Project Management Excellence in Tech: An Inside Look with Anuj Thapliyal of Amazon

Project Management Excellence in Tech: An Inside Look with Anuj Thapliyal of Amazon

With 16 years of software development experience across server, web, mobile, and embedded systems, Anuj Thapliyal stands out as a beacon of innovation and scalability. His remarkable career journey encompasses leading over 100 engineers at Amazon, where he’s been at the forefront of building next-generation operating systems for Amazon devices.

Here, Anuj sheds light on the intricacies of developing a cross-platform Application Development Framework that broadly supports Amazon devices, as well as his influence in pioneering an Application Development Framework for the Stellantis new digital cabin platform, STLA SmartCockpit. Alongside his significant contributions,

Anuj played a pivotal role in evolving Amazon’s shopping app technology, enabling feature deployment within the application remotely and has been an integral part in transforming to meet modern-scale expectations. Additionally, his diversified background includes co-founding Shrink Sync and holding the tech lead position at Radiate Media, which provided content management systems for numerous small US newspapers.

Deeply rooted in technical prowess with expertise in Linux Graphics, rendering technologies, embedded systems, and a suite of programming languages, Anuj’s educational credentials from Utah State University and U.P Technical University lay the foundation for this extensive arsenal of skills, driving his focus at Amazon to new heights.

Let’s learn more about Anuj today.

Anuj, can you walk us through the beginning of your career at Amazon and what initially drew you to the company?

I always admired Amazon as one of the most innovative companies, so when I started my career at the AppStore team, I was really excited. I learned a lot on my first project about operational excellence and how a large-scale system is built and operated for high availability. I realized that Amazon internally is a big startup, and we are continuously trying to push the boundary on what’s possible. Over the years, I have worked on healthcare, retail, and consumer electronics at Amazon trying to use software to solve unique, hard, and diverse sets of challenges.

Can you describe your strategies for project management that specifically contribute to achieving both scalability in your projects and fostering an environment of continuous innovation?

One of the main strategies is writing an execution plan. First, we do a proof of concept and then come up with a high-level plan with resources and estimates, then we see if any tasks could be parallelized. This gives us a fairly accurate estimate and keeps us on track. This also allows us to prioritize important tasks that would allow us to ship early.

You’ve been instrumental in building the next generation of Application Development Framework for Amazon devices. What are the key factors that drive successful innovation in such a complex project?

I think one of the key factors is communication between teams and being proactive. We also need people who are experts in their field and have great technical and troubleshooting skills. There should also be a “think big” mindset among team members to really do things that have never been done before. Sometimes we have to really dive deep into our technical stack to troubleshoot a challenge or work with a team and do brainstorming to come up with alternate innovative solutions. Overall, it has been a fun challenging project.

The cross-platform Application Development Framework you developed has had a wide impact. Can you explain the challenges you faced in creating a framework that supports such a variety of devices?

We run into a lot of hard technical challenges that sometimes require diving deep into our stack and figure out the issue and come up with innovative solutions. This needs to be done day in and day out for such projects and requires lots of experts working together. We need to make sure that the user interface is responsive and fluid on TV, automotive, and Alexa devices. This means doing lots of testing and making sure we have designed software to take into account different device capabilities and adjust accordingly. You should be able to navigate in applications using touch, remote, or your voice and everything should feel seamless.

Your work with Amazon Digital Cabin and STLA SmartCockpit is quite fascinating. How do you balance technical requirements with business objectives in these kinds of projects?

It really comes down to customer obsession and what would be the best customer experience. We make sure whatever technical problems we are solving eventually make a frustration-free experience for customers. In the end, a happy customer is good for business, but it’s hard to do this. Most customers want innovative polished products, and that’s mostly how we align on technical and business objectives. We make sure that whatever we are building is at par or better than existing experiences out there.

Amazon’s inclination toward a platform that allows feature deployment within applications remotely is quite revolutionary. What methodologies do you employ in project planning and execution to bring such ideas to fruition?

For such projects, we do a lot of A/B testing and canary tests. That means we first test the feature in the background to make sure it’s not crashing or causing any issues, then it’s slowly dialed up to 5%, then 10%, then 50%, and then 100% of users. At all these stages, we look at any potential issues that might occur and continuously monitor our error dashboard. If something does go wrong, we are able to easily dial down our launch and then identify the root cause of the issue. This allows us to innovate at a fast pace without impacting customers.

Reflecting on your tenure with Amazon, can you share a project you’re particularly proud of and what made it stand out in your career?

There are two of them that I am really proud of—one is building a healthcare app that we ran a pilot program of in a real setting with doctors and patients using it. This one was solving a real customer pain point of how to share your health information with caregivers and loved ones. The second one is building a cross-platform UI framework that I mentioned earlier. This required niche skills in computer graphics and low-level embedded programming and was a big and technically complex project that was optimized to run on low-power devices.

We are seeing glimpses of the future from LLM-based chatbots like ChatGPT. AI is going to have a big impact on all aspects. and the next generation of development frameworks will come with all sorts of AI tools that will make building applications more efficient. It really comes down to allowing customers to focus on their ideas and vision for their apps rather than the boilerplate/grunt work they have to do in building an application. I do foresee Amazon playing a leading role in all these advancements.

As we close our insightful discussion with Anuj Thapliyal, it’s clear his profound impact on project management continues to revolutionize the tech industry, particularly within Amazon’s dynamic and innovative atmosphere. Anuj’s exemplary balance of technical acumen and business strategy serves not only the objectives of Amazon but sets a high bar for customer satisfaction and product excellence. For those inspired by Anuj’s journey, his story serves as a testament to the heights one can reach with a blend of technical expertise, innovative mindsets, and strategic execution. Follow the lead of a seasoned professional like Anuj—dive deep into challenges, prioritize customer-centric solutions, and stay at the forefront of technology to make your mark in the tech world

Written by Joshua Galyon

Joshua is a senior editor at Snooth, covering most anything of interest in the world of science and technology. Having written on everything from the science of space exploration to advances in gene therapy, he has a real soft spot for big, complicated pieces that make for excellent weekend reads.

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