Behind The Scenes: Alvaro

A Frontend Engineer discusses how he’s been using Babbel Live to learn German and what he misses most about going to the office.

At Babbel, our endgame is getting people to have conversations with other people, in a new language. There are fantastic folks here making that possible. In our “Behind The Scenes” series, we sit down with them to provide a glimpse into who makes it all work, what they do, and where their heads are at. 

This round we’re talking to Alvaro Castaneda, a Frontend Engineer on the EXA team.

What’s your role at Babbel? What do you do on a typical day?

I am a Frontend developer for one of the teams in the Engagement Experience Area. This area is responsible for guiding users to success, making our apps easy to navigate and keeping our users motivated to learn. My typical day is quite diverse. I can be working on some of our web applications, pair programming with a colleague, supporting our mobile team or reading a tech article. Back in the pre-COVID days when we could work from the office, I used to take short breaks to play music in the music room, it helped to clear my mind and get ready for the next task.

Where are you from and which languages do you speak?

I am from Madrid, Spain. “Hablo español”, “I speak English” and “Ich spreche Deutsch”. After 5 years in Berlin, my German is not as good as it should be. Hence why I decided to focus and work harder on it. I started listening to podcasts, joined Babbel Live which I found super motivating, and additionally, I just did a Bildungsurlaub (which literally means “education holiday”). In Germany, all employees are allowed by law to attend courses on special kinds of topics. It takes place during working hours and it lasts 5 days a year. I definitely recommend it as it’s a great way to boost and improve your language skills.

This is a pretty international workplace. How does that influence your work?

It’s fascinating to work in a multicultural workplace like this one. My team is formed by people from 10 different countries, and we always find a chance to learn from each other. It brings so much value to our daily work. I could not really imagine a language learning company without such an atmosphere. Many cultures and languages around the world are represented within our team. I really miss the times in the office before COVID, when you could hear conversations in different languages just by walking through the office.

What challenges are you most animated by?

At Babbel, we have a big challenge: teach languages in a motivating way. I like to work on the second part, helping users to have fun while learning. As engineers, we not only implement the features but work during the ideation phase together with the UX designers and learning experience experts. We call this the thinker-doers approach. We make data-driven decisions, working on new features after understanding what users need. I especially enjoy my work because it allows me to put myself in our users shoes.

Since we are now all working from home, how have you adjusted to this situation? Do you have any tips to share for WFH productivity?

At first, it took me a while to realize the situation was lasting longer than a few weeks. Fortunately, I have a dedicated office room at home and Babbel supported us to buy equipment, so I cannot complain. I used to go by bike to the office during the whole year (yes, winter included), so fresh air in the morning is what I miss the most. I try to compensate for it by walking in the morning before turning on my computer. The days that I skip it, I struggle throughout the morning with low energy. I highly recommend to go outside if possible, take breaks and stay hydrated! 

Moving onto some more tech related questions… Babbel is a big ecosystem of different applications living under the same brand. Can you tell us about how the design system helps engineers to keep the styling consistent through all of Babbel’s experiences?

As you mentioned, Babbel’s frontend ecosystem is split into micro-frontends. In order to avoid reinventing the wheel, we use internal libraries to share common logic. For the same purpose, we have the Design System. This is a documentation site where the Product design team specifies what every element (buttons, text, icons…) looks like. It not only helps engineers to keep consistent implementations, but also allows designers to keep prototypes as up-to-date as possible. For engineers, we created an internal library, from where we can import the components directly. For other specifications like colors, spacing and fonts, we use our internal Design Tokens library. It’s a big challenge to keep consistency between our 42 applications where more than 130 engineers work on.

Our learners and innovation are at the core of Babbel therefore it is important to experiment fast and collect feedback from users even faster. How are webviews helping you achieve this?

Last year, we launched many new experiences including games. In order to validate our ideas faster, we wanted to reach as many users as possible and be flexible on future iterations. Developing for Android, iOS and web can be expensive and takes a long time. For this specific use case, we use Webviews to help us deliver directly to these 3 platforms using the same codebase. In this way, the development team can be much smaller and faster refining things until we find the best solution for our users. Webviews are basically an internet browser window embedded inside the mobile app. This is the same approach we use currently for our core lessons on iOS. This allows us to reduce the overhead in trainer maintenance and focus on delivering new features. You can read more about it in this article from Babbel Bytes, our tech blog.

Want to work with Alvaro? Check out our latest openings on the Engineering team!

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Ewa Cabaj

Ewa works in the Internal Communications team in Berlin and heads up Babbel's Employer Branding. She likes to think of herself as a trilingual Polish-German-American nomad and is a big fan of all things noodle, travel, and dog-related content.

Ewa works in the Internal Communications team in Berlin and heads up Babbel's Employer Branding. She likes to think of herself as a trilingual Polish-German-American nomad and is a big fan of all things noodle, travel, and dog-related content.