I was planning on looking for jobs outside of Indonesia. I was considering a few countries, but Japan has always had a special place in my life. I had been exposed to Japan’s pop culture since I was a child. It was also the first country I ever visited right after I got my passport in, I think, 2018. That had been a solo trip, so it was really interesting. I only visited Tokyo because it was my first time and I wasn’t really up for the risk of traveling to many places, but it was interesting nonetheless. I did a lot of sightseeing, including a visit to Meiji-jingu Shrine, which is close to SmartNews. I made another trip in 2019.
At the end of my job search, I had two offers: one from SmartNews and the other from a company in Singapore. One good point about Singapore is that it is closer to Indonesia than Japan; if I worked there, I could have gone home often. But in the end, SmartNews was the obvious choice. This wasn’t just so I could go to Japan. Actually, I think if the offer had been from a different Japanese company, I might have declined due to some concerns about the work culture. But after listening to stories about SmartNews from those involved in the interview process, SmarNews was an obvious choice for me.
I’m currently in the Engagement Backend team. This team basically works on features that will increase engagement among the users of the SmartNews app. The main use case of people using the SmartNews app is that they open it, they read a few articles, and then they continue on with what they were doing. Our mission is to keep them engaged by providing them with more information in a way that isn’t disruptive and adds value to their experience.
For example, if we develop a reaction and commenting feature, we will have to deal with the traffic that the news team is currently serving, which in layman’s terms is, like, a lot. So one of our challenges is, how can we develop something that can handle so much traffic while still being as performant as possible and deliver the best experience to our users.
Of the projects I’ve worked on so far, the most challenging and interesting has been the US vaccination project. SmartNews had several vaccination-related projects in the US and Japan. I was involved with the US project. Basically, we were trying to build an app that allows users to find their nearest vaccination center based on where they live.
The first point that was interesting to me was that the very existence of this project was a realization of lots of our core company values, like “for the common good.” We were doing this project so that people could more easily find places to get the vaccine in this situation.
Another point that was interesting was that it was the first project for which I acted as the “project leader” for the engineering part. When I say project leader, I was actually leading a team of two plus the PM, but I still got to discuss with the PM about things like how to deliver the product, how to distribute the timelines, and how to distribute the tasks between the engineers. That experience left a positive impression for me during the past six months.
Based on my experience of working here and at my previous company, I think SmartNews has a San Francisco-oriented startup culture. Like most startups, we’ve adopted some similar approaches where we’re agile and open to new ways of solving problems quickly.
My team also allows for flexibility with working hours to accommodate different projects. For myself and several other of my engineering colleagues, this is a godsend because we are more productive working late at night on certain projects rather than working in the morning.
But we’re also encouraged to balance work and our private lives. SmartNews understands that there are different needs among different employees and does its best to support them. For example, during a conversation my manager had with his manager, his manager said, “If you have family matters or something, then please prioritize that instead of work.” So I think even from that short conversation, I could actually feel that SmartNews has a very positive company culture. I’m pretty grateful for that.
The Pragmatic Programmer shows you how to program without losing sight of the bigger picture of why you’re working on a particular problem. Programmers or people who code sometimes are too focused on the task at hand: write code; deliver the code; complete the task. While of course this is valid work for a programmer, Pragmatic Programmer reminds us that programmers need to think critically about their work. They need to be asking why. Why are we doing this? What value are we delivering to our users? To everyone involved in the project?
This book covers a variety of topics ranging from general to technical including how to write clean code, how to push clean code, how to write code in a more efficient manner so that you won’t hate your past self if you need to go back and fix it later. The tips in the book don’t just apply to working life as a programmer; they are also useful for all aspects of your life. I think that’s why this book has influenced me so much.
The Programmatic Programmer: Your Your Journey To Mastery, 20th Anniversary Edition
Author: David Thomas and Andrew Hunt
Publisher: Addison-Wesley Professional;
Year published: 2019
Overcoming differences in language, culture, and time with empathy for the mission
Data-driven decision making at the center of SmartNews
From English teacher to engineering manager