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A day in the life of a Skype engineer

“It’s early in the morning when we arrive at the Skype office in Tallinn, Estonia. In 12 hours, Mark Zuckerberg and Tony Bates will announce the Skype-Facebook partnership. Skype technology will power video chatting on the world’s largest online social network. The launch teams are assembled in the “war rooms” in Tallinn and Palo Alto. Mark just took the stage. Hundreds of reporters. The first live call. This is it. We’re finally launching. Needless to say, we’re excited.

Well, the launch happened and that was great in and of itself, but what was really fantastic was staying up with the whole launch team to watch this feature come online all over the world. We must have stayed up for thirty-six hours straight or something like that. That, and we could finally tell our friends and family what we’d been working on – using the product we’d built. That was great –definitely a favorite Skype moment for me.”

That’s just one of the things Tyler Wells had to say when we sat down for an interview to give you an inside look at what it’s like to work for Skype. Tyler works out of our Palo Alto, CA office, and he went into detail about how important it is to be passionate about problem solving, having great coffee, and what it was like working on the Skype-Facebook video calling project that launched in July 2011. Check it out.

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What did you do before you came to Skype?
Before I was at Skype, I was actually at Skype. I worked for Skype from 2006 until January 2008, when I left to work as the VP of Engineering for a startup in San Francisco called Spleak Media Network. I came back to Skype in September of 2009. Going all the way back, I played baseball in college while I got my Associate’s Degree.

What exactly do you do?
Officially, my role is principal software development engineer. What that really means is I lead the technology and development teams, working with architects, developers, product managers, operations, infosec, and anyone else who might have any sort of say, to ensure that we’re producing what needs to be produced. Doing that for Skype has definitely been more entrepreneurial than normal – it feels more like a start-up sometimes.

How did you hear about Skype and the job you have now?
I first used Skype when I was at Facetime Communications, a start-up in the Bay Area, to communicate with engineers in India after we’d acquired a company there. I was contacted directly and brought into Skype by a previous colleague – I’ve found that building up a network is valuable, and through that your reputation leads to opportunities finding you, rather than the other way.

Could you describe a typical day at the office?
To be honest, there’s really no such thing as a typical day. Working in a multi-national company, time zones are our biggest enemy – we need to know how to navigate them to succeed. We work a lot of strange hours – we’re no strangers to early mornings and late nights. I guess my days, like most engineers’, start with a strong espresso, and end somewhere late in the evening, depending on what the current development sprint looks like. We follow a development process called SCRUM, where we break complex projects and tasks into smaller units of work (one/two week “sprints”). It’s really important for us to have something at the end of each sprint to show off, so my daily routine really depends on where in any given sprint we are, and how well it’s going.

What makes you excited to come to work everyday?
It’s really great that I can tell someone I’m a Skype employee and it almost always leads to them telling me about their Skype experience. Our ability to reach our end-users, to allow them to enjoy the most intimate conversations — that just wouldn’t happen without Skype, and that really makes me happy about the work I do. But, while the warm fuzzies are great, the hard problems we get to tackle also make me excited for each new day. How do we develop a product that scales to that many people? How do we make it easy to use so anyone can figure it out? The problems can be really challenging and as an engineer I’m always going to want hard problems as opposed to a bunch of easy ones, so it’s great that Skype can give me that.

What’s your favorite perk about your job?
The quality of engineers I get to work with. Skype hires the best from all over the world, and few, if any, companies maintain such a high quality of development in so many countries all over the world.

What makes Skype different from other places you’ve worked at?
The passion of the people working here is what sets it apart. That, and the overall belief that we’re doing something good. We’re solving problems, and the people who are solving the problems are passionate about doing it.

Can you give us a bit more color on the Facebook partnership?
Sure. I just finished working on Facebook Video Calling powered by Skype, so I’ll talk about that. We started the initial prototype to see what we could do with Skype on the web. The entire thing actually started as a concept for a Skype calling application on Facebook, but through our partnership with Facebook, we showed them what we’d built and they wanted that experience deeply integrated into Facebook. So it morphed into the fully integrated feature powered by Skype that it is now. The project allowed me to work with almost every facet of the company, and to travel between all the engineering centers around the world. I actually moved to Estonia for 6 months in 2011 – I got there on Jan. 7, which was an absolutely fantastic experience, despite the freezing winter. We shipped the final project from Estonia, and then I moved back to California. It was hands down the biggest project I’ve worked on anywhere, in terms of reach, use potential, amount of people actually using it, complexity, diversity of the team, etc. It touched everything, and every group within Skype had some contribution and input, which was really fantastic.

What would you say to anyone interested in your role?
Find what you’re passionate about and love working on hard problems. Software requires passionate people. And remember, at the end of the day shipping product is important – you want to see all your hard work pay off, and see people using what you’ve put your blood, sweat, and tears into.

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