Growing your career by asking for you want
Ashwini leads one of PayPay’s payment sub-teams. She got there by doing something she’s done throughout her career: identifying something she wants to do and asking to do it.
Ashwini was attending university when a Japanese mobile gaming company visited her campus and recruited her. While wrapping up her degree, she completed a Japanese language course offered by the company. However, when she graduated, the company rescinded the offer at the last minute due to financial difficulties they were facing.
Suddenly jobless, she immediately began applying to jobs, and luckily was able to quickly land one at Housing.com, a leading startup in India, as a frontend engineer. There she learned how to be a professional software engineer, honing her coding and communication skills. Still, something was missing. “It was a very good experience”, she said, “but during my college time, when I was hired for Japan, I had done a lot of research about Japanese culture, things I could see, places I could visit. That was still in my mind, so I started looking for a job in Japan again.”
After some searching, she found a company that brought her to Japan as a software engineer. Or at least that’s what she thought she got hired as. She said, “Since I was their first international hire, there was a miscommunication in the English and Japanese, their job description said it was a software role, but it was more of a hardware engineering kind of role.” Not only was the role different, but the company wanted her to spend almost all her time studying Japanese. She said, “After three months, I passed the JLPT N3, but still they wanted me to spend 80% of my time on the Japanese language. Because they are an entirely Japanese company, they wanted N1 communication skill. I was not ready for that. That was not what I had in mind when I accepted the offer.”
So once again she was looking for a job in Japan. She said, “Then you came in actually. I was looking for jobs, found TokyoDev has some listings, and then I applied for Tablecheck, a startup about restaurant management apps. I sent a mail, quickly got a response, and I think within one week I got an offer.” Working there initially as a frontend engineer she got a lot of great experience, learning different frameworks and best practices. A couple years in, she was eager to explore software engineering beyond the frontend, and switched to a backend engineering role, where she helped build an analytics platform from scratch.
One day, out of the blue, a friend contacted her. He was one of the first engineers working on PayPay, where they’d just completed their first campaign. Growing rapidly, they were looking to hire more engineers. She said, “He explained to me what PayPay is planning to do and what they have done up to now. What a large scale they are targeting. That sounded really exciting. After doing frontend and backend, the next challenge was writing applications that can support a large scale and large traffic.” It had been four years with her current employer, so she thought it might be time to try something new. She interviewed with PayPay, and was selected to join the company, where she’s now worked one and a half years.
She initially joined the cashback team, which at the time had only one other engineer on it. Diving into the codebase, it showed signs of the mad scramble to get the first campaign live. She said, “It was not easy to read, it was working, but it was not easy to add new features. So I asked to start by making this project more pretty, and dividing it into proper components.” Her manager gave her the go ahead, saying that at PayPay there are no restrictions with what engineers work on, and so she was welcome to apply her ideas as she saw fit. It took her a couple of days to understand the business logic and testing of the existing system, but then she was ready to go, and ended up almost completely rewriting the project.
Even for engineers who are intimately familiar with an existing system, a rewrite can be a daunting task. But Ashwini was able to pull it off without a hitch, successfully deploying it to production without any issues. Part of why she could do this is PayPay’s strong culture of testing. She said, “That is one good thing about PayPay, there is testing at various levels. We have QA automation tests running every five minutes on staging, so if you put anything that is breaking on staging, it’s reported to you immediately, and it will never go to production after that. Then there are integration tests with the different components in the backend. You also have your own repositories that are unit tested.”
The rewrite done, she was ready to move on to her first major feature. She says, “I am kind of a person who if I want to do something, I’ll go ahead and ask. When we got the feature request, I asked to take responsibility for the architecture design. All the senior managers said sure, if you need any help let us know. They were not concerned that I had just joined two months ago.”
Working on this feature also gave her the opportunity to collaborate with Paytm’s Canada team, and she even got to go to Toronto for two weeks to wrap up the integration with them. After that, the deployment of the feature went smoothly, and there were no major issues discovered afterwards either.
Once again, she was ready to try something new, and so requested to be transferred to the Payment team, where she now leads one of their sub-teams. This ability to switch positions is something she appreciates about the company. She said, “There are roles for everybody. If you’re a backend engineer who wants to be a platform engineer, that is encouraged. It’s not like a corporate structure where the role is defined, and these four things are part of your job, and you will be doing it until you retire. That’s not the case. So there is a lot of opportunity to grow.”
Her current position as team lead involves a lot of communication. She talks with the product managers to understand the business requirements and convey any technical constraints, and coordinates with other backend teams to define the communication between the different components. Most of this communication happens in English. She said, “PayPay is focused on making English the main language for the entire IT department, but obviously there are many Japanese people who are more comfortable with Japanese. I mostly communicate in English, and I always try and encourage all of my Japanese colleagues to communicate in English, but I am also a bit comfortable with Japanese, and so when I am not able to make my point properly in English, I say it in simple Japanese, or try to be speak slowly in English.” If this isn’t enough to, PayPay has a team of interpreters that can provide simultaneous translation at meetings.
Eliminating the barrier the Japanese language might create is further avoided thanks to a HR team that’s dedicated to supporting international hires, something Ashwini really appreciates, as they allow her to focus on her job without wasting time muddling through Japanese documents or rules. She said, “Just the other day, it was not very clear what the deduction on my salary slip was, even though it was in English. So I asked my HR representative, and she communicated with the payroll team, and they gave me a very detailed English document that they made for me particularly to show what is happening, and what the deduction was for. These kinds of things I find very nice.”
In addition to this lack of language barrier, she recommends international engineers join PayPay because of its diverse culture. She says, “Currently PayPay is part of a really diverse culture. In the beginning, there were only a few people from Paytm and a few from Yahoo Japan. Now there are people from all over the world. You have people from the UK, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Vietnam, and America. There are so many cultures. You get to know all these people, and all these cultures, which is really interesting.”