About Tech Talks
In this Tech Talks series, we will share with you the character and vibe of the PayPay Tech Team through the voices of the unique product members from around 50 countries!
In this installment, we spoke with J. and Botond, who lead the Data Insights Department.
Hi, I’m J, the head of the Data Insights Department. I’m from the United States and studied finance and economics. I started my career as a Financial Economist at the Central Bank in the US. I worked in various fields including consulting, asset management, etc. I came to Japan 15 years ago and joined PayPay in 2022.
Botond E. Mathe
My name is Botond and I’m an Engineering Manager in the Data Insights Department. Originally from Romania, after obtaining my master’s degree I worked for a Hungarian consulting company on banking related projects. Intrigued by Japanese culture, I came to Japan four years ago and joined PayPay to work in the field of payment systems, which has always fascinated me.
Tell us about the Data Insights division’s mission and role
Our mission is to drive value-added product improvements by engineering systems founded on a scientific understanding of user and merchant behavior.
An important differentiator is that we are not just a team of data scientists; our department includes back-end, front-end, and machine learning engineers. We are focusing on improving the product by using both engineering and a scientific approach.
We are working on a number of projects, including personalization, the search feature, and merchant analytics. All of these are challenging and exciting. In terms of personalization, we are currently focusing on the coupon function, which aims to present the best coupons for each individual users.
Since this area is continually evolving, our research is always ongoing and we share the results with each other. We are always on the lookout for industry trends to see how we can utilize and integrate the latest technologies to our app such as generative AI and machine learning.
What made you decide to come to PayPay?
I do have a FinTech background, so when I started thinking about the next step in my career, I became interested in PayPay, which I was already a user of. I imagined that being able to leverage the data PayPay has would open up many more possibilities.
There were no data science or machine learning related hiring positions available at that time, but I decided to apply for the position of Engineering Manager to see if they would be interested in my background.
And indeed, they were. Soon after joining the company, I started working with Botond and other members who are also passionate about machine learning and AI, and so we formed the Data Insights Department.
I have always had a great interest in payment systems. Soon after moving to Japan, I saw PayPay used in many different ways in people’s lives and thought this was exactly the company that I was looking for. I knew it was a fast-growing company and immediately applied directly through PayPay’s recruitment website. During the interview process, I learned that the company has a very supportive culture, which made it even more intriguing. This impression was true as my manager diligently mentored and guided me. After a year with the company, I became an engineering manager, and after J joined the company, we founded new Data Insights Department together.
What challenges do you face in the Data Insights department?
The projects we handle span across three product divisions: Payment Services, Financial Services, and Merchant Solutions. This often involves a larger number of product managers than usual, and requires collaboration with multiple systems depending on the project’s scope. The broad range of specialized knowledge required makes it inherently challenging.
Additionally, as is the case with machine learning and AI projects in general, one of the challenges is the lengthy research phase. Unlike development projects with clearly defined requirements, these projects involve a high degree of uncertainty and require a more phased approach. Quickly scaling within a short time frame in both engineering and research aspects is no easy task.
To deliver results in such a context, it is crucial to focus on small-scale design and development, validate outcomes based on appropriate KPIs, and continuously improve. It is also a challenge to recruit team members whose skills synergize and cover a wide range of domains as a team.
I primarily handle the phase of building production systems based on data from the post-research phase. Deploying complex models created around ambiguous requirements, involving large numbers of components and technologies can be challenging, and cross-functional collaboration with team members is a key aspect to it.
Furthermore, I place a lot of importance on taking small steps over an iterative process, all while continuously checking progress, to achieve our KPIs. Given the multitude of processes involved, we strive to use methods that are as efficient as can be, and combine them with agile approaches across the entire department.
How do you collaborate with other teams?
We don’t own the data or the data platform itself in our department, so collaboration with other teams is essential as we rely on their data. For example, when accessing new data, we need coordination with other teams.
However, everyone at PayPay is extremely cooperative, which allows us to smoothly progress without projects being hindered.
What is the atmosphere like in the Data Insights Department?
We started with around five members and within a few months, we grew to over 20 members. It has become a highly diverse team, with members from over 10 countries and various areas of expertise and industry experience. This diversity allows us to approach things from multiple perspectives in meetings too.
It’s an environment where there are always new challenges and no shortage of opportunities to learn. We have knowledge sharing sessions where we share our findings, and J is always very supportive. For example, since I have an engineering background, I would recommend the right books and papers to help catch up on the theoretical and scientific aspects of this field. Also thanks to J, the whole team has become stronger in the scientific aspects as well.
What challenges do you want to take on in the future?
In the three years since joining PayPay, I have been fortunate to work in the field that I want to grow in. I’m also grateful for the opportunities to try new things and grow personally. I want to continue on this path and also provide opportunities for the members I work with to learn and grow too.
Furthermore, I want to leverage our learnings to positively influence the lives of our 58 million users. Being able to make an impact on many users and merchants is hugely motivating on this journey.
I joined PayPay because I wanted to take on the major challenge of changing the app to enable users to enjoy a superior experience of search and discovery. PayPay is a product with a large user base in Japan and it also gave me the opportunity to give back to the country where I have lived for 15 years.
We are currently working on several prototypes and have seen success in some prototypes using generative AI. The research is still in the early stages, but we plan to integrate it to some search functionalities in the future.
We are still at the beginning of this exciting adventure. We don’t know how these puzzle pieces will come together or what picture will be created at the end, but I really can’t wait to see how much value we can bring to Japanese users and merchants while collaborating with the entire Product Group.
Do you have a message for our readers?
What we look for in members of our department is to be open-minded and to have strong communication skills. It’s important to be able to learn from feedback and past failures, as well as effectively communicate ideas in a concise and clear manner, much like an elevator pitch. Additionally, willingness to take initiative, research skills, and the ability to commit to a project from start to finish is crucial.
We would love to meet individuals with these kinds of skills and mentality, who possess an extensive background and way of thinking. Specific industry experience or a majoring in some specific field is not as important. We highly encourage you to take up the challenge without thinking twice!
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*Recruitment status and employee affiliations are correct at the time of the interview.