Helping Mercari’s globalization as an engineering manager: Meet Matthew from the Mobile Team #WeMakeMercari
Mercari has grown to become Japan’s largest marketplace app, where anyone can buy and sell. However, our journey does not end there. To fulfill our goal of creating a “global marketplace”, we have welcomed talent from all over the world to the Mercari Tokyo office—around 40 countries and counting. In the #WeMakeMercari series, we would like to introduce you to some of the members in the company.
This time, meet Matthew, Engineering Manager for the Mercari JP Mobile Team. As an engineering manager for the Mobile Team, Matthew manages both iOS and Android engineers and works to improve the engineering process at Mercari.
ーPlease tell us about your journey up until you joined Mercari.
I always knew that I wanted to go abroad after university so when I graduated, I moved to Japan. Actually my first programming job was at a computer consulting company in my hometown in high school, but after Apple released its first iOS SDK, I started programming apps, making them as a hobby while I was in graduate school. From there on, I had people contacting me from out of the blue, asking me to make iOS apps. I thought this was a sign that something very exciting was happening within the industry. From there on I worked freelance as an iOS engineer and later worked at two Japanese companies. I also organized a meetup in Tokyo about developing iOS apps. At some point, I noticed that a lot of engineers I knew from running the meetup were gradually joining Mercari so I decided to apply myself.
JP Mobile team Engineer manager, Matthew Gillingham
Mercari is in the midst of globalization
ーWhat about your experience joining Mercari and becoming the EM of the JP Mobile Team?
I joined Mercari as an iOS software engineer and later became an engineering manager. Before joining, I ran my own business for a couple of years. One thing that surprised me during the interview process is that the interviewer mentioned that Mercari encourages its members to work on side projects outside the company even before I asked! In Japan it is quite rare for companies to encourage or even allow side projects.
Having my own business meant that I had to think about a lot more things other than engineering, including the managerial and people aspects as well. I’m very interested in business processes as well as coding, which is why I became an engineering manager.
Although my main focus now is on my team specifically, trying to make sure that my members aren’t blocked from making progress in their tasks and providing a path for them where they can achieve their goals, I definitely feel that there are cases where I get to participate in the decision-making process and give advice.
Mercari is a Japanese company that is in the process of becoming a global company. We started out with an almost entirely Japanese team but we are now in the process of globalization, which means as an engineering manager I need to keep in mind of the dynamics of a bilingual team. Right now we are creating an engineering culture and process suitable for this type of transition, trying to take the best of what different parts of the world have to offer. For example, we are moving to a scrum system in agile, so aside from managing my team, I’m working with product managers to understand how to incorporate that type of process into our product development and improve the entire project.
Being able to help what started out as a Japanese company transition to become a global company is definitely a unique and interesting opportunity. At the same time it is one of our biggest challenges and a learning opportunity available for people who would be interested in doing management at Mercari.
Creating a bilingual environment using both Japanese and English
ーYou have worked at various Japanese companies, but what would you say is unique about Mercari?
The fact that a Japanese company is trying to become a global company itself is not unusual, but I think the approach that Mercari is taking to handle its bilingual environment is a unique strategy.
We have a translation and interpretation team called the Global Operations Team (GOT) that provides live interpretation for many meetings as well as a Language Education Team (LET) that has its own metrics and language programs specific to helping members learn a functional level of English or Japanese at Mercari.
I wouldn’t say that there are no cultural or language barriers and I myself need interpretation support in some cases. However, I feel that the company acknowledges that everybody needs to be participating members in discussions and we are actually trying to advance people’s language learning over time to improve communication.
ーWhat kind of talent would enjoy being an Engineering Manager at Mercari?
In a lot of ways, the types of skills that a manager needs to have, and the types of skills that a programmer needs to have, can be quite different. And I also think the way in which the job rewards you is different. So it is really not necessarily that it is a progression for every engineer to become an engineering manager. At Mercari we are looking for people who have experience as engineering managers in different countries and companies that can bring ideas on, for example, how to do good one-on-one meetings, or help people in their career path and evaluation and incorporate that into our company. If you are interested in helping a Japanese company grow globally, Mercari definitely offers that unique experience.
Matthew Gillingham is currently an Engineering Manager for the Mercari Mobile Team. He has worked in Tokyo, Japan for over 10 years as a full stack developer, on projects such as an augmented reality social network, video games, and REST or GraphQL-based web services. You can follow him at @gillygize.