Q&A: Vanderbilt alum, Twitter video platform designer shares advice on career
Avid social media users might not know Can Envarli (BS’05), but they almost certainly know his work.
Twitter created a stir in January when it announced the launch of its native video platform, allowing users to both upload video in multiple formats and shoot and share videos without leaving the app. They also can instantly track metrics on viewer interest. Before that, Twitter only paired with its subsidiary, Vine, which limits videos to six seconds.
Envarli, a senior software engineer who double-majored computer science and psychology at Vanderbilt University, answered our questions about the challenges of designing such a complicated platform and his career path to Twitter.
Congratulations on this year’s big success. What were the overriding issues in creating Twitter’s new video platform?
We wanted to balance two things: Twitter’s reputation for providing information in real time — including video — and the fact that people want to upload video in multiple formats and play it on all sorts of devices. Our goals were to make it fast and cost-effective.
One of the things we decided to do was generate certain formats on-demand, in other words, only if someone wants to watch that format. But making that work quickly was very challenging. If you are the first person looking at a format, you will have to wait for the video to process. We invested a lot in distributed video processing.
You grew up in Turkey. How did you find out about Vanderbilt University School of Engineering?
I was going to the oldest American high school established outside the United States, Robert College of Istanbul. It opened in 1863. It was common for people who attended there to go abroad for college, and I had the mindset that I wanted to go to the U.S.
Someone from Vanderbilt came to campus and showed us pictures of it, and it was the best place where I got admitted and was given a scholarship so that I could afford it. I never came to campus to see it before I came over to attend.
That sounds overwhelming.
It definitely was. I’d been to a pre-college summer program before at Duke University, so it wasn’t my first time in the U.S., but it’s a lot different coming over for 10 weeks compared to four years.
Did you find Vanderbilt challenging?
To be honest, the technical stuff wasn’t too challenging because the school I came from was extremely competitive. For me, the social aspect was most challenging. When I was there, the international population was very low. My schooling in Istanbul was in English, of course, but I was still self-aware of my accent and avoided speaking up in class. I just had to keep putting myself out there, keep making friends and keep practicing English.
What was your path to Twitter?
After Vanderbilt, I got my master’s in computer science from Georgia Tech in 2007 and went to work for Microsoft. I had a close friend who had joined Twitter. When I was looking for the next opportunity, Twitter ended up being one of the places I considered. They had an office in Seattle, and I didn’t want to move. Plus, I loved the idea of Twitter and the things I could do there versus a bigger company. It was tiny after Microsoft.
Did Vanderbilt prepare you for those companies?
It gave me a good foundation technically, but Vanderbilt really forced me to become a more extroverted person. That helped me the most – improving my people skills. It helped me become a better leader in my career, and at Microsoft, for the last two years, I managed a team of five to seven people.
Did you have any memorable experiences while you were here that you’d like to share?
I met my wife, Kristen Larson Envarli, my junior year at a Wailers concert on Alumni Lawn. Mutual friends introduced us. We’ve been together ever since and had twins who just turned two – a boy and a girl.
What advice would you give current undergrads?
What you learn in class is important, but at the job, you will have to learn a lot of new stuff that can’t be taught at school. Be prepared to learn how to design something that will be around for many years, not just projects where you try to get it working and never have to deal with it again.
Heidi Hall, (615) 322-6614
On Twitter @VUEngineering