An interview with Keerthana Srikanth, Confluent Software Engineer
A computer science graduate from the prestigious Birla Institute of Technology and Science Pilani, 23-year-old Keerthana joined Confluent’s Observability Team following a six-month internship.
In her first job, she wanted to be part of a culture that was collaborative and supportive, while pushing her to grow as a new developer. Keerthana says that Confluent has delivered on that, and more.
We sat down to chat about her role at Confluent and what advice she has for developers starting out in their careers.
What do you do at Confluent?
I’m a software engineer with the Observability India Team. Between the US and India, we provide a platform and APIs that enable visibility and insights into Confluent systems for customers and our business across on prem and cloud.
Within that, I’m part of the Notifications Service Team. We’re developing a central platform through which all notifications will be sent to Confluent customers, providing a unified experience in the look, feel and communication style of product alerts, as well as a customisable communication experience for each organisation.
A basic example of a use case might be, if you’ve signed up for a free trial of Confluent Cloud and it’s about to end, we need to send you a notification that your access is almost up and to ask if you’d like to continue using it.
What does a typical day look like as a Confluent software engineer?
Day to day this process might look like us discussing the feature we want to implement, gathering the requirements, writing a design document, building consensus – and then actually coding it! We also help our internal teams on board with our service, debug issues and test new releases.
Because I graduated and started work during the pandemic, I’ve always worked remotely. We do everything virtually, but I feel super connected to the team. That said, I’m super excited for the new India office to open imminently. We all talk about how much we want to go in, but the novelty might wear off once we’re stuck in the notorious Bengaluru traffic!
What is your background and how did you join Confluent?
I was a development intern with Confluent for six months during my fourth year in college in 2021. I was studying Computer Science and wanted to see if software engineering was right for me. DAs part of my university’s intern programme I joined Confluent as senior college friends mentioned to me the opportunity for growth and the collaborative culture. This really appealed to me.
At the time, I had no idea what Kafka was but one of them lent me Kafka: The Definitive Guide which was actually co-written by one of our founders Neha Narkhede. I remember reading the first couple of chapters and being absolutely blown away by it. Just the simplicity of the idea – it was so brilliant.
My internship ended up being with the same team I am in now. When I was offered a role to come back, I was very happy to accept.
What do you enjoy about working at Confluent?
I really enjoy the fact that the team encourages everybody to think beyond what they are tasked to do. From day one, even though I’m only in my first year of backend development, my managers told me: “Don’t limit yourself. Think about how you can improve the product, not just from an engineer’s point of view, but more holistically”.
Each day, we’re encouraged to think of ways to make the product better which helps us grow our engineering skills. It’s not just about writing code; you need to think about the features, and how it works.
One of our company values is ‘One team’ and this is so true from what I’ve seen in my team and others, as well. Everyone is approachable and everyone pitches in. If you ask anyone for help, they’ll give it. As the most junior member of the team, there’s so much to learn and I have A LOT of questions. But no one has ever said: “We can’t help you.” To me, that’s what the company culture is all about.
The other company value that resonates with me is ‘Smart, humble and empathetic.’ I think smart goes without saying but everybody here is so understanding. It’s such a good place to start as a developer.
How do you see your role developing?
We have a big vision of where we want to take our product and there are a lot of meaningful things to do there, so I think in terms of what I’m doing there’s scope for so much. I love this energy in the company. It’s very forward-facing. Everyone is very excited about our collective work; we understand the vision of the company and our role as part of it.
In terms of personal growth, I can’t stress how much this job has helped me to grow. When I joined as an intern, I had no other development experience. There are lots of opportunities for learning and improving – the company has several mentorship programmes.
I remember during my internship I was always given work that would enable me to learn. It was real work that was needed by the engineering team and was offered to me as an opportunity to improve my skills. I was never given throwaway “intern” tasks – I worked on various projects that were all important but never in a way that was pressured. I think this speaks to the culture of us all working on something that we feel we own.
Do you have any advice for new developers starting out in their careers?
Depending on what kind of experience you’ve had, you could be doing a lot of this stuff for the very first time. But that’s ok. I would say that a big learning curve for me was realising how developing in an academic context is so different from developing in a professional context. Especially when it comes to making calls about making calls about trade-offs on engineering solutions. There are so many factors at play that you don’t even know about, and you need to talk to lots of people to reach the best decision.
The ability to quickly learn something without going too deep is also something to consider, particularly fresh out of an academic setting. At Confluent, our customer-centricity means we need to solve problems efficiently and sustainably, without getting lost in the details.
In my team, we use something called RxJava and Vert.x that allow for asynchronous programming. When I started, I was like, “What is that?!” and immediately wanted to dive into researching and finding out more. But you can know how to use it without being an expert. My job is to think of the product as a whole and within the context of the business.
My other advice would be to listen, a lot. Keep learning. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Look beyond your day-to-day tasks, you’re not just here to code. Confluent will really give you the space to grow, so make sure you occupy it!
Becky Straker is Confluent’s Head of International Communications