Confluent in India: Cultivating Innovation Where People Thrive
Before I came to Confluent, I worked 30 years at various companies with different cultures. I’ve had the chance to learn what works and what doesn’t. So when I started four months ago as the VP of Engineering, India, I knew I had arrived at an organization that shared my passions.
During my interview process I was impressed, first and foremost, with the people. Everybody I’ve met here is super smart, and at the same time, they are very humble, very transparent, and very honest.
I was also attracted to Confluent’s remote-first culture. Talent is the biggest differentiator that sets companies apart from one another. Yet in today’s world, talent is no longer based in one location. Not all companies recognize this, so I was impressed with Confluent when they said they were committed to being remote-first.
And of course, with the unique position Kafka is in, Confluent has an extraordinary opportunity to drive data in motion. I think that’s pretty exciting. In today’s Digital World, as companies endeavor to be data-driven, access to that data becomes critical. They’re looking for answers, and they know the data exists somewhere. They want to know how quickly they can access it.
Since every insight becomes like its own data project, it’s not easy to get access to those answers quickly. Agility and ‘speed’ are critical to succeeding in today’s digital world. And speed requires both empowerment and decentralization. All of this means there are more data sources springing up, and it becomes crucial to determine how we get people access to the right data.
Kafka has this foundational piece where we get this data in and make it available to people through the innovations we’re making. It’s like a central nervous system of data. I think that’s a very powerful concept, as opposed to point-to-point data integrations or more point-to-point data projects.
This opportunity to do something new is very exciting to me. In today’s world, awesome innovations happen when great people have fun while solving problems together.
Growing Our Team in India to Create Kafka Connect
I’m thrilled to be building Kafka Connect in India. Connect is all about making it really simple for our customers to bring data into Confluent, which presents a unique set of challenges for my team.
The first challenge is, how do I discover the various data sources and the structure of the data? Let’s say a customer wants to understand how their marketing spend is yielding results. They’ll get data from each of their marketing data sources, Google ads and Facebook ads. Perhaps, they want to mix and match their data sources in order to build insights. We need to be able to talk to all of these sources, get the data, and present it in a way that is easy to process through our downstream streaming capabilities downstream.
Or let’s say a company wants to analyze their sales teams to see if they are effective, or they want to discover at which points are the bottlenecks. They may want to get data from Salesforce and combine that data with corporate communication systems to identify bottlenecks.
The second challenge is the breadth of connectivity. The data sources are expanding, so there’s a huge number of them. The question is, how do we create mechanisms for people to create these connectors easily and run them on our cloud? It’s a very interesting technical problem, and essentially, we make it really simple and fast to build these connectors and get them to run on our cloud.
Scale tends to be the third challenge. In a sense it’s a boring problem, but it’s a very, very important one. As we build this data in motion, and as companies embrace it, the amount of data that flows in is going to be immense. There will be hundreds of connectors deployed bringing in and taking out huge petabytes of data. How do we reliably do that at scale on a multi-tenant cloud? This is a difficult technical problem that we continue to solve as our customer base grows.
We intend to tackle these challenges by building a global engineering organization, and we’ve decided to move the entire Connect product to India. In terms of hiring, I would say 65% of the people on the Connect team are in Bangalore, locally. The rest of the employees are spread all over India. Throughout the pandemic, and now that we are remote-first, a lot of people who were in Bangalore have moved to their hometowns or their dream locations and are working from there.
A Shared Vision for Collaborative Success and a Culture of Excellence
As we start to bring more people on board, something that is close to my heart is to really build a shared vision with the team. We have a great top-level vision, but I think it’s very important for the Connect team, or any other team, to look at, “What is it that we are doing in support of that vision? Where do we come into play? What is our north star? What does success mean to us?”
Building that vision collaboratively is super important to me. What that means is driving a lot of bottom-up thinking, which requires me to get the team closer to the customers, closer to the field, and giving them slack to be able to experiment.
While we already have an empathetic and collaborative culture, I also think it’s important to empower people more. We want people to be able to move fast. We’re wanting them to make decisions and not be caught up in a big consensus-building exercise. That means there needs to be an openness to embrace failure, learn from it, and move on. I want to nurture and encourage a culture that focuses on how we get better, which fundamentally drives developer happiness, individual growth, and team growth.
It is not my instinct to focus on the individual for any failure. The problem is rarely the individual. It’s usually something broken within the system. Maybe we didn’t have enough time for an employee to build something the right way. Maybe we didn’t focus on the quality as much. Maybe we didn’t do a good job of reviewing it, or maybe we discovered the specs a little too late.
My natural operating style is to be a coach. We spend a ton of time at work, and so I look at work as another opportunity where we evolve ourselves. How do we get better at work? How do we become better individuals? What is stopping us from bringing our full selves to work and how can I help?
In order to thrive within my team and Confluent’s culture, no matter what role someone comes in under, I think the foundational piece is you have to be passionate about solving problems. When we think of Problem Solving, we tend to think of it as solving technical problems but it is broader and applicable to every role. If I’m hiring a people leader, I’m asking, “How do you deal with people? How do you nurture this culture? How do you handle these situations?” Fundamentally, it’s problem-solving.
Beyond that, I think the most important thing for me is if you are focused on and committed to improving. If you want to build this culture of excellence, I think it’s really important for me that individuals come in with the attitude of, “I not only want to solve problems, but I want to get better at solving them.”
Making Confluent the Preferred Workplace for Engineers in India
Since coming to Confluent, I’ve been learning a lot about our customers, our products, and how we operate. We are a large company, but at the heart, we are very startup-ish in the way we work. That’s both good and bad. It’s good in terms of access to people and good in terms of openness. However, I think there are also some areas where we can improve, such as how to not be wasteful and how to structure and focus ourselves better.
In India, we’ve hired amazing talent over the last two years. The big challenge for us is really embracing this remote-first mindset. I know there’s a top-down commitment from Jay and the leadership, but we’re all learning how to be a global company with a priority on remote-first.
There’s a lot of interesting feedback from teams on how we change and what we change, so I’ve been connecting with people and learning the culture and establishing the roadmap going forward.
My goal is for Confluent to be the preferred choice of work for engineers in India. Some people think Netflix is one of the most exciting companies in the world. I met a classmate who is right now working at Indeed and has been raving about their culture. My son is fascinated by the culture at the gaming company Valve. Yes, there are a lot of awesome innovations happening in these companies in how they operate. But I think in three years from now, you will look back and say, “Hey, Confluent is at the edge of innovating on how they operate. They’re not just known for their products, but they’re also known for their culture, and people want to be part of this company.”
Srinivasulu Grandhi is the VP of Engineering & Site Leader at Confluent India and is responsible for the ‘Confluent Platform’ and ‘Connectors’ products. Prior to Confluent, Grandhi held engineering & product leadership roles at companies like Flipkart, Google, Apigee, and Microsoft.