Executive Espresso with Head of Engineering & AI at Swiggy, Dale Vaz

Here’s food for thought. What does hunger, and technology have in common? If you are a Swiggster, you know that the answer is ‘everything,’ and there is no one better than the Head of Engineering & AI, Dale Vaz, who can plate that experience to perfection. Garnering 18 years of building high-performance technology teams, with some leading brands, today Dale leads the charter to decode hyperlocal in India. How has that journey been? Hear it straight from the MasterChef of tech himself. Read ahead…


You have been with Swiggy for close to a year now. How would you describe this experience, as against your earlier rendezvous, in the space of technology?

Prior to Swiggy I was a part of two large companies. In fact, I’ve only worked in three organizations till now — starting off with Infosys, then Amazon, and right here, right now. So, my career has been predominantly with large corporates, one on the consulting side and one in the core product development and engineering space. Stepping out of that and moving to Swiggy was one giant leap indeed — and definitely a positive one!

Moving from a large, established, US-based company to an Indian start-up was not an easy decision from a professional standpoint. But once I met the folks here and got a sense of the Culture, I was pleasantly surprised. For me Culture is paramount, and Swiggy’s Culture and Values align closely with my own. That made the transition seamless.

The other thing that amazed me is the team. There are loads of interesting people and the quality of talent here is very high. The conversations we have and the kind of problems we solve are exciting. So, Culture, Values, People, and the fact that we are at the cusp of solving something highly relevant for India — hyperlocal — sums up my reasons for being here.

Hyperlocal is an unsolved conundrum across the world and many companies are seeking the answer for it. Being able to solution for on-demand hyperlocal, especially in a highly complex nation such as ours makes being here even more relevant and sweeter. How do we solve for customers who are not familiar with English, or decode navigation for Delivery Partners  in an environment where we don’t have accurate maps, or how can we help our Restaurant Partners grow their business in this digital economy? These are a few of the challenges that we are solving with technology, and Swiggy is, perhaps, the best place to explore and find answers to these.

You also lead the AI charter at Swiggy. Could you give us a sneak-peek into what’s cooking there?   

Artificial Intelligence is the buzzword right now and every organization is in a race to be an AI-first company. While for a lot of companies AI is more of a ‘feather in the cap’, at Swiggy, AI is a real, existential necessity. Consider the complexity at which we are operating — growing from 18 cities to a 120+ cities in just ten months, or directing the delivery of millions of orders with 170,000 drivers and 80,000 restaurants — and all of this in an industry best average of 32 minutes. At our scale and complexity, it is humanly impossible to run this machine efficiently without an AI intervention. We have gone past the stage where scenarios can be managed by just smart people. Now, we need systems in place to enable them to be smarter and scale faster. So, for Swiggy, moving from a human-intelligence based model to an AI-led platform was only natural. Without that, we won’t be able to achieve our ambitious goals.

Currently, we are doing two key things to become an AI-first company. We have a strong Data Science team focussed on problems that are here and now — such as Hyperlocal Discovery, Delivery, Kitchens, Partners, etc. And then we also have a more forward and future-looking Applied Research division working on solving problems for the next 100 million customers — Computer Vision for food safety, Natural Language processing and Voice etc, are things happening right now.

In addition, we are also democratizing AI for the organization by training our leaders and engineers on how to apply AI at scale. Our goal is to enable and train engineers to independently build and deploy ML models without being constrained on data scientist bandwidth.

To sum it up, AI and ML for Swiggy is redefining the Consumer Experience, Partner Experience and Delivery Experience. You will hear more about some of the ground-breaking work we are doing in the coming months.

Dale at Swiggy vs Dale outside. How different are they, and tell us a bit more about the latter?

That’s an interesting question. I can certainly say that I’m an extreme-Scorpio by nature. There are certain traits of the [star]sign that resonate well with me as an individual. I’m extremely passionate about what I do. Also, very obsessed. I’m always ‘ON,’ which means that I never stop thinking about work. So, whether I’m inside the Swiggy office or out, my mind constantly buzzes around the way we can improve the experiences for our customers, or how we can make the brand grow, and be better at what we do. You will find me constantly lost in these thoughts.

I’m also a very curious person by nature, and I constantly ask questions — related to my work or otherwise.Being curious allows me to gather a wide range of inputs, and connect the dots in new and interesting ways. If I look back, some of my most important decisions and actions have stemmed from the things I have learnt by being curious.

I also believe in continuous learning. Outside of work, you will find me reading across a wide range of topics. It can vary from the latest publication on Deep Learning, a blog on organizational culture, a deep analysis of Game of Thrones or advanced stock option (derivatives) trading strategies.

Aside from that I can definitely say that I’m a lot crazier outside of work, and I just realized that I should probably stop right there [laughs].

If you are to eat only one dish for the rest of your life, what would that be, and why?

[A few moments later…] I just let that question soak in, and I would say ‘no.’ Why would anyone live if they can only eat one dish. The way I am wired, that would be impossible. I get bored easily and the same goes for food. I end up trying new cuisines and dishes, so it will be very hard for me to live my life with only one dish in the menu. I’d rather starve and die [sharp stare]. But, then again, if I had absolutely no choice, I would live on fresh juices. I’m a big fan of fresh fruits and salads, but not just ONE fruit or salad.

Any message that you would like to share with the world about what it takes to be a Swiggster?

Every Swiggster I’ve met has been extremely ambitious. I speak for all when I say that we truly believe that we can change the way our nation eats and lives. So, if you are looking to be a Swiggster, you need to have an entrepreneurial spirit. Be unafraid to take on challenges. Be ambitious to create a big impact.

Swiggsters are natural problem solvers, as the areas we are working on are mostly ambiguous or unsolved. So, thinking outside the box is a common trait here. And at the end of it all, we are looking for people who enjoy having fun together. We are young at heart and put a lot of soul in everything we do. I see a lot of companies losing their soul and vision in their journey. So, if you want to come to a place where you can do some awesome work, create a big impact, and have loads of fun, this is it.

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