The difficult job of being Line’s CTO
“I didn’t exactly apply for the position,” says Park Euivin, CTO of Line, a massive messaging app company that’s branching out into a wide array of services.
Park became CTO by default. While leading an engineering team at Korean search company Naver, it was her team that birthed the Line experiment and made it successful.
Today, Line is right up there with the biggest messaging apps of the world, with “only” 214 million monthly active users versus 700 million-plus for WeChat.
It’s facing some big challenges. The main one: how can it continue to grow, and what gaps can it fill between the twin peaks of Facebook and Tencent?
Line’s overall user base is dipping, but it’s still growing in its core markets of Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, and Indonesia.
It’s also raking in the cash, hitting US$1.2 billion in revenue in 2016, a 16.2 percent surge over the previous year.
“Messaging app” is no longer an adequate description for Line. It’s making a big push into artificial intelligence and chatbots.
Driving that change is a tough job. Park’s engineering team is spread across Japan, Korea, Taiwan, China, and Vietnam, making up about 40 percent of Line’s workforce. The platform has 3,661 employees.
“We use English to communicate,” she says. However, that’s often unrealistic as Line hires in countries where people don’t speak English that well. So it’s not a strict requirement.
“We don’t want to limit our potential hires to only English speakers, so we don’t miss out on talented engineers in Asia,” she tells the audience at Tech in Asia Singapore 2017.
Line also has to juggle a sprawling product lineup, from Thailand-focused delivery service Line Man, to selfie camera app B612, to Clova, its latest AI project.
That’s dozens upon dozens of products, which even include in-house games that sit on top of its games platform.
Keeping everyone in line is a huge undertaking.
A collection of micro-projects
For starters, engineers use Line’s translation bot to bridge the language barrier between, say, Japan and Korea.
Park is also clear about the type of engineer she hires. A surprise criterion: she looks at how they perform code reviews.
“When I take a look at our GitHub account, I find that members who actively review code tend to be the sources of new projects,” she says. They’re great problem-solvers and communicators.
Of course, Park also examines how well the programmer codes and whether their comments are easy to understand.
Attitude matters too. Autonomy is what defines Line’s engineering culture, and programmers are expected to be self-starters who initiate projects. Park abides by makaseru, which means “I leave it completely in your hands” in Japanese.
Engineers are free to join micro-projects started by their counterparts, regardless of location.
Each micro-project is part of an even larger project. These are further combined into three divisions: Platform, Game, and Family.
Engineers can switch from one project to another if they pass an internal evaluation. “For example, if you want to join the Line Group Call team, you just need to interview with the Group Call team members,” she explains.
“This is a mutual evaluation process for you to confirm if these are things you really want to do, and for the team to check if you will fit the job. If the chemistry is there, you are hired.”
An example of cross-border collaboration is Line Today, a tab within the main Line app which gives users real-time news updates. It was developed jointly by Taiwanese and Mainland Chinese programmers.
Park’s role is to keep everything aligned to the company vision. “I make an environment that enables developers to maximize their ability,” she says.
She allocates resources to projects based on how well they’re doing. “There is no day that goes by without me hearing updates, issues and solutions from the development team.”
This is part of the coverage of TIA Singapore 2017, our conference taking place on May 17 and 18.
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