YuCheng Chen on engineering freedom at SmartNews
YuCheng is a senior software engineer at SmartNews. He explains the freedom he enjoys at SmartNews: not only from a technical perspective, but also the influence he can have over the direction of the product.
YuCheng had been working as a software engineer at a Taiwanese startup when it went bust. While looking for his next job, he was approached by a recruiter about working in Japan. He thought why not give it a shot, and ended up being recruited for LINE.
After several years of work there, he was contacted by his former boss, who had since joined SmartNews. Up until this point, SmartNews has been almost entirely a native app, but they were looking to leverage the power of the web to more flexibly provide interesting content to their users. This prospect of helping build something from the ground up intrigued him, and he joined the company.
In SmartNews, we are trusted to compare different technologies, and choose the best for each project.
Since joining, he appreciates the freedom to not be constrained to choose from a list of approved technologies. He said, “In SmartNews, we are trusted to compare different technologies, and choose the best for each project.”
We have the opportunity to talk to anyone related to the product. Whenever you have ideas, or think something doesn’t make sense, you can always voice your opinions, and then your ideas could become reality.
He also appreciates that engineers are part of the discussion when it comes to deciding what to build, rather than just being assigned to implement a fully-formed idea. He said, “We have the opportunity to talk to anyone related to the product. Whenever you have ideas, or think something doesn’t make sense, you can always voice your opinions, and then your ideas could become reality. We have a great balance between engineers ideas and product manager ideas.”
This balance manifested itself in SmartNews’ inclusion of COVID-19 related data within the app. He explained, “The first version for the COVID-19 pages was a bottom-up idea driven by engineers simply because we wanted to do something for the common good. There was no product manager who told us what we should do. It was just some engineers seeing this could be helpful for society. The first version took around fifty hours, and then it went live successfully. It was very simple, just showing the number of confirmed cases and deaths. After launching, this page attracted the attention of other people at the company. They joined the discussion, and provided more information.”
He recounted one interesting discussion they had about the COVID-19 pages. He said, “There were discussions about whether we should list the number of deaths in the very beginning. I think the discussion is very interesting, because as an engineer, what we usually do is just display all the data we have. However, when our media team professionals joined the discussion, they provided us some insights. Like if we provided the number of deaths in the very beginning, that could cause people to further panic given how chaotic the world had become. As an engineer, we will not think deeply on how this number will cause a reaction like this to the public. I think that kind of discussion is very valuable in building this kind of project, with different opinions coming in from different parties. That made the COVID-19 project very lively and the best project I’ve ever joined.”
We already have global engineering offices, and fifty percent of engineers are coming from abroad.
This collaborative approach stems from SmartNews’ global mindset. He said, “SmartNews is trying to be a global company. The mindset is pretty different from most traditional Japanese companies. We already have global engineering offices, and fifty percent of engineers are coming from abroad. That makes our engineers really open-minded, and it is easy to take new opinions from different cultures.”