“We’re launching PayPay in four months” – members from SoftBank, Yahoo! JAPAN, and Paytm were brought together in June 2018 for a hastily launched project. Language was the biggest adversary of the ultra-fast development project connecting three companies and three time zones, and it was undoubtedly the members of the interpretation team that brought order to the situation and supported the “war front,” where internal jargon and innumerable proper nouns were thrown around in addition to Indian-English, Chinese-English, and Japanese-English.
Here we introduce the trajectory of the leading figures of this history who overcame numerous difficulties along the way without faltering.
After working as an in-house interpreter at a logistics company, insurance company, and design company, he joined PayPay in November 2019. His recent hobbies include decorating his room with flowers, stock trading (at a very beginner level), and comedy.
Gina Mariko Yasuda
After working as a coordinator and exclusive interpreter/translator at an interpreter/translator agency in Singapore, she joined Yahoo Japan Corporation in July 2015, and has been working as an interpreter since the launch of PayPay. Currently, she is building up her strength in preparation for the birth of her second child in August.
She joined PayPay in August 2019 after 10 years of PMO experience including interpretation and translation work for system development projects, and later as a career consultant and SSL certification specialist. Her hobbies include cooking, wine, and recently, jogging.
Currently living in Yokohama. Started working as an interpreter at PayPay in January 2019. Her hobbies include reading books and cooking (and taking walks or driving when the weather is nice).
Born in Wakayama Prefecture. After working as an interpreter/translator in various industries, she started working as an interpreter at PayPay in April 2019. She has been a super “analogue” person and had almost no knowledge of IT when she joined PayPay, so she is still learning new things every day. Her hobbies include going to live concerts, watching plays, and taking trips to Nagano.
No team nor rest – a desperate and literally fever-inducing battle
Every employee of PayPay says that PayPay as we know it today would not have been possible without the Interpretation & Translation Team. How did it all start-off and what was it like in the beginning? Please tell us what Day 1 was like.
Gina: One day soon after returning from maternity leave for my first child to being an in-house interpreter for Yahoo! JAPAN, I was called over and asked to take part in a new project as the interpreter. The time was June 2018. When I walked into the conference room, Mr. Ichiro Nakayama and Mr. Harinder Takhar was present amongst other executives, and as I interpreted, I came to understand what kind of company was going to be made. Interpreters were at the very top of the list of people as urgent recruits for the project. I still remember today – the moment I interpreted, “We need interpreters ASAP,” everyone in the room looked at me.
Since I was an employee of Yahoo! JAPAN, not PayPay, I tried to keep myself in the background and focus on interpreting even though I knew that one of the most important parts of the project was interpretation. Even so, because the project had to be carried out at breakneck speed and the interpreter had to know what was going on since the previous week, before I knew part of the project on a weekly basis.
Soon after that, the meeting now known as PayPay’s management meeting was set up, which lasted for two to three hours every week. No one knew how to “use” an interpreter at this point in time, so I had to start by lecturing everyone on the basics: “Consecutive interpretation is the act of asking the speaker to pause after an interval so that the interpreter can interpret what was said, spending the same same amount of time. It takes twice as long to hold a meeting with this method. There is also simultaneous interpretation, but due to the high level of concentration it requires, the human brain can only keep up with it for 30 minutes.”
An hour meeting turning into a two hour meeting because of interpretation… many participants… Everyone had so many things they wanted to discuss… This made the management meeting very time consuming. Week after week, we strove to better facilitate the meeting. Eventually, the conclusion was reached that consecutive interpretation just didn’t cut it. Although I did explain that it “normally isn’t possible for one interpreter to interpret such a long meeting simultaneously, but I have no choice,” from that point onwards, I began to provide simultaneous interpretation for the meeting that sometimes lasted up to two hours, all by myself.
No jokes, I used to get a fever for two to three hours after sitting-in at the management meeting. I’d heard somewhere that the human brain produces heat when it’s overworked, but the management meeting proved that theory. (laughs)
Kye: Whenever you came back from a management meeting it was like you were in a trance!
Seiko: I also recall Gina’s comment about the meeting being a “brain workout.” I didn’t realize that it was actually giving you a fever though!
While Gina grappled with the management meeting, am I right to understand that there was a separate war front in the Product team (development) too?
Rikako: Exactly! I joined PayPay in April 2019, before which, Ms. Nakagawa had been holding the fort down on her own. I remember how happy she was when she saw me – “finally, another interpreter!” Many things in the company were still very fluid, and things were moving ahead at the same time on varying layers, so it was commonplace for us to join a meeting without knowledge of what the topic of conversation was at hand. Not only that, we had to interpret for hours on end without any breaks in between because language support was a must for meetings with participants from Paytm India even though there were not enough interpreters let alone a team to manage language support in general. No one on the Product team had any experience working with interpreters, so naturally, not many understood the need to speak succinctly, speak slowly, or share materials in advance. At the time, it was all very exhausting, both physically and mentally. Thanks to the efforts of Ms. Nakagawa and Gina who diligently educated the team on those things – which at times resulted in violent clashes with engineers both from Japan and Paytm India – everything had become much more interpreter-friendly by the time the rest of the team joined PayPay.
For those of you who joined later – what were you set out to accomplish when you decided to join the Interpretation & Translation team in PayPay?
Seiko: I joined PayPay on August 1st, 2019 right after the mass-scale campaign. I’d always liked Mr. Son, so I had been watching PayPay and supporting it as a user, although I never imagined that I would end up being an employee.
Naoko: I joined PayPay in January of 2019 as an interpreter dedicated to HR. I sat down in interviews with candidate engineers day after day, and each time, it was someone from a different country. As such, my life as an interpreter at PayPay was kicked-off with a very high degree of complexity, involving very nervous engineers whose mother tongue was not necessarily English in interviews held online.
The interviewees were engineers in the Product team and due to their busy schedule, it was difficult for them to spare time for the interviews. Back in the beginning, it was a challenge to get a hold of them so that the interview could be started on time. Once, I was asked by an engineer who hadn’t had time for lunch whether it was fine to eat a sandwich during the interview. (laughs) Jokes aside, once the interview started, it all became dead serious. Many times, the PayPay engineer would hit it off with a world-class engineer connected only through the screen of the computer. I’ve encountered many people with diverse backgrounds and experience in various countries, and yet, once they start talking tech and something resonates, they break into a smile, eyes sparkling. It was a very demanding job, but those moments more than made up for it. I still feel that way even now.
Kye: I joined PayPay because I saw an opportunity to contribute directly to the growth of the business without being dragged down by “conventional” ways of doing things and formalized procedures that exist in long-standing companies. Also, digital transformation is something required not only in tech companies but across all industries, so it was a plus to be able to work for a company leading the way in the field.
How did you feel after joining? Was anything unexpected?
Seiko: There wasn’t anything all that unexpected, but there was more diversity than I thought. The speed of things was also much faster than I imagined. On top of that, everyone was very skilled and talented, and I was desperate not to be left behind. I still am now.
Kye: I worked at a small startup before PayPay, so the speed of change and decision-making feels slightly slower here. (laughs) What surprised me more was the amount of money spent on the business. So many digits. The other thing that impressed me was the speed and process of leading the business to success. In most of my previous workplaces, people would try this and that, and only gradually find the formula for success but at PayPay success happens at an incredibly fast pace. The other thing is that the Product Division is, in a good way, a very unique organization with many international members, while other divisions have a more traditional Japanese corporate atmosphere. It is interesting to see the interaction. As an interpreter, I’m able to witness the change in the formalities of the Japanese corporate way of doing things due to the influence of the Product Division, which is fun to watch.
There was no team in the beginning. What does the team do now?
Kye: As you say, there was no team to start off with. An interpretation & translation team was then created, which has now evolved further, looking after the English & Japanese boot camps as well as cross-cultural communication. We’re now called the “Language Communication” team. The demand for interpreter support is always on the rise, and if you look at the total hours we spend interpreting per day, the average that was 8.1 hours in March 2020 has doubled to 16.3 hours in March 2021. The range of meetings we support includes the management meeting, board meeting, and other high-level meetings that Gina used to handle alone, as well as the innumerous meetings necessary in the product (development) team – there’s the weekly all hands meetings for the entire Product Division and a demo of new features, tech reviews, knowledge sharing, team meetings and 1-on-1s. Separate to that, there’s a recent increase in the number of business negotiations with global operators too. The basic policy we have as a team is to try to achieve a state where any interpreter can provide the same level of output no matter which meeting they support. Seiko, Rikako and Naoko, who are part of the interview today, all interpret at all kinds of meetings. That is, except for sensitive HR related meetings such as interviews or meetings related to evaluations, which are assigned to Naoko and also Tomomi.
As for translation, we translate official information that PayPay releases to the public such as press releases, product blogs, PayPay Inside-Out articles like this one, and other internal newsletters. Other projects include translation of in-app text, proof-reading of management meeting materials and translation of documents used in business negotiations that require more accuracy.
Gina: It may be hard to imagine but interpreting and translating are two completely different things. Interpreters generally only interpret and translators only translate. However, at PayPay, every member of the team does both, not only because it gives us a chance to brush-up on our skills in both areas, but also to use our resources more efficiently. Interpreting and translating require two very different “modes”! Interpreting requires boldness and the ability to let things go (in a good way), while translating requires prudence and a mindset where you don’t stop questioning your own understanding. For example, I double and triple check what I translate (and cross check it with several dictionaries).
What do you find difficult or rewarding about interpretation and translation at PayPay?
Gina: Names of campaigns are difficult – they sound good in Japanese, which doesn’t easily translate into English though. Also, development terminology! There’s no time to rest in learning new words because PayPay actively explores and introduces new technologies and tools all the time! Other than that, there are many things that are outside of my area of expertise, such as legal matter, financial industry matter, and the names of people (or organizations), so when I suddenly come across an abbreviation I haven’t heard before, I frantically look it up at the same time as interpreting. It’s a tough job but I learn a lot, and it helps broaden my horizon. I think it’s fair to say that I’ve become very sensitive to current affairs in the financial sector thanks to PayPay.
Naoko: In the beginning, I had a hard time telling whether the terms and tool names used by engineers were technical terms or ordinary English words. A simple example is ZooKeeper, which is used by platform engineers, but when I heard it for the first time, I thought, “Why are we talking about a zoo here?” A proper noun that is common among engineers is not necessarily so for interpreters. To be honest, it was difficult for me to be able to make an instantaneous judgment as to whether it would make sense if I just pronounced it as a proper noun in katakana, or whether it would be better to interpret it as a normal English word.
Kye: Being involved in anything and everything that is happening in the company as an interpreter, especially taking part in the making of a new service or a critical business decision being made is very rewarding. On the other hand, after the company introduced WFA, close to all meetings are interpreted simultaneously using Zoom’s language interpretation function. This has made the interpreter less “visible”, in addition to which, perhaps due to the fact that the team is very good at what we do, more and more people are participating in meetings without considering the needs of the interpreter. Everyone’s cooperation in returning to the basics, of speaking slowly & clearly is much appreciated to ensure accurate communication.
What are the team’s vision and the role you think it should play in terms of internal communication?
Kye: As I mentioned, our team was renamed from being the “Interpretation & Translation Team” to the “Language Communication Team” as of this April. This took place in line with Language Boot Camps (language classes for employees) being added as a responsibility of the team, as well as promoting cross-cultural communication. In the short term, our goal is to keep providing the same high level of language support as a team, regardless of who is assigned to the task. At the same time, our long-term goal is to solve not just language issues, but also cross-cultural issues too to become a team that is indispensable to PayPay.
Since Day 1, you have been dealing with hectic changes – do you feel that the way of internal communication or the mindset of employees has changed too?
Naoko: The Japanese engineers saw English as something bothersome and painful in the beginning, which I no longer see now. On the contrary, I see lively text-based discussions on Slack and think “Wow, everyone changed a lot, that’s awesome!”.
Rikako: At the beginning, Japanese engineers could not communicate at all, but I think they tried their best and powered-on even when they could not get interpreter support. There are more and more people on the team who don’t even realize that some of their colleagues could speak zero English in the not-so-distant past. (laughs)
Our non-Japanese colleagues are also trying really hard to bridge language barriers by learning Japanese, even if it may only be little inch by little inch. I think everyone is trying their best. From a cultural point of view, sometimes things need to be said very directly to be understood, which can be quite uncommon in Japan. At first that caused conflicts, misunderstandings and sometimes even scuffles and fights, but I think that maintaining an open attitude towards communicating is what is important, and although things have required a huge effort along the way, I think it’s all worked out considering where we stand today.
After Day 1, members from even more diverse backgrounds have continued to join the team, contributing to the creation of a culture unique to PayPay. I think that since everyone speaks from their own background and experience and talks about different countries and the latest trends in various fields, even the “old guard” – engineers who were here from the beginning notice and learn new ways of thinking and new options, which helps them grow. I truly believe that, looking at people working here.
This is basically as Harinder said – “This is not India, China or Japan – we’re creating something new and original, called PayPay”
Rikako: Indeed. More and more engineers will join PayPay in the future, and I think it will become a place where you have to interact with a lot of different people. A place where you try and take part in things that you don’t know or that you have never done before. I believe it’s important to try new things without prejudice.
I also think that being able to say what you want in your own language is quite powerful. A common definition of an interpreter is someone who can interpret anything from one language into another, but the person who ultimately knows best what you want to say is you. And using the exact words you want to use makes it the most powerful thing. Interpreters can help to get the message across, but in the end the only person that can say exactly what they want to say is the original speaker, so if they are able to do so directly it makes the message stronger.
Having said that, there are a lot of meetings when engineers can understand each other’s imperfect English even without an interpreter. There are times when having interpreters would actually be detrimental. In engineering, the amount of knowledge you need is extraordinary, so it goes without saying that sometimes engineers have an easier time-solving problems when they can talk to each other directly, while drawing on a whiteboard and using diagrams and such.
Kye: We would like everyone to rely on interpreters in the short term, but to aim to be able to communicate on their own in the long term.
Seiko: I think the reason PayPay has been able to develop new features quickly and achieve success is that communication was not an issue and interpreters were available, and I hope we can be helpful in the future too. You shouldn’t put so much weight on learning a language if it slows down the development speed, but how about, as a challenge to yourself, you say something like “Last year I asked the interpreters for help, but how about I try to do it on my own this time, I wonder if I can do it…”?
Naoko: Watching the product team I think everyone can communicate with each other very well. Daily Slack interactions, morning meetings, and communicating through text seems to be going quite well. Still, when you think “This is how it should be done. I do want to do it, but I also want to explain the background a bit more. I don’t know how to convey the nuances though,” it’s absolutely okay to do it through an interpreter. In times when you feel like you can’t accurately convey exactly what you think, don’t worry about it too much.
Gina: I agree with Naoko –communicating through an interpreter will allow you to get your point across more accurately. It’s fine to ask us for help. Having said that, I think communication is more than just words – it’s also the tone of voice, facial expressions, eye contact and a lot of other things that convey what you want to say. That’s why I think it’s important to value all of those, and if you try to talk about how you feel or about sensitive matters directly, whether through Slack or face to face, I think you will be able to brush up your communication skills in general.
Kye: I think everyone at PayPay has a great chance to use this environment in which you can learn a language other than your own. Let me add, I know a few engineers who’ve been able to double their salary by learning English. (laughs)
Do you have any messages to the people who are looking to join PayPay?
Kye: In PayPay, every team faces a lot of changes – be it product development, business development, management, marketing or anywhere else. New topics keep popping up, so if you are looking for somewhere where you won’t slip into routine, this is the place for you. What we talked about today does not apply just to the interpreting and translation team either. In a broader sense, removing communication barriers is a mission given to everyone who works here. We are looking for people who will help us to look for areas to improve within the company and who want to help us improve them!
Naoko: Working here will allow you to experience ideas and accents of wonderful people from all around the world.
Seiko: I think everyone on the team is so wonderful. So full of energy. If you want to grow while working with ambitious and brilliant people, join PayPay!
See our currently available open positions here
Editor: Az (PayPay Inside-Out Editorial Team) *Employees’ affiliations are as of the time of the interview.