Don’t hold back, and say it out loud: Things an EM realized while parenting

There are people with very diverse backgrounds gathered at Mercari. For us, Diversity & Inclusion is not a special initiative, but a philosophy that dwells in our everyday business. We interviewed one of the members who have been thinking about and putting into practice how we can make a more energetic and comfortable workplace for everyone.

Akiko Fujita works as an Engineering Manager for the Quality Assurance (QA) Team, while also being a parent. Besides that, she also actively participates in events such as “Women Who Code CONNECT”, a global conference aiming to empower women working in the tech industry. However, she has only recently started participating in activities related to Diversity & Inclusion. But what made her change, and caused her to take action on her own? We talked to her about the reasons for this change, and about her work at Mercari.

A QA engineer changing from defense to offense

– Could you first tell us about your career?

Fujita: When I was at university, I majored in marine engineering, so I was studying a completely different field from computer science. But that was the golden age of Microsoft Windows, so I entered the IT industry because I felt that IT was going to be the future. Then, I started my career as a programmer, and later changed to QA engineer. My previous job was mainly administrative, so I started looking for bigger challenges and better growth opportunities, and that’s how I met Mercari.

– What made you decide to join Mercari?

Fujita: In short, I thought people here were great. I’ll never forget how Shinya (Merpay Head of HR & Culture), who was my interviewer, left a great impression on me. He was positive about every topic, and I simply thought “I want to work with this person.”

Akiko Fujita (Quality Assurance Team’s Engineering Manager)

– In what way was he positive?

FujitaMy previous job was mainly focused on administrative tasks such as how to prevent people from forgetting their time cards, or losing their devices. Of course, those are important parts of the business, but Shinya was looking for an offensive approach rather than a defensive one. He asked me proactive questions like “what place does QA have in a fast-changing world?” I thought, how quickly can we deliver a product with great value to our users? I was really surprised at the sense of speed he expected from QA.

– Was there anything that surprised you when you joined Mercari?

Fujita: The thing that surprised me the most was the amount of discretion I was given. Changing from a world where we needed permission to get things going, to a world where we can take on challenges if we believe we need to, was a big change, and a surprise as well. There is no fixed answer, or rather I am the one that needs to find the answer. Freedom and responsibility can be thought of as two sides of the same coin, so I believe that taking ownership made me have to think more than before, and that led to personal growth. Another thing is, the closeness to other engineers.

– Closeness?

Fujita: The role of QA in my previous job was to take the features that the engineers had implemented, run them in a developer environment, check if they work as intended, and review them. It was like an “in-house third-party” team, so to speak. In contrast, at Mercari, there are cases where the QA engineers themselves rewrite some of the data and programs implemented by engineers, for testing. This is very special; it’s something that you normally “shouldn’t do”. For example, temporarily rewriting thresholds, etc. People who have long experienced black box testing know how such a simple approach can greatly increase test efficiency. Knowing the program contents at a source level, and creating the product together with the engineers, was also a difference I noticed after joining.

– So, not just going through the reviews, but making the product together. After your role changed from team member to EM (Engineering Manager), did your attitude toward your own work also change?

Fujita: Oh, it did. Since I’m a manager, I obviously have to coordinate the team, and take care of its members. But besides that, I think I got into the habit of taking things not directly related to project tasks, like the organizational changes and the messages from senior management, and using my own words. If you don’t use your own words and simplify them, you can’t communicate them to the members. If the role of the EM is not only to take in the opinions from the members, but also to communicate to them the ideas from the company, and even make clear suggestions to have a positive effect, I believe that I still have room for improvement. Now that I have become an EM, there are many times when I think that being a manager is really tough and that I need to work harder.

Going on her first business trip abroad with her child? A bold support system

– Do you do other activities besides your work?

Fujita: I’m not doing anything independently, but I try to actively participate as much as I can in corporate events and study sessions related to Diversity & Inclusion. At Mercari, there are many opportunities to learn about diversity, such as study sessions to deepen our knowledge between people from different languages and cultures. We have members from around 40 different countries working at the company, so I learn and absorb many things every day.

– What made you become interested in D&I?

Fujita: The reason was participating at Women Who Code CONNECT, which is a large-scale conference that aims to empower women working in the tech industry, and was held in San Francisco in April 2019. First, I was surprised by the idea of it being an event to empower women developers. I realized that the idea of D&I that I had was quite narrow.

– You were not interested in it before that?

Fujita: I wouldn’t say I was not interested, but I didn’t actually see it as something that involved me. That’s because I wasn’t even aware of the problem of not having enough women in engineering. At Mercari right now I’m the only female EM, but I hadn’t even seen that as an issue before. That changed after participating at WWC CONNECT.

– Based on your personal experiences until now, how did the way you think change?

Fujita: I have a daughter, and looking back, I realize that it’s a tough environment for an engineer with a child. For example, in order to participate in WWC CONNECT, the first thing I had to overcome was the long business trip abroad. At Mercari there are lots of opportunities to go on business trips, both abroad and in Japan, but ever since I joined the company, I always thought it was impossible for me because I’m raising a child. But, after discussing with the company about WWC CONNECT, I was allowed to bring my daughter with me.

– So she went with you? That’s great!

Fujita: Of course, there wasn’t any rule saying that I couldn’t go on business trips. But going on one is something physically demanding, right? In order to go on this trip, the company supported me a lot with things like travel arrangements for me and my child, babysitters, advice regarding the conference, etc. Participating in WWC CONNECT itself was meaningful too, but I was both surprised and happy just with the fact that the trip could become a reality.

– Having a child, there must be other things that you hold back from doing besides going on business trips, right?

Fujita: For example, compared to other companies, at Mercari we have many opportunities for getting to know coworkers, such as events or team-building activities, but I can never join because I have to drop off or pick up my daughter. Of course, I want to participate to be able to bond with coworkers more, but I just can’t. I was very worried because social activities are very active here. But going on this business trip abroad, that also changed.

– How did it change?

Fujita: I stopped thinking there’s nothing I can do about it, and started thinking of raising my voice, because I was creating barriers for myself. But now, I think it’s important to first say “I want to participate,” even if it seems impossible. In doing so, you may be able to make it. You never know. Of course, the situation is different for each family, and we can’t assume this can apply to everyone, but I’m sure the company will support and accommodate us as much as they can. Because I was able to have this experience myself, from now on I would like to help as much as I can in building an environment that supports other members in a similar situation.

Create a culture where heading out to the world is natural

– Was there any impact at the company after you came back from WWC CONNECT?

Fujita: Impact… I don’t know (laughs). But when I reported at the company about WWC CONNECT, I made a presentation, and after that I received more questions and consultations both from individuals and teams. Also, because this business trip was done under special circumstances, there is no proper system established yet, so I’m currently working on organizing that.

– So, it has had positive effects. On the other hand, do you think that D&I still needs improvement?

Fujita: Yes, I do think so. After participating more actively in D&I thanks to this business trip, I realized that most of the people there are directly involved. So for example, there aren’t many Japanese people at events centered on English speakers. Honestly, that is the situation at Mercari, so we can’t say that D&I has had enough reach. However, it’s also true that there are many members that have issues that they can’t say out loud yet. And I believe that my role is to serve as a bridge for them.

– Finally, are there any new challenges you would like to take on in the future?

Fujita: This is a very personal goal, but someday I would like to make a presentation about QA at WWC CONNECT. This year, after participating for the first time at WWC CONNECT, I felt that I wanted to go again next year, but it’s not enough with just being there. The next time I want to be on the communicating side. Of course, participating is also a very valuable experience, but it would be great if, by me presenting there, I can help create a culture where participating in such events becomes natural. That being said, first it’s important not to just think, but to take action, join, and have the experience. It would be great if we can take part in new activities in our own way, and help create a working environment where everyone can feel comfortable.

Akiko Fujita

Akiko Fujita
After graduating from Yokohama National University, she gained experience as a programmer and then joined Cybozu, Inc. as a QA engineer. Later, she worked at several startups, including DeNA Co., Ltd., before joining Mercari. She is currently Mercari QA Team’s engineering manager.

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