Tech Talks Vol. 11 – Senior Tech Managers (Part 1 of 2)

About Tech Talks

The Tech Talks series started in January 2021 to share how PayPay’s tech team brings products to life and to convey the general vibe of the team through the voices of its unique members from approximately 40 countries around the world. Volume 11 features four Senior Managers discussing hot topics that engineers around the world as well as in PayPay are sure to take interest in.

About the team

What is it like in the Technology Department, Product Division?

In the beginning there was one team, and one team only, but as we started drawing near a head count of 200 we split our roles up, with Mune and I working on the backend and Saku on the frontend. Later still, we decided that the time had come to carve out product lines to be managed independently, which is when Martin started to look after O2O. That brings us to where we’re at today.

Back in day 1, the team consisted mainly of Yahoo and Paytm members. We have since become an even more global team (around 70% of the team are foreign nationals) that is home to diverse schools of thought, cultures, languages, and much more, all of which we leverage to develop products. Nonetheless, what we do hasn’t changed. We create and release products to make PayPay a successful business. Delivering stable, good quality products is something we will always continue to do.

What are the different areas each of you look after?

Keisuke Yamamoto (“KSK”) – Senior Manager, Engineer Department 1 (top left)
Finnet & KYC/Payout/DaaS/Payment Feature/AutomationQA, Manual QA

My main responsibility is financial and online services. Other main responsibilities include QA and DaaS.

Munenori Hirakawa (“Mune”) – Senior Manager, Engineer Department 2 (top right)
CLM/UM/Payment/Wallet/SRE/DevSecOps/Platform/Performance and Stability Assurance

Before becoming a Senior Tech Manager, I looked after performance and stability in general, so now I oversee SRE that is responsible for overall performance & stability. I also oversee the core payment flow, platform, and security.

Martin Di Domenico (“Martin”) – Senior Manager, Engineer Department 3 (bottom left)
Merchant/Merchant Panel/App/O2O

I just joined in February to take care of merchant-facing products. I was initially on the PLC (payment linked coupon) team, where I started seeing many ideas coming our way that were conceptually related but not exactly about PLC. So I went to the Division Head at the time and proposed creating a self-contained O2O product line, as KSK mentioned before. It’s currently my biggest area of responsibility – making sure that O2O features enable merchants to be more attractive to consumers, to ultimately generate better experience for both merchants and consumers. I also take care of everything related to the merchant side of things.

Yoshimitsu Sakui (“Saku”) – Senior Manager, Engineer Department 4 (bottom right)
ConsumerApp/AppSDK/AppPlatform/BFF/WebFront/

The frontend is my main responsibility – the consumer facing app team (iOS/Android), the web front team that provides functionality using web technologies, the BFF team that manages APIs that connect the frontend and backend, the app SDK team (that develops SDKs to provide mini-app-related functionality to external parties to achieve our vision of becoming a super app), and the app platform team (promoting modularity so that the growing number of engineers can all develop together).

Career before PayPay

What did you do before joining PayPay?

KSK:

I worked at Yahoo for about 10 years. I was initially involved in toB projects and merchant services (corporate platforms similar to what Martin is working on now), but gradually, my role began to shift towards financial services and point systems, as well as involvement in projects with overseas businesses. By extension, I became involved in the initial launch of PayPay. It all began with a business trip to Paytm in India back in March or April 2018, where I also met our CTO, Harinder. Our paths crossed again around May or June, which was when the decision was made to develop our own platform, and the rest is history.

So you’re one of the “Day 1” developers!

Mune:

As am I. I joined Yahoo as a new graduate and had about 10 years of development experience related to payments, point systems, marketing tools, and campaign platforms. We were on different teams but KSK’s desk was nearby, and I knew him as the scary person I didn’t really want to get to know because he would sing as he worked (which he still does!). But after volunteering to join the PayPay project and having my first conversation with him… we went out for a few drinks, where he began a passionate monologue – with the help of a little alcohol – about the future of a business like PayPay, and I was pulled right in. Not once have I looked back since then, as team “Day 1.” (laughs)

And then it was Saku who joined next?

Saku:

I’m not a Day 1 member. I joined Yahoo as a new graduate and worked on new services in the media domain, the launch of a messaging application overseas, and Yahoo’s top page application. Later, it was just as I was watching PayPay’s breakthrough from the sidelines that I was informed about a position as head of the app team. It was Az (the interviewer today) that attended my interview at the office, which was in Ginza at the time.

I remember that day very well! (laughs)

KSK:

I knew that Saku had just been left frustrated by a big new development project in Yahoo, which had been scrapped just before its release. I’d been through something similar – I clearly remember recommending him to Adi.

Saku:

Aditya (Division Head at the time, Adi for short) asked me in the interview “What do you think is the most important thing?” I remember answering “Speed!” and then hitting it off with KSK and Shilei. Also in that interview, everyone was eating cake because it was someone’s birthday, and I kept thinking – as I ate the cake too – about how awesome it would be to be on this team. I joined right after that and have been with PayPay ever since.

Let’s move on to Martin. Why did you transfer from working for a Japanese flea market app platform?

Martin:

The biggest reason was because I had been working almost ten years in e-commerce, especially c2c commerce, which is a very interesting industry, but after ten years it becomes a little repetitive. I was on the lookout for opportunities, and that’s when PayPay arrived at the perfect timing. The second reason was to be part of a company driving the transformation from a cash to e-money economy. One thing that surprised me the most when I moved to Japan was that it was way behind Argentina in terms of electronic payments. I hadn’t used that much cash for almost six or seven years, but in Japan, there was so much of it. So, when PayPay knocked on my door, I was like “Sure, I’m in.”

Comparing Day 1 to today Organization & management

How has the organization changed from Day 0 to Day1, and then to Day 2?

KSK:

Back in Day 1, we were mainly divided into the Canada team (Paytm) led by Shilei (Senior Manager at the time) and the Japan team (Yahoo) led by me, in part due to the language barrier.

Mune:

There were only a few people I could turn to back then…

KSK:

Whenever there was a serious outage, the Japanese team and English-speaking team would each run their own analysis to get to the bottom of the issue. That changed though as communication became more active, with the Japanese members understanding more English, and the team gradually gaining a deeper understanding of the system.

I know that Mune couldn’t speak English in the beginning.

KSK:

I remember Mune being asked to speak in English for the release video and saying, “Oh no!” (laughs)

Mune:

In the beginning I was afraid to talk to the Canada team. I was like, “Excuse me… What is the next task…?” I’ve managed to get this far only by drawing things up on the whiteboard and receiving support from our interpreters.

Martin:

That’s hard to believe, given that he interviewed me in English. I thought he’d been speaking the language for a long time, not fresh out of picking it up in the last couple of years. Incredible!

How long did it take you to get used to things?

Mune:

I still struggle with language issues, but I guess I kind of got used to it after about two years… There were just not enough interpreters, so I found myself in more and more situations where I had to do things myself. There was no other way to get all our releases out. Mind you, there were times when we were clearly behind schedule or clearly not on the same page, and yet we still had to communicate. Then eventually, I started to understand what some people were saying. For example, I sort of understood what Madhumita (product manager) was saying, but still couldn’t understand what Adi was saying.

KSK:

Each person has their own approach and way of speaking, I guess. Amit for example has a quick mind – sometimes too quick for me to keep up.

So it’s not just the language, but also the thought process?

KSK:

Yes.

Mune:

The way people phrase things, the expressions they use, their tone…

Plus, the organization is under constant change as well.

KSK:

We want to nurture and develop our team members, so we don’t confine them to a single team, but try to expose them to various teams. There are transfers to adjacent teams, and transfers to completely different teams. There is constant and dynamic change in this way, including promotion to a tech lead which is a middle layer manager.

Are team members given the opportunity to consider and communicate their desired career plans?

Mune:

It’s important for each team member to be vocal about the direction they’re headed in and what kind of experience they want. If someone says, for example, “This is the sort of challenge I want to take on,” then we can support that by saying “Do you want to move to this team and give that a try?”

Are the senior managers available to consult about things like that?

Saku:

Definitely. If someone wants to pick up a new skill or they want to move up the ladder, we’re always here to talk it over. I receive messages like that, in fact, quite often. If they haven’t done so already, they should always be thinking about how to advance their career and be talking about it with their direct manager or us.

Is there a clearly described career path for engineers at PayPay?

Mune:

Not until recently. It was Martin that helped to initiate the movement towards establishing a career path at PayPay.

Martin:

It was probably because I was a fresh pair of eyes. After joining, I observed that the company was growing so much that we were struggling to onboard new members and maintain a solid structure. After a few years pass and you get used to things, I think it gets difficult to take a step back to figure out what’s required for drastic change or improvement. So I began to bother people about what could be done to create a bit more structure around a career path.
I thought about what worked and what didn’t in my previous job, and through repeated discussions, worked together on refitting it to PayPay so that it wouldn’t turn into some generic thing that any company could adopt. I think we ended up with a good steppingstone, to keep evolving from. In the end, it’s about how we make PayPay a great place a few years down the road.

Will the career path framework be offered to everyone on the team?

Mune:

The overall framework and metrics including roles and expectations for each position have already been shared with everyone. There will be one-on-one sessions with everything during December to confirm the details of their position and career plan.

Do you have any advice for junior & senior engineers on how to develop their career and get better at what they do? This is a question that quite a few people on the team have been asking about.

KSK:

As you can see if you take a look at the career path framework we created, the more senior a person’s role becomes, the more they are expected to influence the people around them. In other words, even if they have a high self-evaluation, that’s not enough. Their performance has to be recognized by others. This means that senior members are expected to perform in terms of engineering but also to communicate with a wider range of people, limited not just to team members but with internal and external stakeholders. Junior members, on the other hand, are required to get done what they are assigned. For example, an API, and then eventually things that cross over multiple components.

Martin:

The more senior you become, the more important it becomes to think about what you can do to help others add value. Naturally, someone can add more and more value as an individual, as they gain experience in their career, but being able to help others add value results in an exponential increase in the overall value that is added to the business. That’s one more thing we tried to give focus on in the new career path.

Mune:

PayPay itself is a junior, being only three years old. There’s still a lot of room left for growing up…

Do you mean as a company?

Mune:

The company, the product, even the development process. There are so many things that can be done better. The common denominator among successful junior members is that they do not accept the current situation as it is, but rather ask themselves, “Why are we doing it this way?” or “Can’t we do it better this way?” and proceed to become the change agent. As a result, I’ve lately been hearing from an increasing number of new members that they found things to be surprisingly well established compared to what they had expected before joining. From my point of view, we’re not quite there yet though… That’s why it’s important to maintain a culture where everyone can speak up and make things better.

A culture that we actively create ourselves.

Martin:

I’ve worked in startups and in massive global companies, but what impresses me about PayPay is that there’s a bit of both. It’s very exciting for anyone in any stage in their career because the startup part of the company allows you to make a difference. You can grow. There are lots of opportunities, lots to do, lots to fix, and lots to improve. On the other hand, the impact to society PayPay has in terms of scale is comparable to any old established corporation. That’s what I mean by having both worlds – the startup world and the corporate world. We’re now trying to figure out how we get the best of both sides. So that’s why I think it’s a very interesting company to be at and to make a career at in general.

(Continued in Part 2 of 2)

See our currently available open positions here Job Openings

Editor: Az (PayPay Inside-Out Editorial Team) / Photo:Tak
*Employees’ affiliations are as of the time of the interview.

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