Petter Wiberg joined Truecaller from Skype, where he was working as development manager for mobile products for the past 4.5 years. In his past, he built Skype for the Android team in Palo Alto, California, and in the later years he been setting up and leading the Skype for Windows Phone team in Stockholm.
Before Skype, Petter worked at Sony Mobile (formally known as Sony Ericsson) in Lund where he was leading different teams working on Android, Symbian and feature phone development. With a pretty impressive resume, we decided it was time to have a chat with him about his new position as Director of Engineering at Truecaller.
What makes Truecaller different from other companies you’ve worked at?
It is a truly an entrepreneurial environment at Truecaller, with much shorter decision paths that I’ve experienced before. There is simply a “let’s just do it” attitude where people work together to help each other – that is extremely powerful.
Looking at the product, it’s rare that something new come along that really fills a need and adds value in people’s everyday life in the way that Truecaller does. To be a part of the journey and contribute to its breakthrough to become the everyday habit of hundreds of millions of people around the globe is a mind-blowing experience. I also like the responsiveness and the way we communicate directly with our users via social media and initiatives like our ambassador program.
This combination of things makes it a quite unique place to be.
What is your plan on creating a mobile dream team at Truecaller?
The Truecaller engineering team has more than doubled in the past year and we will continue to grow our development teams even further in 2015.
This type of growth is always challenging when a company that is moving out of the “garage” mode where everyone knows what everyone is doing, and into an environment where information becomes more distributed and people are more specialized.
The key for success for us is going to be to have clear interfaces between teams but a lot of autonomy (and accountability) for each team to evolve, innovate and deliver both the way they work as well as their technology. To glue all of this together, we need to make sure that we have the mechanisms and forums for information and competence exchange and cooperation across the teams.
The emphasis on team empowerment also means that we are (and should remain) a very “prestigeless” organization. Truecaller just isn’t the place for big egos.
“Truecaller just isn’t the place for big egos”
I’m a firm believer that in order to achieve great products, a genuine interest in our users is key. Everyone should know what our users like and don’t like and contribute with ideas and innovation on how to make the product even better. I also want to nurture a culture of software craftsmanship where things like continuous fixing/refactoring and test automation are inherent parts of the everyday engineering work.
One of the big strengths that we have today is the cooperation with the mobile OS vendors and OEMs. Our access to private APIs for Caller ID on the Windows Phone platform is a great example. Going forward I would like to deepen these relationships even further.
Engineers are hard to find these days, what innovative ways will you try to get them interested in Truecaller?
There is cut-throat competition for attracting talented people within the IT space in Stockholm today. Fortunately for us, the word about the Truecaller story is really getting around and we are seeing a lot of curiosity from people within the local community as well as from other countries.
Our best possible ambassadors are our own engineers, and I believe that for them to be visible in the community makes a real difference, it can be everything from a Truecaller tech blog to inviting to local tech sessions. These are things that we should support as an employer as it develops both the people who participates as well as building our brand as a company.
“In the end, it’s all about creating a great company culture”
In the end, it’s all about creating a great company culture, and showing people what it’s like to work here with the stimulation and challenges that make it a great place to be. As an example, we have recently started doing regular lab-days in our teams where the entire team put their priorities and release tasks aside a work on other things they want to experiment with. The stuff that is coming out of those days is amazing and the concept can hopefully also help in attracting new people.
What will you do to make sure users trust Truecaller with their data?
“We need to ensure that we are always transparent with what the user’s data is being used for”
Transparency, simplicity and trust. We need to ensure that we are always transparent with what the user’s data is being used for and that our product is so straight forward that our users understand what this means and the value that it brings them. Finally our users must trust that the data they share with the Truecaller community is in safe hands.
This is mostly a pedagogical topic, we just need to become even better at explaining to our users how Truecaller works.
What has been your biggest challenge so far and how did you overcome it?
During my time working on Skype we were working on deep integration into an “under construction” Windows Phone platform with an 18 month timeline being developed 9 time zones away.
Working with that type of dependencies while still trying to be Agile can easily grind down your velocity to a standstill but here are some learnings that we had on how to mitigate this.
- Try to separate areas of responsibility as far as possible between sites and narrow it down to a set of clearly agreed upon APIs.
- Even if you are working in an agile way, take the time to invest in early system design work with the teams you are dependent on, then iterate on this over time.
- Meet face to face and talk over voice or video on a regular basis to maintain close personal relationships. It’s so much easier to get things done when you know each other.
- Learn the other team’s code and learn how to debug it to pinpoint what the issues are (and maybe even suggest fixes), you don’t want to have to wait 24h every time you have a problem for someone just to come back and ask you for more info.
- Try to consume as stable as possible versions of the libraries that you are dependent on and have one person in the team test them out before everyone upgrading to a new version.
Luckily at Truecaller our entire engineering team (with a few exceptions) are located in the same office, so 99% of all topics can be resolved by just tapping a person on the shoulder and grabbing one of the office whiteboards!