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Tapping into SEA’s Data Talent

April 29, 2022

Transitioning from software engineer to data leader on a mission to 'Make Joy Happen’ for millions of people through positive online shopping experiences

A 2021 study of Southeast Asian businesses found that 61% aim to make significant strides toward digital transformation by 2024. As the world embraces new technology and digital ecosystems mature, data unlocks new opportunities. Gerald Logor is an experienced analytics leader exploring these frontiers. 

Gerald is the Head of Marketing Analytics of JD.ID, a leading Indonesian e-commerce platform on a mission to 'Make Joy Happen’ for millions of people through positive online shopping experiences. In this conversation, Gerald tells us about his transition from software engineer to data leader and imparts wisdom for others wanting to enter the field of analytics. 

Curious about Impact

Gerald started his career as a software engineer in the United States years ago and found his way back to Indonesia. After about six or seven years, he’d built many incredible systems but knew little about the impact they had on others. His curiosity prompted him to move into a product role, wanting to unpack the significance of the tech he developed. 

In the product and analytics space, his focus has been on the relationship of users with technology. Metrics lead to greater understanding of user behaviour. “It's been a blast because there's so much data, so many different user behaviours and personas.” 

The Indonesian Hypergrowth Experience

In Gerald’s experience, startups in North America and Southeast Asia are similar in that they are fast-paced environments. One significant difference he’s noticed working in Indonesia is the implications of having a huge market. One must always be thinking about scale and “it comes with the responsibility of making sure that everything is stable and analysed properly” when you have 20 million users like JD.ID. 

A specific challenge he faces in Indonesia is the palpable skills gap. Universities have improved over the past 3-4 years and startups have come together to develop programming academies but the skills of graduates aren’t at par with the expectations of native hypergrowth startups just yet. Optimistically, Gerald considers this to be a positive challenge as learners adapt to the needs of the thriving startup scene, allowing them to grow together. 

Cookie-Cutter vs Tailored Management Styles

“One thing that I would’ve liked for someone to have said to me in the past is that you can't apply the same, cookie-cutter experiences to everybody because you have to manage the expectations.”

Gerald is aware of the diversity in his team. Each individual has a different background, personality and skill set. As a manager, there’s a need to treat team members as individuals rather than defaulting to broad strokes approaches. Much like training high-performance athletes, hypergrowth teams need customised and evolving strategies to identify the muscles that need to be strengthened to become more malleable, agile and adaptable to change. 

The Art of Pacing Oneself

Burnout is regrettably common in startups. Pressure to act quickly is high, especially for those in data. “The data is flowing in every second with petabytes of size. You have to sort it out and prioritise.”

Gerald remarks that in this space, asking for deadlines is more of a rhetorical question. The client needed everything yesterday. Timeframes are short and requirements are relentless so he underscores the need to find balance and pace work, especially as we contend with the pandemic-induced and day to day stressors. 

Raising the Next Generation of Data Leaders

Gerald is a guiding hand to his team, particularly the fresh graduates. “I help enable my team members, especially the junior ones, who have no knowledge of data and analytics coming out of college because three or four years ago, there was nothing about that.” Each morning, he spends about 30 minutes of his time teaching basic technical skills to those who haven’t quite nailed down their fundamentals. He gradually introduces larger scopes of work and more advanced technical skills. 

Apart from honing hard skills, he pays attention to their soft skills. He clearly explains what is expected to prevent miscommunication. “You'll get to a point when that person will be a boss to someone”, and at that point, the expectations a manager had set are cascaded. 

Finding Diamonds in the Rough

“Managers tend to hire those with the same kind of journey and background.” Gerald acknowledges the unconscious bias he’s had in hiring but sees a positive side to it. It’s allowed him to keep an open mind toward candidates who don’t have a data analytics background. Considering software engineers wanting to enter the field, he can’t help but think that maybe they’ll have the same ‘aha’ moments as he did. His recruitment process focuses less on technical skills, which he believes can be taught. Instead, he looks for potential, grit and values, factors that have been shaped by time and life experience. 

Gerald has had to do some convincing throughout his career, inviting software engineers into analytical and data science roles with much success. “I would say about 80-90% follow up and enjoy it and continue on the path.” 

The 10% that want to stick to software engineering? “You have to respect that because I always say to my team members that you have to stay true to yourself. If you know you're capable of doing that, but you choose to do other things, then great. I'm happy for you.” Gerald celebrates people finding paths where they thrive.  

Reflection questions:

Leaders in emergent fields like data and analytics are uniquely positioned to align skills to their organisational needs by nurturing individuals who show interest and potential in these disciplines.

  • In what ways can you make your management approach more nuanced to individual team members?
  • What are you doing to nurture junior team members to create opportunities for progression?
  • What biases might have had in recruitment? How have they helped or hindered you and your organisation?

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