Paul: I first learned about Jatin Kumar after stumbling upon an online post about his GoCurry community last year. I was fascinated to learn more about Jatin’s background as a software engineer, his move into the HR field as an in-house engineering recruiter and then people analytics lead, his life in Japan since moving here in 2015, and his experience building a community around his (and my!) favourite food.
Hi Jatin. Thank you very much for joining me today. Please tell me a little about your background.
Jatin: Hi, thank you for interviewing me. I am originally from New Delhi in India and have been living in Japan for the last 6 years. I have been working as an HR specialist in a leading Japanese tech company, where I am currently developing tools and processes to improve the organization through HR data. I am very interested in HR tech, curry cuisine, Bollywood music, and entrepreneurship. Some of my hobbies are playing Bollywood DJ, blogging about curry cuisine in Japan, and studying Japanese.
You’re keeping busy! You studied for your B.Tech degree in computer science back home in India from 2009-2013 and specialised in machine learning. Why did you decide to study computer science and what kind of interests did have at that time?
I started doing computer programming during high school where my first project was to create an amusement park software. This made me excited to pursue a degree in Computer Science at my university, IIIT Delhi. During my university, I was exposed to other courses, such as Psychology, Econometrics, and Film Studies, which I thoroughly enjoyed. This helped me realize that there is so much to learn and try in life.
Tell us a little about how your career started after graduation?
Like many others in my batch, I was attracted to work overseas for the exposure and salary. Luckily, Works Applications, a leading Japanese ERP software company, had just started their Singapore branch back then and was hiring actively for the role of Software Engineer. Thanks to my university’s Placement Office, I got to know about the opportunity at Works Applications Singapore and applied to their Software Engineer position.
Did you have a particular interest in joining a Japanese company at that time? What attracted you to the role?
Honestly, at the time of applying to Works Applications, I was more attracted to the Singapore location than the company itself. However, talking with my interviewers and the hiring staff during the selection process, I got to know how big the company was in Japan and how they were planning to boost their R&D to develop a world-class ERP system. This really made me excited as I thought there was a lot of learning in this opportunity.
You moved to Works Applications’ Tokyo head office in 2015 and in the following year, you left your role as a software engineer and moved into a technical recruiter role. Tell us about that. What attracted you to such a career change? What did you enjoy most about the change and was there anything that surprised you about the world of recruitment once you’d made the move?
After hearing party stories from my colleagues who came for a business trip to Tokyo, I decided to move to Works Applications HQ in Tokyo in late 2015, along with other colleagues from Singapore.
It was a new world – as the first foreigners in our office, we got a lot of attention. “Work Hard Party Hard” was our daily thing as we were clubbing even on weekdays – good old 20s lol
It was in March 2016 when I went to lunch with one of the HR managers. I was mentioning how the HR and engineering teams were so separated and the recruitment criteria weren’t aligned with the teams’ needs. They immediately asked if I was interested in moving to the HR team as a tech recruiter.
At that time I did not think much about my long-term career but rather saw this as an opportunity to improve things within the organization. And so the journey started.
Being a newbie in the world of HR and recruitment, I am really thankful to my team members for onboarding me and explaining the labour laws and rules well.
I was in charge of the global hiring for our Japan & Singapore offices and I really enjoyed university hiring from India and Singapore. I also had a chance to start the global internship program and just loved creating & executing this program from scratch.
I was surprised at the amount of manual & tedious work the HR teams used to do and always thought that the teams should invest more in HR tech and systems.
You joined Mercari in 2018, initially in the recruiting space. What was the experience like in recruiting across a global talent pool for a Japanese unicorn such as Mercari?
It has been a great learning experience. I joined at a time when Mercari was expanding with full force. My role was to improve Mercari’s hiring brand overseas and sourcing top tech talents for the engineering teams in Japan. With my team, we tried new and exciting ways to expand our diverse talent pool in the long and short term. Some of these included organizing the Mercari Euro Hack in Warsaw, or sponsoring the Women Who Code Conference in the US, or creating the in-house event series – Global Engineers Meetup and Mercari Women in Tech.
At Mercari, we have a culture where the hiring managers support not only the selection process but also the talent sourcing initiatives. Thanks to that, we were able to get great success in our projects and I was able to build good relations with the tech teams.
Now when I see how Mercari has grown since I joined 3.5 years ago, I feel proud of the various initiatives we started back then that sowed the seeds of diversity hiring.
You moved into a People Analytics Lead role in the summer of 2020. What does data-driven HR mean for Mercari, now and in the future? What do you do in your day-to-day role?
Mercari, being a diverse organization, discussions, and decision-making with data becomes extremely important to reduce bias and create informed decisions. Before we introduced a company-wide HR system in 2020, HR data was spread all over in different systems and formats, and it was extremely difficult to make any sense of the data. After a common HR system was introduced and operations were streamlined, we started the HR Data Management team and I was one of the first members. Since then we have been working on “consulting” and “technology” fronts to help HR division and leaders to make informed decisions with data. While the “consulting” front involves cross-analyzing HR data from different sources, like engagement surveys, performance reviews, etc, the “technology” front is focused on building the common HR data infrastructure and dashboard to visualize HR data in real-time.
I am primarily working on the “technology” front, where my day-to-day role involves hearing user stories from HR stakeholders (HRBPs, Execs, D&I, etc), writing scripts to automate data collection and storage, creating HR data visualizations as well as giving consultations to stakeholders on how to see the trends to do discussions around HR data.
On to something completely different and very interesting! You started GoCurry last year, a community focused on exploring the richness and diversity of curry cuisine in Japan. Why did you decide to found GoCurry and what would you like GoCurry to achieve?
I started GoCurry to help myself. As someone who loves curry cuisine, I always found it difficult to find diverse curry cuisine restaurants or enjoy the experience with similar people. As I shared the first prototype with some of my friends, I got a lot of encouragement from them and a few of them even joined the project. It has been almost a year since we formed a team, with everyone working on it as a side project. It has been steady progress so far – we did a lot of user interviews, launched our mobile apps, redesigned the website, held five GoCurry Events in spite of the pandemic, and built great relationships with curry cuisine restaurants and our users.
We also decided on our mission statement – GoCurry was founded with the goal of creating positive experiences in our users’ life. We will do this by rewarding them for their dining choices, letting them explore the richness and diversity of curry cuisine, and connecting them through the magic of spices.
As the next immediate step, we wish to find an advisor or a startup accelerator to guide us on the business journey.
In case your readers are interested in GoCurry, here are the links to our app and SNS
GoCurry app/website: https://gocurry.page.link/home
(For any feedback, please feel free to email [email protected])
What does a typical day look like for you?
My day starts at 8 in the morning. I write the things to achieve for each of my goals and listen to a feel-good podcast while having my breakfast.
I typically do Mercari work between 9:30 am to 6:30 pm, with curry lunch sometime in the afternoon. While I am able to work from home, I try to go to the office once a week to enjoy the Roppongi Hills view.
After completing Mercari work, I go to the gym or play badminton. On returning, I do GoCurry tasks / meetings while having my dinner.
I listen to Audible or watch some Japanese study videos before going to sleep at midnight.
What are some of your goals for the future? Personally and/or professionally?
One of my dreams with GoCurry is to make it a global platform through which users from all over the world can find and share opinions on curry cuisine restaurants.
Parallelly, I would like to become an influential figure in the HR Tech/People Analytics field and improve Japan’s workplace environment through my work.
– what’s the most important piece of advice you’d give yourself if you could go back in time to your arrival in Japan?
Be quick in implementing things rather than just ideating solutions to the problems existing in Japan.
– what do you wish you’d known about living in Japan before you moved here?
I wish I knew there were limited vegetarian/vegan restaurants and had learnt cooking before I moved.
– what advice would you have for someone overseas looking to move to Japan in the tech industry?
The tech industry in Japan is witnessing a great transformation, both in terms of product innovation and working style. Like, the Japanese language, which was considered a requirement for a lot of jobs, is no longer a requirement for engineer roles in a lot of tech companies. Same time, there are a lot of areas which need to be improved. If you are someone who likes to challenge new things or improve existing systems, Japan might be a good place for you.
– how do you learn new skills?
I am using a few online platforms like Udemy, Audible and LinkedIn Learning.
Once I complete a learning, I make sure to apply it soon.
I am sure many readers are interested in learning Japanese. I found this amazing course on Udemy.
– tell me a few of your favourite or most recently read books, movies, podcasts, games?
I am reading a book called Agile People (Amazon JP / Amazon US) that advocates the need for HR teams to be employee-centric and implement HR programs/policies incrementally taking into account employees’ feedback continuously.
– what are some of the experiences you have most enjoyed since moving to Japan? Any sights/places/foods/etc.?
Japan has so many things to do in different regions and seasons. Some of my picks are:
- Snow Festival in Sapporo + Try Suage Soup Curry (Feb)
- Naka Meguro Sakura Trail + Try hot chai from Moksha Chai (April/May)
- Hanabi (Fireworks) at Sumida River (Asakusa) + Try South Indian meals at South Park (July)
- Autumn Leaves at Ueno Park + Try Biryani at Downtown B Nezu
Finally, what’s the best thing you’ve ever spent 10,000 JPY on in Japan?
Given the winter season in Tokyo is really harsh, it has to be the electric blanket I got from Nittori 2 years ago. It was priced below 10,000 yen and has saved a lot of electricity and dry throat caused by the air-con.
I bet you were glad of that with the snow last week!
Thank you very much for taking the time to speak with me, Jatin. Best of continued success to you in both your day job and with GoCurry!
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