In the few short years since its establishment, LINE Fukuoka's Development Department has taken on the development of various LINE services. While the department has grown and reached a stable period, many of our engineers continue to proactively challenge themselves and develop new services. In this interview, we sat down with Mr. Hirofumi Kataoka, an Engineering Manager who joined LINE Fukuoka around the time the Development Department was created, to talk about his work and career.
The seventh engineer to join after the company was initially established
Tell me about your career before joining LINE Fukuoka.
I'm originally from Fukuoka, and before joining LINE Fukuoka, I worked for a venture company that developed Web applications doing commissioned development and blog-based Content Management System (CMS) development.
How did you come to join LINE Fukuoka?
My career as an engineer started around 2002. Even at the time, I was very interested in the people at the company that eventually became LINE, and the information being put out by engineers in Tokyo. When I heard that LINE was going to set up a Fukuoka office, I thought it could be my chance to work together with people I had respected for a long time, so I didn't hesitate to take on the challenge.
Please tell us about what you do here.
I'm the Engineering Manager of the server-side Development Team for LINE Creators Market (a platform that lets LINE users all over the world create and sell original LINE Stickers, Themes, and emojis).
LINE Fukuoka is the first company where I've had opportunity to take on the role of engineering manager. I'm not so interested in the job title, though. Since the things a manager should be doing change depending on the circumstances (like the size and culture of their department), I just want to do the best I can for my team and the department I belong to.
Actually, as a manager, I'd prefer to take more of a supporting rather than a supervising role, and am trying to be that kind of supporting manager. I've also been with the company longer than any other product team member, so there's another aspect to my job as the development lead.
In my supporting role, I do things like pursuing an environment where my team members can easily work and challenge themselves, suggest jobs and working styles that fit their fields of interest, and give them hints about what kind of action they can take to be recognized.
As a leader, I have the feeling that I unconsciously do a lot of things like sharing my mindset with my team, decision-making, and cultivating the team's atmosphere and culture. For example, it's obviously important to think carefully about the people that you're working together with. By respecting and helping each other out, we can trust each other and work efficiently while enjoying ourselves. These are very basic things, but they're important in every phase of operation, from planning and development to testing.
Expressing myself by doing something like sharing my mindset with my team may make me seem pushy, but I'm actually interested in the way that each of my team members thinks. I can share my thoughts as they tell me about their mindsets.
One thing that has made me really happy recently is that some members of my team have started leading in the fields they're strongest in. I just made them responsible for work in the fields they're interested in, but our day-to-day communication has started producing results, and the team members are beginning to take action on their own without any interference on my part.
What do you value as a manager?
I value discussion more than anything. I want to have a thorough understanding of each team members' point of view and concerns, their motivation, what kind of work they want to do, and what they enjoy doing, and I want my actions to reflect that understanding. That's why I'm consciously trying not to become "the boss." I want to continue being a good friend to my team members, and take the stance of always supporting them when they tackle a challenge.
On the other hand, I'm their supervisor, so I'm doing my best to tear down any walls there may be. I share as much relevant information with them as possible so that they don't have to worry as much about taking independent action or making decisions, and I make it a point to give them detailed background information and direction when I ask them to do something.
I also value trust. I've always been a worrier and a "backseat driver," so I'm very careful not to get in the way when one of my team members is enjoying creative work. No matter how many times they may fail, I believe they can do better the next time, and after I point out some areas where they can improve, I want to go down that path of perseverance with them. Even if there is some kind of problem or trouble, I want to be an ally to the members of my team.
I also think that looking at their work is important. I'm associated with the image of being in a higher position, a superior, or a leader, so I think it's important for me to look closely at my team members' work and give them frequent feedback. This feedback is crucial for them to gain the confidence to take action with the knowledge that they're headed in the right direction.
What have you struggled with since becoming an Engineering Manager?
It sounds a bit ordinary, but if I had to say something, I had trouble reconciling the gap between my feelings of wanting to grow as an engineer, and my feelings of wanting to create a great team. Now I think it's best for me to strengthen my engineering skills in my own time. Also, by moving up in the company, I can get knowledge and perspective that would be hard for me to come up with on my own.
What are your goals moving forward?
In my team, each member is beginning to lead the others in their own styles and fields of expertise. I want a culture to take root where even if I (or another key member of the team) leave, the team can restore itself and continue to develop. A lot of ways of thinking need to be put into words for this to happen, and since I identify with much of the Agile, Lean, and Management 3.0 philosophies, I want to learn more about them. After that, I think it might be fun if we could do the same kind of work with more teams or a large department.
What kind of engineers do you want to work with?
At LINE Fukuoka, information is actively shared between engineering managers; we set aside a lunch hour every week to relax and hold a discussion. The things you learn there can be useful for your work, and you can get feedback on your ideas or your activities.
I'd love to meet engineers thinking about a career as an engineering manager in the future, as well as other engineering managers who can share their issues and work with us to mutually improve our management skills.