Sebastian Brannstrom is Lead Engineer for Lyft in San Francisco and is responsible for building and maintaining the Lyft real-time ridesharing service, including backend, iOS and Android clients. While trying to balance the needs of product design, business development and engineering, and he often wishes there were more hours in a day and more days in a week. You can find him on twitter @teknolog and on facebook.
Tell us a little about yourself
I’m 32, originally from Stockholm. I’ve been programming since my teens.
I fell into mobile in 2006 when I got my first Symbian phone. It couldn’t do podcasts, so I had to write an app for that. I made it open source, and when Symbian itself went open source I was hired by them and moved to London.
After Symbian wound down I worked as an Android developer for a while until I was referred to Zimride by a friend, and I relocated to San Francisco last year.
I currently lead engineering for Lyft, which is sort of a startup-within-the-startup inside Zimride.
What is Lyft and how does it fit in with Zimride?
Lyft is a real-time social ridesharing service, a smartphone app that lets you request a ride and have somebody come pick you up. Zimride is a marketplace to buy and sell seats in cars.
Where Zimride is typically for longer trips that you plan ahead, for example your trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles next weekend, Lyft is for going to the bar, the beach, a meeting or the store. Both services are about disrupting the transportation industry and making it more affordable and fun for everyone to get around.
How does Lyft different than what Uber is doing?
Lyft is like your best friend with a car. It’s about making a real human connection, sharing music, talking about local hot spots, and sitting in the front seat. It’s not a black car service.
I think @heyadam on Twitter put it nicely:
"Just noticed a trend. @Uber drivers call me 'sir', @lyft drivers call me 'dude'."
What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned so far while working on Lyft?
After wireframing Lyft, we estimated that the minimum viable product would take us 2 calendar months to build. One of our founders then asked us what we could get done in two weeks.
We agreed to cut some things upfront, but it still looked like significantly more than two weeks worth of work. The project was green-lighted under the condition that we continuously try to look for shortcuts as we kept on building. Getting into this mindset was a revelation. It seemed every morning we managed to identify something that could be pushed to a later version.
In the end, it took just over 3 weeks to get the first version of Lyft out the door. It had its fair share of problems, but I am immensely proud of the work we did.
Several versions later, some of the features we first thought were essential are still deep down in our backlog. The minimum viable product turned out to be much smaller than we first thought.
They say a project expands to fill the time you give it. It appears that some projects can also be squeezed down into the time you give it. So start with the simplest solution you can think of. Then try to make it even simpler as you go along, and iterate rapidly.
What’s the most exciting technology announcement you’ve seen this year?
The Google self driving cars you see around here (San Francisco). I’m sure they will be mainstream in 10 years or so and that will definitely change how we look at transportation.
What phone are you rocking right now?
I use both an iPhone 4S and a Galaxy Nexus. I love the pure Google experience, especially Jelly Bean.
What apps do you use most?
Lyft, obviously, but also Spotify, Downcast, Reeder and Skype..
What’s your go-to place to get work done?
A great pair of headphones. I don’t care so much for my surroundings, but I need to block out sound to stay focused. Ambient music is great for getting in “the zone”. I heartily recommend Soma FM’s Groove Salad stream.
I also like standing up when I code, so I have one of those fancy desks that move up and down. (Editor's Note: so does Caroline)
If you had one piece of advice for your fellow developers, what would it be?
Move out to “the Valley” for a while. This is where it’s happening, and being here makes a huge difference. People think differently here, the ideas are bigger and bolder. Work is done at breakneck speed, and if you fail, you just move on to something better. It might not be for everyone, but I love it.