Behind the Scenes with Darshana Umakanth, Senior Software Development Lead

The Behind the Scenes series is a collection of posts and videos designed to give you a peek at the inner workings of the Hulu tech team and introduce you to the men and women who build the systems that bring TV to the internet.

Name: Darshana Umakanth

Title: Senior Software Development Lead

Joined Hulu: August 11th, 2014

College / University: Purdue

Tell us about your journey. How did you end up at Hulu?

I attended Purdue University, where I graduated in 2013 with a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science. During my senior year, I was a member of a group called the CS Corporate Ambassadors. Through this group, I had the opportunity to get in touch with companies attending our career fairs to help onboard them. I was excited to see Hulu on the list, and decided to speak with one of the engineers to ask about internship opportunities at the company. I interviewed and landed an internship at Hulu the summer after my senior year and received a full time offer after the internship ended. I went to grad school for a year at Columbia University in New York to earn my Master of Science in Computer Science and shortly thereafter came back to LA to work full-time at Hulu in 2014.

What do you do at Hulu?

I am the technical lead/engineering manager for the on-channel Experience Management team in the Discovery Platform organization. My team’s goal is to build tools and backend services that allow our business teams to manage and curate the Hulu app experience, including content and IA, on all devices without needing code changes. This includes scenarios like enabling strategic promotion of content, managing collections of content on the app, creating customized hubs like Huluween, experimenting with different layouts and enabling a viewer to add their favorite teams ahead of March Madness through a handy link on Home.

My day-to-day as a technical lead involves going to daily scrum meetings, doing code reviews, attending meetings to build roadmaps, leading architecture discussions and breaking down future work for my team. A big part of my job is working with the product owners in the space by listening to their ideas and having a healthy back and forth about technical feasibility, while still keeping an eye on delivering the best experience for our users. These invaluable conversations help us work together and build unique personalized experiences on Hulu during events such as Black History Month, March Madness, Valentine’s Day, “Huluween” and Fall TV launches. On particularly productive days, I open a few pull requests!

In what ways has Hulu challenged you and enabled you to grow?

Since my internship almost seven years ago, I have witnessed Hulu go from what was essentially a big startup to a huge business. As a result of that tremendous growth, it feels like I have been at several different companies year over year as we’ve adapted and evolved our technical architecture and our agile processes to suit our scale and goals. As a developer, I was constantly being challenged to adapt and grow with those changes. When I was promoted into leadership three years ago, it presented a new challenge; I learned that what makes you successful as an individual contributor isn’t necessarily what makes you a successful manager. I’ve been learning how to empower and guide my team, while also focusing on working well with several product managers to keep our stakeholders and subscribers happy. I get to have a strong impact through my team on decisions that affect millions of users — and that has been very fulfilling.

Share three tips for someone looking to land a job like yours.

  1. Be interested in the business; It is important to be in touch with the “why” to build solutions that make sense and deliver value iteratively.
  2. Do not be afraid to have an opinion, even when you are interviewing. Having an opinion is one of the most important aspects of any impactful job, and helps build your voice and confidence.
  3. Keep in touch with your technical chops — as a manager, making time for understanding the day-to-day technical discussions and concerns of the team is important; allocating some time every week to dive into the nitty gritty has made me a better, more informed leader and representative for my team.

What do you love most about Hulu’s tech culture?

Despite us having grown so much in a relatively short period of time, each member of the tech team has a strong sense of ownership. I continue to feel like my work contributes heavily to the business and its goals for engagement. As a company grows, that can be a hard thing to maintain, but we’ve done a good job with it.

What’s your favorite TV show? What are you currently streaming on Hulu?

My favorite TV show is the IT crowd; I am a huge British drama and comedy fan — I also love Friday Night Dinner, The Inbetweeners and Plebs. I’m currently streaming Four Weddings and a Funeral.

Tell us about your Hulu wall photo.

My wall photo is a tiny me sitting on top of a lot of books. I am a huge Lord of the Rings and Shakespeare nerd and those books have really shaped my personality and interests since I was a teen. To get the actual photo to look like that, I took separate pictures of the books and of myself sitting on a stool and had my friend help photoshop the two together!