in Mobile, People Stories

Meet Vivek Soneja

The architect behind “Apps” on PhonePe

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“Mobile apps were just getting popular when I was in college back in 2008. I was lucky to get introduced to app development during a workshop. It felt like magic to learn how we could program everyday devices. Programming, I realised was a mix of all the things I liked; science, art and products,” says Vivek, our go-to man for all things Android!

He started his career at Flipkart with the Flyte MP3 team and got an opportunity to work on eBooks and the Flipkart retail app too. That’s where he learnt to develop carefully crafted and scalable products for consumers. Post that, he joined PhonePe in its early days and has engineered most of the mobile products here.  Read on to know how app development happens at PhonePe from the ace developer himself…

What are your core responsibilities?
My team contributes to most Android products. This includes app design, application security, performance and quality improvements. I also work closely with the React Native team, PhonePe for Business (our merchant app) team, and the PhonePe Sdks team. The goal is to envision the bigger picture for “Apps” on PhonePe and sync with teams across cities to help them move together.

The most interesting project you’ve worked on…
I’ve been fortunate to solve a lot of interesting problems. Launching the framework to write “Apps” for PhonePe was a personal favourite. This enables companies/individuals to write apps that can be shipped and updated with PhonePe. The fact that outside developers are going to deploy code on the app makes it a challenge. By default, these apps get the same privilege as the PhonePe app. The challenging part was that we had to create a virtual sandbox to ensure that one app running on PhonePe cannot take away data from another app, or apps deployed on PhonePe cannot access any user data. At the same time, we developed enriched APIs for developers. This is still an ongoing journey and has been one of the most challenging pieces I have worked on.

How would you describe your work style/process?
My mantra is to design for the future and implement for the present. I’m not shy of spending extra time early on and understanding what a project is meant for, how it will shape up and where it fits in our systems. It is important to have the bigger picture in mind before getting into execution, so that we develop components that are essential for the requirement in hand and can be built upon. This approach helps the team in multiple ways – we have less throwaway work and everyone can visualise the endgame and make decisions accordingly. It makes our product future proof and technologically strong and we have our vision set for the next year.

During implementation, we centralise and stabilize. Anything that is repeatedly done by the team should be centralised. Team members should contribute to core problems and not everyone needs to spend time in decision-making of solved components. I focus a lot on getting robust infrastructure for app developers. It goes with our philosophy of develop once and engineer for good.

How has user behaviour shaped your work?
Being the consumer facing team, our focus is on providing the best experience without compromising on scale. Mobile applications look simpler than they are. The entire software written by you gets deployed on a million different devices with different specifications. This comes with its own challenges which you need to factor in. For instance, security is one crucial aspect. We need to ensure that attackers cannot read critical data on rooted devices, or they cannot intercept and change the requests being made to our servers. We’ve devised multiple safeguards to prevent unintended usage of our app. Another challenge is connectivity issues. We have to write applications which can adapt well with negligible impact to the Indian consumer. We make our first blocking internet call when the user hits the payment button, everything else is ready for him in one or another form.

What is the future of tech in the payments space?
This space is becoming increasingly competitive with the entry of new players. With digital payment initiatives adopted by the government, more companies are able to innovate and the pace of growth is unprecedented. In the near future, digital payments are going to become more accessible to the ‘next billion’ users. This would be akin to the smartphone evolution, which made these devices ubiquitous and they are now used by a 7 year old child as well as a 60 year old adult. At the same time, it is going to be a responsibility for companies like ours to give the best user experience and prevent security infringements.

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