Interview with
Harini Janakiraman

Co-founder & CEO, Rowy

Low-code backend development platform.


What is Rowy? Why did you build it?

Rowy is an open source low-code platform that allows you to build your product by making backend development uncomplicated.

Currently, building backend is unnecessarily complex with a broken developer experience involving CLIs, cloud consoles, DevOps, reading docs, and a whole lot of context switching! There is also a choice paralysis due to the various frameworks and tools you need to consider before getting started.

While on the other end of the spectrum, no-code platforms give you the ease of getting started quickly towards building your product but are limited in features and scalability. If you value speed, and you want to opt for things like a no-code solution, as a developer, you always end up hitting some feature limit or some scaling issues. Then you need to go back and build something from scratch to overcome those challenges.

With Rowy, we wanted to bring a no-code experience for you to get started quickly, but on a platform on which you can level-up using code whenever you need to. You get a spreadsheet-like UI connected to an actual production database on which you can code serverless cloud functions without any scaling limits because your code is actually on a cloud platform like GCP.

This means you can develop code in JS, use any API, and bundle any NPM package. We have several demo apps which show how this progression works. We feel the current no-code approach is broken. With Rowy, you can just focus on the logic rather than the infrastructure.

Why open source?

We believe that building in open-source creates a layer of transparency and trust that is a key requirement for any data and developer tools product. Also, it is one of our core principles to open access to building products to builders and developers across the board. Open-source is one way to create that space and opportunity for collaboration.

Previously, I was at BlackRock, where I was part of the open source committee. We used a lot of open source technology ourselves, and we benefited from it all of the time. We wanted to give back to the community to build sustainably. As an open source company, Rowy is exploring how we can do that with a focus on developer experience and productivity.

What does a "day in the life" look like for you?

I'm a bit of a night person. In the morning, I try to do more operational tasks such as my emails, connecting with users or meetings as I'm based in Sydney, Australia, so it is a convenient time in my mornings to connect with the US.

Rest of my day is more focused on writing and sharing what we are building to our community, creating content and focusing on collaborations. I don't code much these days, but I do enjoy writing new demo apps with Rowy.

What does the team look like?

We are a very small team right now. We're just four people, three of us from technical backgrounds, with one operational person. We have some community contributions because we are building in open source, even though we're a small team, we get contributions and engagement from the community in different ways, which has been interesting.

How did you first get into software development?

When I was in fifth grade, my parents got a PC computer at home, and I started building. As a kid, I was very keen to explore things. In my school also, we had a computer science program, where we would build things like HTML pages and use JavaScript. I continued my education in computer science and then did my masters in computer engineering. I got my first engineering role in BlackRock.

What languages have you learned over the years? What do you like to code in?

I have gone through a mix of languages. In high school, we used C and C++. At BlackRock, we used things like Java for enterprise-level products. We also used open source technologies, like Kafka and Storm. I was in a data engineering space all my career. I worked in different teams, in distributed computing and data engineering. We used a lot of core data engineering tech stacks, more recently things like Node, JavaScript and React Typescript.

What has been the most interesting development challenge building Rowy?

I think the most interesting challenge is that we are creating a new way to develop products, by abstracting away all the complexity and context switching of a typical development workflow that most people are used to. This includes things like not having to deploy using CLIs, not having to work on a code-editor with a file system, not having to do DevOps for cloud functions. We are bringing code closer to the data, all in your browser

Building this involved a whole lot of challenging the status quo or designing new dev workflows. Also, communicating this concept has been challenging because your code and data still runs on your own cloud, like GCP. We're always experimenting with different ways of how we can actually tell this to the user. We do a lot of collaborations. For example, we recently did a 'Learn With Jason' live stream, where he learns some new tech every few days and then teaches you how to build something end to end in 90 minutes.

Are there any interesting tools or projects that you're playing around with at the moment?

We're building a lot of open source alternatives for different things as a way to showcase the power of Rowy. For example, we built a quick receipt expense management tool for employees of an organization to use. We built this in just a few hours using Google Vision API to go from receipt image to detection of the text and the total cost for reimbursement, or we're also creating fun things like GPT3 to generate poems when we give it a word. We do experiments all the time with different tech, you can check out the gallery of such live demos here.

Describe your compute hardware setup

The laptop I'm using is a 14 inch M1 MacBook Pro. I use it with a standard Apple keyboard, and a Samsung monitor. I've tried multiple monitors, but somehow just one monitor with my laptop works better. I sometimes use an iPad as a third screen just for emails and Discord. My mouse is a Logitech MX Master 2s.

Describe your computer software setup

OS: macOS.

Browser: Chrome.

Email: Gmail.

Chat: Discord.

IDE: VSCode.

Source control: GitHub. For issues management, we use Linear.

Describe your desk setup

The desk of Harini Janakiraman, Rowy

After a year of the pandemic, I ended up getting a standing desk and the Herman Miller Aeron Chair. I wish I'd got it earlier. I also have an Ember coffee mug that my team gifted me and it keeps my coffee at the right temperature all the time.

When coding

Daytime or nighttime? Nighttime.

Tea or coffee? Coffee in the morning. Tea in the evening.

Silence or music? Silence.

What non-tech activities do you like to do?

I enjoy swimming in a saltwater pool. In Sydney many people swim in the open ocean. I'm not there yet, but I'm training to get there. I find swimming as a moving form of meditation.

Find out more

Rowy is an open source low-code platform for backend development. It was featured as an "Interesting Tool" in the Console newsletter on 21 Apr 2022. This interview was conducted on 17 Mar 2022.