What is the Value of an Engineer?

For the 25th and final day of Mercari Advent Calendar 2020, we have a message from Mercari CTO @suguru.

I’m @suguru, the CTO for Mercari JP. Starting from next year, I will be taking on new challenges as CTO for the new Souzoh. I’ve written this article because, at this juncture, I want to leave a record of what I thought as Mercari CTO about what value engineers bring.

Why do we need engineers?

I think this goes for all companies, and it may be kind of obvious to say, but we hire engineers because they are an essential part of the company structure. As CTO, however, I believe that being an engineer means being able to use one’s knowledge, skills, and experience to create new value for society. Mercari’s mission is to “create value in a global marketplace where anyone can buy & sell.” I think engineers are essential to achieving the goals of this mission, and as such, there are two big expectations I have for them.

Create Value for Users

We need to provide new value to users in order to achieve Mercari’s mission, and that requires innovation. I believe that engineers’ creative ability belies the potential to generate innovation, and that’s my first expectation for them.

Stable Operation and Improvement of Services

Mercari is an online service, supported by a variety of systems which our engineers create. Our business activities require these systems to be stable and continuously upgraded. Fulfilling this role is another of my expectations for engineers.

Engineers’ Value to Mercari

Engineers are not only essential to our continued business activities as I outlined above; they also bring value in their latent ability to create new value for users, our most important stakeholders. While it takes more than just engineers to create innovation, of course, engineers’ skills are undoubtedly an important element of innovation. Moreover, I think the way in which engineers demonstrate their knowledge, skills, and experience is just as important as drawing out that value creation potential. This is why we at Mercari also focus on how engineers work on projects, in order to maximize the value of engineers.

The Skills Mercari Requires from Engineers

Although I feel engineers bring value, that value is tempered by the skills and approaches which we expect from engineers. Mercari has defined these expectations and collected them in what we call our Engineering Principles. Please check out the link here if you’re interested. Most of Mercari’s development is done on a team basis, meaning that organizations need to put forward certain standards and policies for engineers’ behavior. I believe that the engineering teams whose members are able to share these skills and approaches are able to create the greatest value.

The Organization We’re Trying to Create

For Mercari to harbor these expectations and ask engineers to demonstrate these skills requires that we take it upon ourselves to create work environments and organizations which allow engineers to adequately meet those expectations and demonstrate those skills. I have believed up until now that my role as CTO has been to build that foundation, and I have worked towards that end. Below, I describe the kind of organization I think we should have, which maximizes the value Mercari expects from engineers.

Empowering Engineers to Make Decisions

Mercari takes in a wide variety of engineers, doing our best to accept and support their diverse points of view and basis for assessment. I believe this stance is very important for promoting business improvement and innovation. Internally, we call this a “microdecision-oriented” stance, as it allows individuals and teams to assess and act on their own. I believe that to achieve an organization defined by microdecisions, we need to come up with mechanisms to support them, such as transforming the entire company into a data-driven organization.

I also believe that supporting individuals so that they can make “Go Bold” decisions (one of Mercari’s values) requires a company culture that praises individuals for the challenges they take on, without assigning blame for when they fail. We are working to create what I think is a necessary cycle, where limiting the impact from failures acts as a safety net, allowing us to challenge ourselves and making a stronger organization.

Communicating Context

In developing so many different businesses and features, our engineers need to fully understand the objectives and background of development. Only then can they create high quality, optimized systems and come up with the optimal design and tech strategies. I believe that this is how we are able to provide the best user experience to our userbase.

I think that when you cultivate an environment where engineers simply create what they’re told to create, as they’re told to create it, it becomes impossible to achieve the kind of user experience I described. You need a company culture where engineers fully understand the background and context surrounding decisions, comprehend the elements necessary for business success, and work to fulfill their role. This is why we work on transparency and communicating the context of a development project, to promote understanding of the reasons behind individual decisions through a culture of transparency and accurately communicated context.

A Company Culture where Engineers Take Responsibility for a Project’s Success

There are more than a few companies where engineers are not responsible for product delivery. I think that’s because engineers do not belong to the departments or hold the positions responsible for business success and performance figures.

At Mercari, I believe that engineers should be involved in leading projects and take responsibility for the project’s success. While speed is indeed extremely important to a project’s success, raising speed in the short term can build up technical debt, actually leading to lower speed in the medium term in almost all cases. Engineers have to strike a balance, looking at both a project’s immediate success as well as its medium-term outlook to figure out how to maintain system health while raising speed and creating business success. We aim to create a company culture where engineers can make decisions based on their responsibility not only to the health of the system, but to the business itself, as key members of the project team. We are currently working to encourage engineers to get involved in core discussions about the project as much as possible, so that they can provide their own thoughts about development from the same perspective and with the same goals in mind.

“Breathing Room” for Creativity

It is very difficult for engineers to incite innovation when their minds are singularly devoted to routine tasks. Having even a little “breathing room” to seek out new tech, reflect on experience, and refresh the mind can doubtlessly promote creative thinking.

I think the question of whether a company tries to create that breathing room or not rests on whether the company considers engineers to be “cogs in a machine” or a source of new value for the company. We at Mercari are aiming to create that breathing room, to the extent that our projects will allow, so that we can facilitate the growth of creative engineers that continuously bring forth new value.

In terms of current efforts, we try to structure engineering staffing plans to incorporate some amount of “breathing room” while continuing organizational initiatives like Hack Week.

As a Tech Company

As CTO, I want Mercari to value its engineers more than any other company. I want Mercari to be a company whose output is more hotly anticipated than any other and which is trusted by the public. At the same time, I think this comes with a responsibility to generate the best business results. I believe that a tech company is one which can bring out the maximum abilities and potential of its engineers to create something valuable to users, and I’m working each day to help realize that goal.

Looking for Engineers!

Although we’re still working to become the kind of tech company I described above, I want to let you know that Mercari is preparing for a big intake of engineering talent. Would you like to work together to make this ideal a reality? Do you want to work at a company aiming for this kind of dev environment? If you answered yes, please don’t hesitate to apply!

There are other positions open as well, so check out Engineering at Mercari if you’re interested.