over — you guessed it — WhatsApp! I reply to a few messages, follow up on meeting requests with teammates, answer some non-work messages (like one from my mother in India asking why I haven’t called her in a week, and another from a fellow mom who wants to know if her child can carpool with us to my son’s soccer practice.)
10 a.m.: Now at my desk, I go over my to-do list for the day and handle a few items that need my immediate attention. I fix one critical bug that was blocking parts of a project I’m working on, and I message my coworker to update them on the status of upcoming tasks and projects.
12 p.m.: I go out for lunch with my team at one of the cafes on campus. We chat about a super cool bike that one of our teammates bought; my coworkers feel more like friends thanks to these informal lunches. Our great rapport not only makes work enjoyable, but also greatly improves productivity.
3 p.m.: I have a bunch of things to code and complete today as we prep for a product release, which I’m focusing on this afternoon. I also meet with one of the founders of WhatsApp, as I want his guidance on how to prioritize a few items for the release. The meeting is useful, as he is a very hands-on leader. He understands engineering problems to a great level of depth and encourages me toward workable solutions.
6 p.m.: Traffic on the way home is not so smooth. I arrive at my kids’ after-school daycare five minutes before closing time. I pick them up, give them a snack, and drive them and their friend to soccer practice. I go back home while they are at soccer and make a quick one-pot meal of tofu soup and noodles.
9 p.m.: I remember my mother’s message to me this morning. I video call her over WhatsApp and get to chat with my 90-year-old grandmother there, too. My grandma is very happy to be able to see me while she talks to me, and says how lucky I am to be living in these times with such marvelous technology. She remembers her school days (she was forced to dropout of high school) when most letters would be lost in the mail — and here we are, she says, talking instantaneously across thousands of miles. I agree with her. I feel super lucky to have had the opportunity to be part of the team that built video calling at WhatsApp. Video and voice calls amount to about 1.5 billion minutes of call time on WhatsApp everyday.
7 a.m.: Another day, another morning. The kids are running late to school so I’m rushing around encouraging them to move quickly. I briefly check my messages, and it’s heartwarming to see a news article about Syrian refugees using WhatsApp to keep in touch with their friends and families. There’s another email from a researcher in Antarctica who says WhatsApp is the only app that connects from his remote research station on that continent. Incredible!
8 a.m.: I have to prepare for a talk I’m giving this evening, so I practice my speech as I get ready for work. I will be talking to girls from the neighborhood high schools who have an active interest in pursuing computer science in college. I write down some talking points for the presentation and pick a couple of “techie” topics and non-engineering topics. I want the talk to be motivating!
9 a.m.: I’m thankful to have a meeting-free day today. This is one of the things I love about working here — we try to follow a no-meeting culture as much as possible. Instead, we message in real time to raise questions and issues, or to provide status reports on projects. This helps us iterate quickly and converge fast on decisions. We’ve found that what would have taken days or a week to coordinate in meetings takes much less time with this type of hive-like instantaneous communication.
10 a.m.: I make use of my meeting-free day today and start coding on some meaty parts of a project. I have a nice two-hour window to get a large part of it done.
12 p.m.: I’m excited to go to a group yoga class at lunch. Yoga strengthens me and brings about some much needed mindfulness.
1 p.m.: I interview an engineering candidate with a very interesting resume. Our interviews are pretty technical; we discuss some computer science (CS) background and also solve a programming problem on a whiteboard. I like to keep my interviews friendly and make sure the candidates are totally comfortable discussing engineering topics with me.
2 p.m.: I don’t want to be disturbed. I need to concentrate and get back to coding the component I started on this morning. I need to get some heavy-duty coding done so we can release a new feature in the next few weeks. Focusing on coding is as calming as it is exhilarating. I’m reminded of what one of our co-founders said: “Focus is the new ‘F’ word.” I’m coding like a monster, and so is the team.
6 p.m.: I’m one of the keynote speakers at the Girls Who Code graduation being hosted at the Facebook office. It’s very touching to meet these high schoolers who learned how to code over the summer and built some really cool apps. My talk focuses on end-to-end encryption (e2e) in WhatsApp, which ensures privacy for users communicating on WhatsApp. We built e2e last year so that every message sent and received in WhatsApp is fully encrypted between the sender and receiver. It was a true cutting-edge project that delivered encryption to over a billion users. I also talk to the girls about some important non-engineering topics, such as how not to expect perfection from themselves or others, but to learn how to make progress at various stages of school, work, and life.
9 p.m.: Finally home! The kids are in bed. It’s time for some personal reading. In line with what I said at the Girls Who Code graduation this evening, I have been reading Growth Mindset by Dr. Carol Dweck. It’s a very interesting book about how effort and hard work are more necessary than intrinsic talent to learn and achieve in any field. I pick up the book and read for a bit.
10 p.m.: It’s one of those days when I have to catch up on some work before bed. I work with a team of people who live in another timezone and I end up doing a quick impromptu chat with them to resolve some issues. With that taken care of, I finally catch up with my friends in our group chat on WhatsApp. A friend in London originally created this group to discuss her wardrobe for her sister’s wedding. This chat is a riot! It has pictures, wardrobe suggestions, and friendly teasing going back and forth with friends who live in different countries and timezones. It’s also a comforting and supportive space where we discuss raising kids and being away from our aging parents.
7 a.m.: I’m awake and see a message from one of our recruiting coordinators, who asks me if I’m interested in attending the next Grace Hopper Women in Tech Conference. I was there last year and it was amazing. I was on a panel with other women engineers and loved talking about the growth of WhatsApp. However, I may not be able to go this time, as the feature release that we are working towards is more important to me right now. I love that I have such great opportunities at this company and, at the same time, reasonable freedom to set my own priorities.
9 a.m.: Not a great start to the day as I read my messages about a complicated component of this project. I get into gear and meet with other engineering leads to put things back on track. Things aren’t fixed at the moment, but I’m confident that we will sort it out. I work with a great team of people who are super smart, highly motivated, hardworking, and focused on getting things done.
12 p.m.: We have a big team discussion about how to improve the performance and user experience of a certain piece of the project we’re launching in a few weeks. We decide to have an impromptu meeting at our desks and brainstorm a feasible solution on the whiteboard. Everyone rolls up their sleeves to get cracking on it.
1 p.m.: We join our monthly WhatsApp all-hands meeting, where our founders update the team about ongoing product and tech updates. The overall direction for the company stems from these meetings. Our founders are highly knowledgeable on every aspect of the business. I have never seen anyone who has that much breadth and depth on a range of topics, and they are very humble and accessible in terms of answering questions during our meetings.
3 p.m.: I meet with our product manager to resolve some product concerns. We love debating about the “right way” to do something, but we know we are working towards a common goal of keeping the product simple and reliable. It helps that we are all focused on doing the right thing for our users, and we try not to focus on timelines (it takes time to build things well!) or get distracted by what the competition does.
6 p.m.: Now I need to meet with the customer operations leads to work on some support issues. Things are looking much better than they did this morning, thanks to the engineering, product, and operations teams working together. I add some finishing touches and do some final sanity checks before I pack up.
7 p.m.: I meet some of my coworkers for a drink and some informal lounging before I head home. I’m exhausted.
9 p.m.: I prep for the following week, checking the kids’ class and sports schedules with my and my husband’s schedules to make sure everything is in order. I make a list of groceries to buy so I can stock up the fridge. Then I watch a Bollywood movie with the husband after the kids are in bed.
11 p.m.: I do a little bit of packing since I’m flying out of the country next week to target some internal product milestones in a remote office. I’m tired — but it’s the good kind of tired. I feel grateful to be able to work on a product that is loved and used by literally a billion people around the world everyday. I’m super excited for what we are building next. Onwards and upwards.
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