This story is part of TechConnect, a series about how Facebook’s tech innovations and investments help people build deeper connections and community.
I grew up in the Caribbean, in a modest household largely isolated from technology. The typewriter I wrote my college essay on was one of the most advanced gadgets we owned. I was the first person in my family to go to college. And while I planned to study engineering when I got to Stanford, I had no idea that programming existed. My degree was in mechanical engineering, but I fell in love with coding.
As an engineer, I worked on everything from mobile games to computer networks. Then, at Netflix, some of the skills I’d built connecting the dots beyond tech and helping people develop moved me to think more about the leadership track. I grew as a leader at Netflix and had a lot of fun. But it was hard to ignore Facebook’s scale and growth opportunities when I started thinking about how to stretch myself.
I came to Facebook four years ago to join a team focused on using machine learning to better understand content management. A lot of my time was spent working on figuring out how to determine that two videos were the same, even if one had been dramatically altered. This helped with key issues like identifying harmful content and stopping it from going viral. It was challenging and rewarding. But after a few years, it was time to try something new. That’s when I made the transition to WhatsApp, a Facebook product with a bigger footprint than most things on the planet.
WhatsApp is especially important in parts of the world where people don’t necessarily have alternative ways to communicate. WhatsApp can sometimes feel like a utility in places like Brazil, India, and Nigeria, where it’s an essential tool to build connections with friends, relatives, teachers, or the shopkeeper down the street. WhatsApp is also close to home for me. It’s the connective tissue for many of my relatives, who’re spread throughout the Caribbean and elsewhere.
When COVID really hit in January 2020, we were able to see that more people were using our desktop products. There was an aha moment: People were spending a lot more time at home, and there was more we could do to help. This led to conversations with senior leaders here at WhatsApp, and Facebook, about how to better serve this growing community. One clear gap was the lack of video call support on the desktop version of WhatsApp.
Today, billions of people use WhatsApp every month, with hundreds of millions choosing desktop. So the potential impact was huge, but so were the challenges. These ranged from compatibility issues with the bundle of cameras and microphones we see attached to desktops and laptops to difficulties creating an authentic user experience with web technologies. Our desktop application actually blends web technologies with those found on Mac and Windows. This means limited access to the underlying operating system, which can affect the look and feel and performance — especially with heavy workloads like video calling. My organization grew to handle these challenges. By late summer, we were building a new video calling experience. By March of this year, we launched.
I was honored to lead a cross-functional team of engineers and other technical folks to build the solution. It’s unusual to be in a situation where you can directly impact the lives of a large portion of the world. To drive this tech innovation that connects people — and helps change lives, in so many cases — has been pretty amazing.