Section Engineer Interview Series - Mani Batra

August 20, 2019

In this interview, Section Engineer Mani Batra shares what drove him to a career in software engineering, the most challenging aspect of his job, what side projects he is currently working on, the single piece of advice he would give fellow engineers, and lots of other fun tidbits along the way.

Mani Batra, Software Engineer

Why did you decide to become a software engineer?

I was always good with computers, but until I was 21 or 22, I had no idea what I was going to do. I liked computers, but that was it. I was working in the industry but I always thought I’d switch to something else, like an MBA. Maybe even modeling - that came up too! Then I read Steve Jobs’ biography and that made me realize how much power technology has to change the world. Since then, I’ve felt like I can’t do anything else. That was a watershed moment. I thought, this is what I’m going to do forever.

What keeps you motivated?

I have to think about this. I don’t think I believe that much in motivation because I’ve tried to get hacky with various things to get motivated. For me, right now, it’s more about discipline and just getting started. I know for a fact I love programming. I know that if I start, within fifteen minutes I’ll fall back into the flow and start loving it. But yeah, I’ve given up on motivation. Day-to-day, I don’t think in terms of motivation anymore.

What is it about programming that you love?

I don’t know. I think it’s maybe a combination of a few things. There’s always something new to learn. I think maybe it’s uncovering what is believed to be this magic that’s happening - the Internet is just working, but getting to the root of how it’s actually happening to get right to the bits of it… that’s awesome, that’s what I love.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

I think it’s focusing and not trying to do everything. So much cool stuff is happening and everyone is trying to do cool things, and yeah, you’re tempted to try and answer to every question or try and help out everywhere. I struggle with that. I’m trying to get better at it and realize you can’t do everything… because otherwise you’ll be average at everything. That’s 100% the most challenging aspect of the job. Making sure that what you’re prioritizing is actually adding value to the customer. You can be working on building some cool tech, but if it has zero value, which customers don’t care about… [it’s a waste of time].

What do you like most about working at Section?

Hands down, the people. It’s the most amazing bunch of people I have ever come in contact with. Not just work wise, but generally, so helpful and just awesome. Even on the days when you’re frustrated for some reason or another, you know that they’re there for you. It’s just awesome.

What is the worst technology you’ve ever worked with?

The worst memories I have are working with Java in my first job (for a banking company). It wasn’t like Java was bad per se, more how it was implemented and the infrastructure and everything was a mess. There was no culture of improving things. That was a nightmare. I think that’s why I started to hate Java, but it wasn’t the technology, more how it was being used. It’s such a legacy industry in which people are afraid to make changes, maybe for valid reasons such as not wanting to introduce new risks, but [nevertheless resulted in a pile of…] there were piles of bad things being done over a period of time, which led to a very bad architecture.

Are you Dev or Ops?

I think both. I like making things, building things. I remember saying in my Section interview that for me, the meaning of life is building things. So surely dev. And I like figuring out problems and automating stuff, so I think both. Everyone in our company has that same attitude where you build up things then run them, and if there are problems, you fix them. So yeah, I would say both, surely.

What single piece of advice would you give fellow engineers?

I think that would be from the book I’m reading right now: you can be good at anything, but you can’t be good at everything. That’s what I struggle with. I really struggle with it to the point where I’ve felt guilty for not doing enough things during my day. I’m reaching a point now where I’m realizing there are only 24 hours in a day and you have to sleep… so yeah, I think if people understood that, there would be less frustration and stress generally.

What are you reading right now?

I’m reading this book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown. It has a long tagline, but it’s mostly about trying not to do too many things. It has really put my mind at ease. Aside from that, I like history. I like reading lots of autobiographies. A lot of US presidents for some reason. I don’t know why.

What are you listening to right now?

I’m going through my Beatles phase right now. It’s Beatles all day, every day, on repeat.

What’s a side project you’re working on, if any?

Recently, one thing that was cool was spinning up our platform on the Google Cloud Platform as a curiosity side project. I did it during my out of hours (fueled by beer). That was fun. I thought, shit, yes, I did that! I have out of hours tonight, so I’ll probably pick a new one. I’m thinking of playing around with Anycast, but that’ll be decided tonight. We are working on such cool stuff that there is often crossover in what I decide to tinker with.

Favorite off-the-wall comment in the #random channel?

We were talking about pushing code to prod straight away. That’s when this was posted. pushing to prod

What do you do for fun, aside from coding?

Right now, I play guitar, which is quite fun. I want to play Beatles songs, but I’m not there yet. I’m currently learning how to switch between chords, which is so damn hard. Stewart (Section CEO) recommended Fender Play, which I started with. After a couple of levels though, the learning curve became too steep. There’s a guy called Justin Guitar who has a free course on his website. I’ve bought his book, which has chords and tabs for various songs. That’s what I’m using as a resource.

Apart from that, reading and binge watching stuff. That’s what I do. Last weekend, I binge-watched The Boys on Amazon Prime. It’s such a fresh take. Basically, superheroes have gone bad and there’s this group of people trying to rein them in.

Favorite morning beverage?

Lots of coffee. Just plain black coffee.

Favorite song of all time?

Right now, it would have to be Help by the Beatles

Favorite vacation spot?

There’s a place called Terrigal, a train ride away from here (Sydney, Australia). Mountains and beaches, and there’s hardly anyone there. I’ve gone by myself a few times just to get away from it all. That’s been an awesome experience.

Terrigal, Australia

Favorite snack?

Is coffee a snack?

Who was your childhood hero?

I don’t think I’ve ever had any heros. When I was little, someone - maybe one of my teachers instilled in me, you should never have heros as you will put them on a pedestal. If it’s physically possible, you can do it. If you want to. So I don’t think I’ve had heros, but there have been a lot of people who have been inspiring.

Favorite happy hour beverage?

Ever since I started at Section, I really like beer. But if I had to pick just one drink of choice, it would be Lagavulin Scotch.