Exploring the collaborative culture at Givery

Exploring the collaborative culture at Givery
August 25th, 2023

Justin Sanciangco is a Software Engineer at Givery. We talk about the difference between good and great engineers, the engineering culture at Givery.


In this episode, Justin Sanciangco, a software engineer at Givery, joins the host to discuss his role at the company. Justin shares his experience working remotely from the Philippines and how Givery was able to bring him to Japan during the pandemic. He explains his day-to-day as a back-end developer, including checking tasks for the day, coding, and communicating with teammates through Slack. Justin also mentions the flexibility of Givery's project management style and how they accommodate team members in different time zones. Overall, this episode provides insights into the life of a software engineer at Givery.


Ryohei Watanabe So hello everybody. Today I'm here with Justin Sanciangco from the Philippines. He is a software engineer at Givery. Justin, can you introduce yourself and tell the audience what you do at Givery? Yeah, sure. So my name is Justin. I am a back-end engineer at Givery, primarily working for a product called Trackjobs.

Justin Sanciangco: And yeah, I've been working with Givery for almost three years now. First year, just as a contractor, because I was based in the Philippines. I couldn't really come to Japan because of the lockdown. But then, you know, Givery was able to fix my documents and bring me here as of September of 2022. Yeah. So yeah, I've been here almost a year as a full-time developer.

Ryohei Watanabe And as a back-end developer at Givery, what does your day-to-day look like? What are you doing during the day most of the time?

Justin Sanciangco: So I guess, like, so I guess, you know, to start off the day, like, I usually check all my tasks for the day. We are managing, we are doing scrum as our project management style, and everything is just listed down, like, for that sprint, right, for the whole week of things to do. And yeah, like, normally, I just do the day coding pretty much most of the day. If I need to talk to my peers, I just do it via Slack, because Givery is also, like, fully remote. We're not actually required to come to the office unless there's a special occasion. And pretty much coding most of the day. And at the end of the day, so track jobs does things differently. I guess, like, that's also the thing about Givery's projects. Like, each team can kind of dictate what works for them best. Since we work with, like, some team members are from, like, countries which, you know, don't really, if we do the stand-ups in the morning, it will be really hard for them, so we do it in the afternoon. So that's my, technically, most of the time, that's my only meeting for the day, just one 30-minute stand-up with my team members who I love to talk to. Yeah.

Ryohei Watanabe Can you speak about the overall company culture at Givery? In your own words, like, what's it like here? What's the culture here?

Justin Sanciangco: Sure. I guess, like, I can speak for it, but I can only speak for it from the perspective as an engineer, right, in the engineering culture, per se. I would say, so one of our tenets is, like, empower engineering. And, like, I could say that in my, like, almost three years here, like, I've seen that it's really upheld in the day-to-day, like, work culture. So, for example, like, as a back-end engineer, sometimes I need to, like, decide on which stack I will build upon, and everyone has a say in the team. So, like, usually we start out by making, like, a design document of the technical specifications. I share it with the team. Even, like, you know, I would say that even the QA and front-end engineers can have a say on it, so it's a very, like, democratic process, I would say. And, yeah, everyone is encouraged to speak up, right, like, if something bothers them about the way we do things, like, the process. Like, for example, like I mentioned earlier, like, one engineer was bothered, like, because he had to wake up super early because of his time zone. So, you know, we adjust it, right. It's kind of what I've observed, like, you know, so far. It's really empowering engineering, yeah.

Ryohei Watanabe Is there a specific aspect of the culture that's important to you, like, more than the others? Or is there something that's really important to you about Givery's culture?

Justin Sanciangco: I mean, I guess that's pretty much it, like, empowering engineering, right, because, like, I've worked. So, before joining Givery, I had my own thing, my own business in the Philippines. I was running a software development company. I worked with many different clients who each had their own, like, engineering culture within them. So, and basically, like, and this is no bias, like, I've seen so bad, like, so, like, really the worst engineering culture where engineers are treated, like, you know, not good. And I would say here in Givery, like, like, engineers are valued, like, a lot. Yeah, yeah.

Ryohei Watanabe And I know that, I guess, Givery as a whole has a value called give and give, which I think of as being team oriented. But can you explain the meaning and the importance of give and give within Givery?

Justin Sanciangco: Right. So, so it kind of means, like, well, actually, it's both internal and external. Like, for me, from what I, how I understood it, like, basically, from the, Givery itself is named by this tenant. And then it kind of suggests that we, we put our customers first. I feel like that's the, that's the core of it. Like, we give and give. Right. And at the same time, we don't forget our team members who, you know, without the efforts of our team members, engineering, including the other departments, like, we wouldn't be able to give the most that we can, we can give. Right. So, therefore, yeah, like, that's, that's kind of how I understood it.

Ryohei Watanabe So I think during the conversations today, I hear a lot about, like, how good and nice everyone is here. And, like, I was, like, wondering, like, what do you think contributes to that kind of, like, team camaraderie and, like, just a good culture that Givery has here?

Justin Sanciangco: I do believe, so first it starts with the hiring. So I've been part with a few, like, you know, I've been part with a few hiring, like, interviews recently. And the one thing that we focus on a lot is actually the culture fit. Right. Like, you know, the tech, tech, tech is easy. Like, you know, if you're an engineer, you're an engineer, you can code. But whether or not you fit with a culture of Givery is another, is another matter. And that's a, that's, I guess, like, that's a very important thing that we try to find with our candidates applying to us, like, culture fit. And I do believe that with the current, like, engineers that we have now with the team that we built, because when I joined, it was only 20 people. And now there's, like, what, like, I don't even know, like, 40, 45. Yeah. Like, it's just like, we just work well together. I don't know what else to say. Like, everyone is free to talk to anyone else, to ask for opinion, to ask for advice. We do cross-team collaboration sometimes. And from my perspective, at least, everyone loves working with each other here. No bias. Yeah.

Ryohei Watanabe So as an engineer, you said that you spoke to, I guess, of course, front-end engineers, and then I assume other people as well. Like, what kind of, like, stakeholders exist when you're talking about a feature or a spec? And how do you guys communicate with each other?

Justin Sanciangco: So since it's primarily, like, a Japanese company, and unfortunately, I'm still learning, but my Japanese is still not there yet. We have this bridge. So in our team, we have Trung, who's Vietnamese, and he's bilingual. So he's a project manager, and he collaborates mostly with the stakeholders, which is, you know, they're primarily Japanese people, right? He takes in the requirements, digests them, shares them with us. So we're even part of those meetings. We have, like, translate on Zoom on whenever we join those meetings. So just so we have an idea on what's being spoken, how decisions are made, and then they get translated into individual tickets for us to do. Even in that point, even with a language barrier, because of that tenant I mentioned in power engineering, we have a say, right? Like, in fact, yeah, they try hard to ask for our opinions, even though it might be hard with a language barrier. But it is there. The process is there.

Ryohei Watanabe And for you personally, who do you talk to the most in terms of, like, the role that you talk to the most?

Justin Sanciangco: The role? Like, a specific person? Sure. Okay. So I guess it's probably going to be my project manager right now, along with my team members, right? Because since I'm a backend engineer, you know, I work hand-in-hand with my fellow backend engineers, as well as the frontend engineers, you know, telling them the specs that we make, how we make the APIs and stuff. And, yeah, it would be primarily my project manager because I need to run by, like, I need to make sure. So because of the language barrier, like, it is on my onus, right, to make sure that I understand it perfectly, like, what's being, what needs to be done. So therefore, that's probably the, yeah, it's probably the guy.

Ryohei Watanabe Sure. And as an engineer at Givery, I know that you guys are empowered. But does your role, like, need or have any oversight or, like, direction as a backend engineer?

Justin Sanciangco: So that's also another thing. Of course, I welcome, right? Like, it's more like we are, most of the time, we're left to do autonomously, to perform autonomously in our jobs. No one micromanages at Givery. But the one thing that we're trying to promote now is actually transparency, hence why we initiated these design docs. So everyone, everyone, you know, is able to comment, to suggest a better way of doing things or to just to have an idea on how you're doing it. Right. Because, again, knowledge sharing is also an important aspect of a good team. Right. So, yeah, with that process in mind, like, it's like we're free to act autonomously. But then, you know, we should also welcome, right, suggestions or criticisms, like, you know, constructive criticisms, at least, with our work and how we do things so that we can improve as engineers. I feel like that's important. Yeah.

Ryohei Watanabe And I guess in terms of just personal growth for you, Justin, when you think about the you that joined and in the you now, so I think it's been about three years. Have you been able to develop and work on some tech skills and soft skills during that time that you've wanted to develop?

Justin Sanciangco: So I would say so in terms of tech skills, well, one of the stacks here at Giver is we're using Scala functional programming. So I that's something new to me coming from a TypeScript, Node.js background. So that's definitely something I've been I've been working on. Right. In terms of soft skills, though, I would say that that's where the growth was a lot more than my tech skills, just because, like, of course, with coming from a different country and coming to Japan, the experience with working with a Japanese company can be a bit different. Right. And I would say, like, seeing the day to day and like seeing how people deal with each other, how engineering deals with other departments here, like taught me to like how I would say how the how the Japanese way of doing things is. Right. And I feel like that's not at all necessarily a bad thing. It's just something different. And it's just something that, you know, me coming here that I willingly try to assimilate that and also the language, of course. Sure. Because that's also the thing, like, I mean, this is a personal thing, but but I am actively trying to learn the language and it's a big interest of mine. And because of the freedom that Giver offers, right, like there's that, you know, I have time for that. I actually have time to learn the Japanese language as I do my work. So I think it's a great thing.

Ryohei Watanabe And you talked about freedom. I know that Givery has like, I think, an intentionally light sprint system. Can you talk a little bit about what the freedom that Givery gives you allows you to do in terms of, I think, improving the product or working on Japanese or whatever it is?

Justin Sanciangco: Sure. Yeah, I would say that in terms of like workload, I know like before coming here to Japan, honestly, you know, the rest of the world's perspective about Japanese work isn't really like something good, I believe. Right. Like it's like all exangular overwork and stuff. Like I would say there's so much like I was really surprised coming here to Givery. Like the work life balance is there, definitely there. And in terms of freedom, like I would say you just plain and simple, like the company's not killing you. Like there's no I have not worked a day of overtime here at Givery ever since I joined, which is really like I was ready for it. I was surprised it wasn't there. As well as like in terms of the how would I say it is like like in terms of the. I kind of lost my thought there, like. In terms of how work is being done again, I think I mentioned it earlier, like you're free to do things on your own. As long as like, you know, the team, it's good for the team, it's good for the product. Right. So. So, yeah.

Ryohei Watanabe And I guess in terms of like a flexible work environment, I know. What does Givery offer and what does it allow you to do in terms of remote and how you work?

Justin Sanciangco: So as an engineer at Givery, we are full remote. We're not required to come to the office. We are also flexi time. Right. As long as basically the way the way I felt having worked here for a while now is that, you know, as long as you do a good job, like you just finish as an engineer, you have your tickets. You just do those to the best of your ability. Then everything is good. Right. Like that's kind of how it kind of rubbed off to me working all these all these years. There are processes, of course, as a full time employee, you have to do the time in and time out. Right. But in general, like it's just as long as you do a good job to the best of your ability and all as well.

Ryohei Watanabe Justin, do you have like a personal idea of what it takes for somebody to succeed here other than hard work or doing your job? I think is what you just said. Yeah. Is there anything else that people need to do well here and to succeed here?

Justin Sanciangco: Sure. Like I mentioned earlier, I feel like good culture fit is necessary, which to be honest, like I think we do a good job during the interview. Like of kind of knowing whether this person fits or not. Right. Aside from that, I would say just having that growth mindset. So one of our tenants is actually going beyond yourself. And as long as you're just trying to aim, you know, for a higher version of yourself next quarter, because we do our evaluations quarterly, by the way, we kind of have, you know, if you do a good enough job, you get a raise every quarter here with a bonus. Right. So with that system in place, it's like it kind of gives you incentive to do better than yourself every quarter. It's not like a yearly thing. It's like normal companies. Right. Sure. Sure. Like a quarterly thing.

Ryohei Watanabe I think it's a good thing. Yeah, it's amazing. Yeah. I think earlier you talked a little bit about Givery wants to do what's right for the customers, which is, I guess, give and give. Do you know how Givery decides on what features to implement and how they know that they're solving the right problems for their users?

Justin Sanciangco: Right. So I believe, as with any product, it requires a close collaboration with the people using the product and the people actually selling the product to the customers. And that's kind of what we do here at Givery. In fact, those meetings I mentioned earlier with the Japanese stakeholders, it's not just the boards, the head, the board member. It's also with the sales team, with the marketing team, everyone. Right. It's called a win session in my calendar. And basically, we discuss there, along with the pluses, like what happened during this month, we discuss what the new findings are, how to improve. It's like an open brainstorming session on how things could be improved. Right. And from there, ideas sprung up. So we're kind of like, that's why we're kind of, I feel like the whole process is we're kind of close to the customers, the whole product cycle. Right. Yeah. Oh, that and as well as, of course, dogfooding. Like in track test, for example, we use track test for our interviews. Right. We use our own products. So, I mean, it's not rare to see internal members suggesting things that could be improved for the product because they're using, we're using it.

Ryohei Watanabe Right. Yeah. Oh, wow. So I think you use track test, I think is what you just said. Yes. Could you explain a little bit about what track test is to the audience that might not know?

Justin Sanciangco: So track test is a like it's an online testing platform. And basically, so it's being leveraged. So primarily it functions as a like a screening, screening for applicants, for engineering applicants specifically. Right. So, you know, like you could imagine that there's an IDE online, you open track test, there's an IDE online and you take a bunch of tests and you get evaluated. Like when you hit submit, it gets evaluated on the spot. So it helps out, I guess, our clients, the companies like rapidly screen candidates. Right. Yeah.

Ryohei Watanabe I see. And so last question before we go, during your software developer career, can you tell me what you've learned about what it means to be a better software engineer?

Justin Sanciangco: Sure. I would say, I would say it's like, I feel like every software developer kind of goes through the cycle where midway, like, of course, you're still learning for early on. You're still learning how to code midway. You care too much about the code. And at the end of it, like just at the 90th percentile. Right. You start caring less about the code and more about the product itself, what you're building and how it affects your customers and the features that you're going to deliver. Right. And I feel like that's what kind of separates like good software engineers from great software engineers. Great software engineers actually care about the product and the customer that they're building for and building on. Right. Whereas like, you know, simply good software engineers would just care just about the code and nothing else. How it works, like the, you know, the coding style, you know, those those small things. At the end of the day, if a feature doesn't get delivered to the customer, then it's a useless feature. Right. So that's that's those are my thoughts there.

Ryohei Watanabe Do you have any advice for someone that wants to become more like, I guess, product oriented or I think what you just described? Do you have any thoughts about how you think they should go about it or?

Justin Sanciangco: Sure. I would say that. I know as software engineers, we tend to sit on our computer chairs the whole day and just look at the screen, just start typing code. I would say start talking to the other people in the company is the first step. Start. You know, I'm pretty sure somewhere in the company you're building a product. You know, someone is like benefiting from the product that you're building or he or she is trying to sell it. I would start by like just trying to open a communication line directly to that person to know how they feel about the product and just taking taking in that criticism. I know that can be daunting, I feel like for software engineers, but I feel like it's an important step to lead to that, you know, like you mentioned, like product oriented mindset. Yeah.

Ryohei Watanabe And I guess one more question, if that's OK with you. I know that you used to work at a consultancy, right, or you had your own consultancy. Is there any skills that you brought from this consultancy that you use here every day?

Justin Sanciangco: Oh, so I would say like I would say it's because the way it's kind of might be might sound weird, but like in my product consultancy before I was dealing with clients. So I kind of treat like we're building products for clients. I kind of treat Givery right now as my number one client. And I, you know, I'm building the you know, I'm trying to what's the term? I'm trying to see it from their eyes, like in terms of the product I'm building. Right. And again, going back to that product oriented mindset, I feel like that's that might be it. So simply put it, that might be the one that I kind of brought into Givery, like having that, you know, instead of looking at the code as is, looking at it from the perspective, the product it creates from the perspective of the stakeholders as well as the customers and kind of seeing what's important for them and deciding what features to build, how to prioritize, etc.

Ryohei Watanabe That's such wonderful advice. Thank you so much, Justin. Thank you. That was Justin, a software engineer at Givery. Perfect. Thank you. Awesome, man. Thank you. How was it, Justin? You were awesome, by the way.


In this show, Ryohei Watanabe talks with founders and engineers in Japan's startup ecosystem. We talk about their journey, their products, and their learnings.

Ryohei Watanabe