The DroidDevCast is a weekly podcast brought to you by the team at Esper, where we explore all things Android, mobile DevOps, and open source software development. On this episode, Esper Platform Evangelist and podcast host Rin Oliver sat down with Esper Vice President of Technical Sales Keith Szot to discuss the ever expanding Esper device lab, and to learn more about the philosophy behind creating such a space. From a developer perspective, there are many benefits to having an on-site device lab, such as the ability to reproduce customer errors and debug them on the exact device a customer is using, experimenting with new devices, and much more.
Why Esper Built its Device Lab
As an electrical engineer by training, Szot learned how to operate and broadcast on a ham radio at age 12. The Esper device lab is, by extension, a place that he loves to spend time in. Bridging the gap between hardware and software, the device lab is a functional, elegant space that not only inspires Esper’s developers and interns with its sheer volume of devices and possibilities, its first and foremost priority is to serve customers. How Esper accomplishes this is to have as many customer devices in the lab as possible. This ensures that we can not only test how Esper will run on a device, simulate its operational capabilities at scale, but we can reproduce bugs or errors a customer might be facing on their device with our own dedicated device that is running the same Esper build on the same hardware. While two devices may be the same model, they may not be running the same firmware. Szot explained that this is in fact the beauty of Android, highlighting that he considers each device unique.
“In the Android world, it’s very complicated. You have some (devices) that are part of GMS, which is provided by Google, which is enforcing some uniformity, but even there it’s a little bit jagged, especially across all the Android OS versions. We support from 4.4 up to Android 11. Then when you get into AOSP, so basically open source Android-based devices, anything goes. We’ve seen a lot of good things and a lot of crazy things in that world.”
Tackling Issue Reproduction and Resolution in the Lab
Szot later explains that the primary function of the Esper device lab is to, “Keep pace,” with our customers. Issue reproduction is one such place the device lab shines. If a customer has a problem on their device, having that device on-hand in the device lab means that the team at Esper can have faster resolution times for these challenges, because we’re able to tackle the challenge hands on. Szot noted that Esper has a variety of features that are well-suited to remote diagnostics and remote debugging, such as the ability to run a secure remote ADB session to a device in the field from a developer’s workstation. “That stuff is great,” says Szot, “But it’s not a hundred percent, especially when it’s Esper, because Esper is the device owner. We basically take a unique level of control of the device, if you will, for the benefit of our customers. That puts us in kind of unique situations where you literally have to have that device available with that same firmware image that the customer is working with in order to reproduce the problem”
For Esper’s larger customers, these devices are often front-and-center in the lab, though Szot went on to explain that there is a wide variety of devices present in the lab, representing Esper’s wide variety of customers and their particular use cases. “We also have a lot of smaller customers that use Esper. Those customers typically are using the major OEM devices that are out there, Lenovo, Samsung, and so we also do our best job to have representative devices that kind of map to what the broader set of customers use so that way we can get coverage. You put those two together, and then we have the set of devices that we need to be effective at reproducing.”
The Esper device lab also presents a boon to the team in that it provides the benefit of being able to test the Esper platform. Szot highlighted that as Esper advances as a platform, and introduces new features and functionality, that, “We’re very dependent on not only what our cloud does to talk to the device, but how our on-device code runs. In order to have good quality assurance (QA) as we go through the process, we need to have these devices available for our dev team to be able to test and do QA on. That’s a super important aspect of it.”
As Esper is a rapidly growing company, the device lab also provides new team members with the opportunity to get up to speed on the diversity of devices Esper supports, with the added ability to be able to experiment with and use these devices first-hand. “That way we can help prospects and customers make good decisions about how they’re designing their solution and even be in a position to help them make decisions about what type of hardware they should buy,” said Szot. Many of Esper’s customers are moving from Windows to Android, and are often fairly new to the world of Android devices, and thus can experience challenges when it comes to evaluating and identifying a solution for their business.
“We do work with a lot of custom-built devices. Some of our customers literally are designing the hardware from the ground up with a specific AOSP image that sometimes we help them build. We also have Esper Enhanced Android that we offer, too, for these custom-built devices. In that case, you literally have to have the device because it doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world, from a lab perspective, so we basically have to pull it in and have it available.”
In this Episode of The DroidDevCast:
00:41 – What was the philosophy behind the device lab?
02:57 – How having a device lab helps Esper’s customers
05:31 – How does Esper use the device lab internally?
07:56 – What are some of the most interesting devices in the lab?
11:36 – Does Esper buy the devices or do we get them on loan? How does that work?
13:46 – Does Esper use the lab for device qualification?
17:54 – How does the lab work for our distributed teams in India and the US?
20:44 – What’s the funniest story that’s come from the device lab?
You can read the full transcript of this interview on Simplecast. We’ll be back next week with another exciting episode. In episode nine, we’ll be discussing all things customer obsession with Esper VP of Customer Success, Chris Stirrat.
As always, be sure to like, subscribe, and listen to the DroidDevCast wherever you get your podcasts from.