Talk with Engineers. Vol.56 (Merpay EMs, @ robert, @ godriccao, @ tim) – Challenges and Career Growth for Non-Japanese Engineers at Merpay

This interview is part of a series of interviews where we talk with Software Engineers working in the Mercari Group. In this edition, we meet @robert, @godric, and @tim, who started as Software Engineers and then became Engineering Managers.

They will share a little bit about the challenges and career growth opportunities for non-Japanese engineers at Merpay.

Hey, @robert and @tim, do you have a minute to talk with me on Meet?

@godric: When did you guys join the company again? Actually, what did you do before joining?

@tim: I joined Merpay in January 2020. It was my first job in Japan. Before that I had my own consulting company in the UK and was working as a Go Engineer consultant for a Fintech company in London.

@robert: When was it again… ah, it was in July of 2019! Before joining Merpay, I actually worked in South Korea and Spain, but I’m from Slovenia. 😛 I did a lot of backend development, but also a bit of frontend and mobile, so would say I consider myself a full-stack developer.

What about you @godric?

@godric: It was November 2017 when I joined Mercari as a Backend Engineer. Before that I worked in embedded and full stack development in Japan for 4 years.

So why did you decide to come to Japan in the first place, and why Merpay?

@tim: Actually, my little sister was living in Japan, and since I wanted a change from London, I decided to join her for a few months. But while I was getting a Working Holiday VISA, a headhunter contacted me and asked if I would be interested in joining Merpay. Fintech is an area I particularly like, and Mercari is one of the best companies in Japan, so I thought I would give it a try.

@robert: I was visiting Japan often while working in Korea, and I noticed that Japan was still using a lot of cash compared to Korea, so I thought that by joining Merpay I could make Japan cashless!


@godric: And what have you been doing since you joined Merpay?

@robert: I joined as a Backend Engineer on the Bank Team. Soon after, I became Tech Lead (TL), and as we were preparing for the launch of Merpay, it was very intense. 😁 It made me feel like working for a startup again! You could really feel the passion from everyone around, and we even had an All for One initiative together with Mercari to launch Merpay. Everyone truly came together!

Since launching Merpay, we’ve been continually improving the service, adding more banks our users can connect with, and even adding the option of using an ATM to top-up the users’ balance. We also took over the user payout part from Mercari, which is responsible for transferring sales proceeds when you sell something on Mercari.

I then became Engineering Manager (EM) in July of 2020 and have been involved in D&I initiatives with many others across the whole Mercari Group. 🙂

@tim: I joined as a Go backend engineer on the KYC Team. We are mainly dealing with the Personal Identifiable Information of our users.

To be fair, at that moment I felt like it was a huge step back in my career, but the business domain was interesting, so I took it on as a challenge. I had the opportunity to prove my value on the projects assigned to me while proactively improving different aspects of the team processes, and after a few months, I became KYC Tech Lead, then EM a bit after.

As the KYC EM, my main areas of focus are fostering the growth of my team members and ensuring things run smoothly within KYC. It’s a lot of process fine-tuning and project monitoring, but I’m also pushing to start new KYC-related projects involving new technologies, in order to improve our product and its security aspect.

At the same time, I’m involved in improving the overall organization by taking an active part in our D&I initiatives with many people like @robert, and more recently, by joining our Engineering Ladder Committee.

Why did they choose to be EM at Merpay?

@godric: So both of you choose the Engineering Manager (EM) path. Can I ask you guys why?

@tim: Well, I see myself as a support for my teammates, and I really feel my value can be seen when I have the opportunity to solve organizational issues and help people achieve their goals. The EM position is directly related to these topics, so I think I can have more impact in this role.

@robert: I wanted to challenge myself, as I didn’t have experience in management at a public company, and I felt that I could create an even better Merpay as an EM. Supporting others and making a good environment for everyone to thrive is something that brings me joy. Of course it was a hard choice as I still like coding, so maybe someday I’ll go back to being TL, as we have also had a few EMs go back to being TLs. I really like that part about Mercari/Merpay, having the choice.

@godric: A list of questions. 😛 How has it been as an EM? What do you think is the responsibility of an EM? How has your responsibility changed from when you were Tech Lead (TL)?

@tim: I looooove to be an EM, but it’s true that it brings a lot of changes. There are multiple challenges when switching from TL to EM, but the biggest I have in mind is reaching alignment. People have opinions and priorities that differ from yours. You need to take this into consideration with regards to everything you’re trying to achieve, as the scope of projects you’re working on is generally cross-team.

You also need to be self-organized and perceptive of the company gaps you could fill by proactively bringing solutions to the table.

Between IC/TL (Individual Contributor/Tech Lead) and EM, the major difference in your daily work is the amount of meetings and tasks you juggle at the same time. Self-organization is the key here.

@robert: It’s been both really hard and amazing at the same time. As an EM I have to focus more on the people management aspects as well, compared to just coding or project management before. But this has allowed me to expand my horizons, and I really feel that I’m not just working alone on the code, but also creating a better environment for everyone to work in.

“The good thing with Merpay is that you’re not tied to being EM.”

@godric: Have you also considered your next career steps?

@robert: For now I’m still trying to create a more diverse and inclusive environment at Merpay; well, not just Merpay, but also working within the whole Mercari Group. This has exposed me to many more high-level meetings and has me influencing teams as well as divisions. To be able to create an even better environment for everyone, I want to challenge myself as a Manager of Managers or even Director/VP in the future. 😁

@tim: I’m going to keep pushing for better D&I at Merpay while improving the state of the KYC Team, but I hope to take over the management of another team as well. For the future I still have some time to think about it, even if I already have some ideas.

@godric: What kind of people would you recommend to become an EM at Merpay?

@tim: It’s really hard to summarize and reduce it to a few key points, but I guess that the Servant Leadership mindset is quite important, as you need to focus on both your team growth and promotion of the organizational strategy while supporting task execution at the same time.

I guess we can say that you need to be as supportive as you can. If you’re this kind of person, then this role might be a good fit for you.

@robert: The good thing with Merpay is that you’re not tied to being EM. I joined as a backend engineer, became TL, and then was given the chance to also become an EM. It truly shows that the company values diversity, as there are not that many non-Japanese EMs in the first place. We are supporting everyone, not just EMs, with language learning in both Japanese and English, as well as having interpretation support, so I would say it’s just a matter of the person’s inner drive.

We want people who are not afraid to challenge themselves and the status quo, to create something better together!

@godric: Thank you, Tim and @robert. Thank you for your time!

@robert: Anytime!

@tim: My pleasure. It was fun!

@godric: If you are interested in joining us after hearing what @tim and @robert have been talking about, then check out the open positions below.

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