How did the Mercari iOS team overcome a 14-hour time difference to work with an intern living in Canada?

Hello, I’m @aochan from the New Graduate Talent Acquisition Team!

We recently shared with you an article about interns at Merpay.※Japanese

Turns out, Mercari had a similar situation too! We had an intern who lived in Canada, a country 14 hours behind Japan. How did the team in Japan welcome the intern in this situation? We interviewed the intern @z-jiayi and her mentor @matthew.gillingham (@matthew)!

Was the 14-hour time difference a barrier?

ーFirst of all, please tell us why you wanted to intern at Mercari.

@z-jiayi: The university I attend has a program where first-year students study for the first 8 months, and the remaining 4 months of the year are spent working and studying…


@z-jiayi: Unique, right? (laughs) I was like, “Where should I intern?” Then I found Mercari on a message board for job listings. What I thought was unique was that there was a wide variety of projects. Not just iOS and Android, but Backend, ML, and more! Besides, I had never worked abroad myself. I thought that by participating in the internship program at Mercari, I would be able to experience a different culture, so I applied. Though in the end I couldn’t go to Japan because of COVID-19.


ーSo you did your internship entirely remotely. Was this the first time Mercari accepted an intern remotely?

@matthew: Yes, it was. Not just @z-jiayi, but all members who joined the Mercari Group after February 2020, when we switched to mainly working from home, have been working in a fully remote environment. Some of the members have yet to meet in person.

However, most of the members joining the team are in the same country. @z-jiayi was abroad in a different time zone. I thought the time difference was going to be a challenge. So I asked @z-jiayi to work on a project that could be carried out independently without having to worry about the time difference. As it turned out, @z-jiayi is the type of person who can run on her own, so I think we were able to make good progress.


@z-jiayii: Yeah, there was a time difference issue. The difference is 14 hours, so if it’s morning in Japan, it’s night here! At first, I was very reluctant, as you might expect. However, all the members of the Mercari iOS team with @matthew were quick to respond, so I messaged them when it was daytime, and they responded in the evening. That speed meant I was able to get to work right away the next morning, which was nice!

The difficulty in moving onboarding online

ーYou mentioned earlier that you saw a job posting on your university’s bulletin board and applied for the position. Did you know about Mercari before that?

@z-jiayi: To be honest, I didn’t have much of an impression of the company before I joined. However, when I looked at the job posting, I could tell that the company was incorporating advanced technology. The fact that they were daring to use technology that hadn’t been perfected yet gave me a sense of “Go Bold”, which is one of the values of the company.

After I joined the company, I felt that they let me take ownership of various aspects of my work. In a normal internship, you are assigned tasks. But at Mercari, they assigned me to projects based on what I wanted to do as an intern.

ーHow did you feel about the language barrier?

@z-jiayi: I didn’t have many challenges with the language aspect. The reason is that everyone adjusted things for me a lot. The Japanese members also spoke English, and I’m grateful for that. GOT supported us in meetings. Communication was clear. I didn’t feel that it was a problem because documentation and Slack posts were clearly written in English.

@matthew: This may be because the mobile team itself usually communicates in English on a regular basis.

For me, my main concern was more than just the time difference, it was whether we could onboard properly. Depending on whether or not an intern has had experience working previously on a smartphone app, engineers on the team might have to spend a lot of time explaining how it works. And that would be very difficult to do with a large time difference. But fortunately I knew some of Jiayi’s background and had a chance to interview her for the team, so I was confident that would not be a problem.

ーWhat specific areas were difficult to change?

@matthew: A lot of our current processes for internships were made assuming that people were working in the same office, such as having “face-to-face” team building lunches to meet people. Those policies were in place for a good reason, because they were based on our previous feedback from interns, but the coronavirus suddenly made us switch to a remote working environment, so we had to be flexible. I had to move to tracking progress and giving feedback during a weekly 1-on-1.

@z-jiayi: Yes. In addition to progress, we also talked about what I was going to do in the next week. We talked about communication with other members there as well.

@matthew: Assuming we continue to do remote onboarding in the future, we could record videos of some of our onboarding information to make it easier to share in the future.

Interning at Mercari: Although we couldn’t meet in real life…

ーAnd now your internship has come to an end. How do you think it went?

@z-jiayi: It was a great experience! It’s unfortunate that I didn’t have much interaction with the other teams since it was online… Still, I think my skill set has increased thanks to the deep dive into SwiftUI and other technologies. Oh, and I also got to participate in Hack Week and win a special judge’s award, which was a great memory! This award has given me the opportunity to speak with many different members of the team.

@matthew: @z-jiayi was particularly active in developing research. Also, I asked her to join us in areas that we couldn’t start due to our development schedule. I think this allowed us to develop something that will have an impact in the long run.

ーWhat type of person would you say is a “good fit” to intern at Mercari?

@matthew: This isn’t limited to interns, but in Mercari, it’s important to believe in the mission and values and to be self-motivated. Everyone has goals, and they are working on various things to achieve them. In order to fit into that kind of environment, it’s essential that they have a shared belief in what we’re doing.

@z-jiayi: Also, Mercari encourages open source. So many of our members are learning on their own outside of work. You might be a good fit if you have the flexibility to constantly adapt to new things.

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