Have you ever wondered what a day in the life of a Vice President looks like? How do they structure their days? We recently interviewed Mr. Chetan Kalyan, Vice President, Engineering at Meesho, to get an in-depth look at his role and his keys to success.
A Techpreneur with more than a decade of experience in the areas of Artificial Intelligence and Software Engineering solutions, Chetan Kalyan heads a team of 75 people at Meesho. He is an alumnus of Stanford University and his expertise lies in Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and large-scale distributed systems. As the VP of Engineering, he builds highly scalable systems catering to 50 million users across India and Indonesia.
Read on to find out about his role as the VP of Engineering, lessons he learned to excel in this field, skills required to become a seasoned data engineering professional, the scope of AI and Software Engineering as a career in India, and more.
A Day in the Life of the Vice President of Engineering at Meesho
1. Please share a brief introduction about your role as Vice President, Engineering at Meesho.
Mr. Chetan: Meesho is India’s leading social commerce platform, where our entrepreneurs earn an income by setting up their online shops and selling products to end customers. We have around 5 million users of the platform daily and we understand the need for scaling up to meet the increasing demand. So, ensuring the availability of scalable systems is our top priority and I am responsible for the building of a robust scalable platform. I guide my team of tech developers and architects to design, create and update this technological platform that supports in acquiring new users, help them discover products and place orders, effortlessly. We ensure the user experience on the platform is at its best at all given times.
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2. What’s your job like? Is there a typical day or is each day different? Can you give us a basic idea of what you do and the kind of projects you work on?
Mr. Chetan: In my role at Meesho, I am fully aware of the dynamic ecosystem I work in and keep tuned to it. Multiple functions and the responsibilities that come with them, make my days different from one another. It is hard to predict what each day brings, but I put in all the effort to ensure completion of the activities I had planned for and attend to unscheduled tasks as well.
I prefer to start the day early and begin with my team’s standup meeting. This opportunity presents issues that require my immediate inputs leading to further discussion and sets the tone for the day. During pandemic times, these meetings have ensured we stay productive and on-track while working from home. During the day, there are several architecture discussions for building the next set of features for the platform. Besides, we have daily scrums/sprint and planning meetings to take stock on the progress made by the team. This ensures the team remains focused and delivers on time. I also work with vendors and keep the team engaged in building newer skillsets.
As a leader, I hold one-on-one meetings with my team members, mentor them, help them in taking up additional responsibilities so they grow further. I am also responsible for hiring new talent for my business unit, as and when the need arises. These activities occupy some working days.
Every day, post-dinner, I reserve a couple of hours for my ‘focussed’ time to catch up on trends in the industry by reading books and online or watching videos.
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3. Please shed some light on your career path and how did you move from a Research Intern role to Vice President – Engineering role?
Mr. Chetan: I’ve always been a tinkerer. My earliest childhood memory is of me dismantling my brother’s hot wheels cars to see how they work (and earning his wrath along the way). Engineering is the best career path for us tinkerers, so it was a natural choice to get into the field. During my undergrad years, I interned at a couple of research labs in Bangalore. My masters’ program at Stanford was the best 24 months of my life, where I got to work on everything from driverless cars to natural language processing algorithms.
Coming back to India after a stint at Qualcomm and FireEye, I joined Flipkart in 2013 to learn about web applications. I was fortunate to grow along with the company over the next 4 years, building truly web-scale systems and becoming a manager in the process.
Cut to 2017 and I wanted to see how I could manage a team without the comforts of a large company to support me. I started Klassifai as a data science consultancy, providing custom AI solutions to startups in the Bangalore area. Over the next year, we built solutions for agri-tech and fintech customers. In 2018, we were acquired by CirclesLlife and I became a director of engineering for their data platform there.
In early 2019, I met Sanjeev and Vidit at Meesho and realized that Meesho can crack the long-tail fashion market that traditional players like Flipkart cannot. I hence agreed to join them as a VP to build out social commerce systems for the next billion users in India.
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4. Tell us about some lessons that you have learned to excel in this field.
Mr. Chetan: Engineering management is a fascinating career – we continue to use the logical parts of our mind for solving work problems, and we also use the emotional side to keep our teams aligned. There is no single formula that works everywhere, so adapting to different needs across different teams is a critical skill that all leaders need to learn.
I have had the privilege of working with some visionary leaders in my career and learned from them. I truly believe great work happens when teams are given autonomy to run with their choices, and not constraining anyone to a particular role or function. In today’s knowledge economy, there will always be things that the leader doesn’t know, so keeping an open mind and setting open channels of communication are very helpful as well.
5. With 13+ years of industry experience, according to you, what skills or characteristics make someone a seasoned data engineering professional?
Mr. Chetan: In my humble opinion, data engineering is the toughest challenge an engineer can be given. The set of tools and frameworks in this field are vast, and successful data engineers need to stay on top of all these tools constantly. It’s still an evolving field, so people in this field need to constantly innovate to manage all the data coming their way.
In terms of characteristics, a good data engineer is someone who loves deriving insights from data. As of February 2021, a data engineer’s toolkit will have the following skills – SQL, Python, Spark, Zeplin/Jupyter, Presto/Hbase/Redshift/Bigquery/Cosmos, Metabase/Redash/Tableau. Of course, this list is incomplete, but it gives a good sense of how varied the skillsets could be.
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6. What is the scope of Artificial Intelligence and Software Engineering as a career in India, and which are the essential skills you look for before hiring an AI expert?
Mr. Chetan: This is the golden age for AI in India. AI has crossed over from the research domain into the industry in a big way. People like to say that only large companies can use AI, but I disagree. AI models can be leveraged to high degrees of accuracy with even small datasets now, thanks to the techniques like transfer learning. Businesses have seen the value of integrating AI into their workflows, so getting buy-in from the management to build an AI model is easy.
However, AI experts are limited, and there are a lot of fake gurus out there. Companies looking to start their AI journeys are better off getting their first few models built by an AI consultancy, and slowly build up talent in-house once the team knows its way around the field. For people looking to enter the field of data science, I would highly recommend doing a course from Coursera or Udemy to get their fundamentals in place.
7. What expert advice will you give mid-level managers to move on to leadership roles in data engineering?
Mr. Chetan: The data engineering manager’s job is a challenging one – The managers need to know their way around ML concepts enough to build models on their own. They are also required to know how to run these models in production without letting the model get biased and give unexpected outputs. So, if you are a data engineer looking to become a manager, spend some time running a regular software engineering team. And if you are a software engineering manager already, it is the right time to learn ML and data engineering.
8. Which certifications do you hold, how these certificates have helped you in career growth? (Mention the name of the certificates and brief learning).
Mr. Chetan: None. All my learning has happened on the job, and I believe that is the best way to learn things.
9. Which certification courses, skill development paths, books, or channels do you recommend to aspiring professionals for upskilling? Also, please suggest any course for those who are planning for leadership roles?
Mr. Chetan: There are so many! I know enough to know that I don’t know enough. For developers, there are some classics which everyone should read and absorb – Steve McConnell’s Code Complete and Robert Martin’s Clean Code. For data engineers, practice SQL until you can speak in it. There are some fascinating blogs and websites out there, like towards data science blog and martin fowler blog.
I find that the allure of management in India is much higher than the reality, so I would recommend that you first try out management before you jump into it. Ask your manager if you can run 1 project over a couple of months and take constant feedback from everyone. In the end, be very honest with yourself and see if you actually enjoyed the experience. Proceed only if the answer is a strong yes. Reading things like first round review or Simon Sinek helps one discover leadership styles that you didn’t know existed.
10. Last words – Do you have any expert advice for our readers?
Mr. Chetan: Just one thing – never stop learning.
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