For our first interview we have the chance to spend some time and talk with Mr. Yoshitaka Kasugai who is presently an Evangelist at Microsoft. He shared with us his career trip from the studies of Philosophy in the University of Gifu to the IT business in Microsoft Japan.
Following his initial passion, he joined a Japanese trading company for his first job. After that, contrary to what is the usual Japanese way, he moved twice. First he joined Adobe Japan, which at that time was a small venture company but with an impressive video editing software. Kasugai-san desired to expand this product to the whole of Japan.
The lack of English skills didn’t stop him and after working very hard on it, he overcame that first challenge. In 2006, after 10 years of working with Adobe, he had the vision that the future of movie contents would be delivered through the internet rather than the electric wave (like today’s Hulu, Netflix and YouTube). He then made a move to Microsoft to work as product manager for Silverlight and Expression Studio. Once again, he trained himself with new skills, software development this time. His most recent challenge is to use his knowledge and experience on developer marketing and sales to be “part of big changes” as an Evangelist.
His example showed us how amazing dealing with big challenges can be when you identify your passion, have a vision, and commit with hard work. Thank you Kasugai-san for your time with us!
Mr.Kasugai: In 1992 I graduated from Gifu University. Gifu is in the middle of Japan and is a countryside area. I wanted to go to Tokyo. In 1992, I joined a trading company. It was the time of the bubble economics in Japan, so it was not a big problem finding a job. My interests at that time were motorcycles, sports, and fashion. I was not sure in which of those sectors I would like to work on, but I thought that being in a trading company, I would be able to work on all of them. I talked to my company about that but they actually appointed me to the electronic and machine department. That determined my life. At the beginning I was a sales person. I started selling machines for machines, like those that produce cars.
That was my first job for two years. After two years, another division started to deal with video-out cards and some graphic software for Macintosh. That company imported those products from the USA, they sold that as the video editing solution for the professionals. I wanted to do that so I asked my company to move to that division and they accepted it. There I met with Adobe software, I was very impressed with their product, especially After Effects. I wanted to promote it to all of Japan. So I moved to Adobe Japan in 1997. I was 28 years old. I worked as a product manager for video products for 10 years.
After 10 years, I thought that the future of movie contents will not be distributed by the broadcaster networks but will be streamed in Netflix or Hulu-like systems (which didn’t exist at that time). YouTube was launched in 2005, and when I saw it I said: “That’s it!” So I wanted to work for a more Internet-related company and so I made the move to Microsoft in 2007. Moreover, I wanted to test my ability in a bigger company. My first job in Microsoft was to be the product manager for Silverlight and Expression Studio: “I wanted to beat Flash by Silverlight, I can destroy something I have constructed.” Three years ago, my job was changed to an Evangelist. And that is the short version of my story.
Daniel: To break the ice, could you better explain to us how you made the change from philosophy to IT?
Mr. Kasugai: That is actually a difficult question even in Japanese. First, philosophy in my university is not so influential in my job. For my life, it has been very important. It has definitely made an impact on my personal life, on my way of thinking and taking decisions when I am confused.
Tiffany: When did you start studying programming languages?
Nehal: Basically you are dealing with sales and marketing. Now there is a globalization happening in Japan. Whenever there is a new product being developed, what sort of strategies do you use to promote it?
Mr. Kasugai: Important things for the product launch is 1) the target customers – Who is the target? 2) Where do customers get their information? 3) Where do they buy it from and why?
We try to determine the answers to these questions first. We have to determine the objective of releasing those products, in order to formulize our strategies and activities. Then we can map our milestones for the product. And it is different for every product. This is my basic product marketing structure. There are similar products in the market—how do they differ from each other? Who is the target? Companies diversify factors such as branding or functionality based on their target market.
Yang: Marketing department—is there some effort that Microsoft can do for the local market especially for Japan? For example, Microsoft China has some special marketing for students and NPOs. Because in the context of China, people don’t want to pay for their software, Microsoft provides them with discounted software. Also, they organize workshops. Japan, on their part, created a character. What else is Japan doing?
Mr. Kasugai: As you know, Microsoft is an American company but I personally feel that Microsoft Japan is 60% American and 40% Japanese. This is mainly the reason why I prefer working in Microsoft Japan. It allows me to do what is needed in Japan. For example, we organized a big technical event “de:code” for the developers and architects in Microsoft Japan.
Nazim (Algeria): I have two questions: Is software development centralized to Seattle or do each country have their own autonomy? Second: with marketing in Japan, what is very particular to the Japanese market according to your experience?
Mr. Kasugai: Our development center is distributed throughout the globe. Redmond is just one of them. For example, the Office Lens app on Windows Phone and the feature in OneNote was developed in Redmond, Serbia, India, China, Ireland, Egypt, and Japan. They seamlessly work together. Our communication tool, Lync, is very helpful especially in connecting geographically separated areas.
As for what is different in the Japanese market… Let me tell you about my experience giving presentations to different audiences. The Japanese audience is very quiet—no questions, no smiles, no interaction. So when I saw a presentation in America for the first time, I was really surprised because the audiences asked questions left and right even in the middle of the presentation. I experienced a sort of culture shock.
From then on, I started thinking about how to make my presentations lighter and more interactive when I’m dealing with Japanese audiences. I want my audiences to be more involved with my presentation. Actually, I feel that recently, TED Talks has greatly influenced Japanese students and how audiences interact with the speaker.
Another thing that I noticed when it comes to dealing with Japanese companies is that decision-making is slow in a general way. American companies make decisions really fast. Microsoft and Adobe actually is.
Farhan (comment): Although I noticed that sometimes, when people take time to make decisions, it’s not easy for them to change it. Whereas those who make decisions fast tend to change it even after some work has been put into realizing that decision. There’s that factor of reliability in dealing with Japanese companies as well. I think it’s two faces of the same coin.
Mr. Kasugai: I know what you mean.
Farhan: I’m interested in how you based your career on your interests a lot. I feel that it’s not the usual strategy that people take when they are thinking about their career. They usually go for their strengths. So what was the biggest challenge for you when you were changing to a new place? And then: what is your favorite part of your job now?
Mr. Kasugai: My big challenge in my career was when I entered Adobe. At that time I couldn’t speak, listen to, read, nor write English. So I couldn’t communicate with the headquarters. And because of that, I started studying English incredibly hard. My English skill is still low level even now but I can enjoy personal trips aboard.
My favorite part of my job is when, at the end of the day, I’m about to sleep and I realize that I made something happen; that I helped facilitate change. For instance, I’m part of the team in charge of Internet Explorer—I know a lot of people does not like IE for various reasons. However, IE has gotten a lot better at the present day. People have a misunderstanding about IE. I have continued to communicate about that to web developers and designers. Last year, there was an HTML5 conference. And the Wi-Fi password for the event was “weloveie11”. And I thought, “I was part of that.” That’s the interesting part of being an evangelist.
Abel: What’s being an evangelist? It’s very all-encompassing; it’s a cross of many different kinds of expertise. It’s IT but at the same time it’s also marketing, it’s sales… it’s a bit of everything. What sort of competencies are important to be an evangelist? What is Microsoft looking for in an evangelist?
Mr. Kasugai: Two important things for an evangelist: one is passion for technology, and the second one is having the mind to want to convey something to people. Technical, communication and marketing skill is required to be an evangelist.
Tiffany: If you weren’t working in Microsoft, where would you be working at?
Kasugai: I often ask myself that question. I know that I don’t want to work at Apple nor Google. I love their products and services but I just don’t think I would be a good fit for their company.
Abel: Why not google?
Kasugai: If I’m a great developer, I might want to work in Google headquarters to develop software or services. I would like to show the joy of developing or creating and want to challenge myself to do something. Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella said “We need a challenger mindset.” I have a deep sense of empathy for his words.
Nazim: I have a question about mobile, actually. Because Google is paying Microsoft for the license for Android, from my understanding, it is also in the interest of Microsoft that Google is very successful. And the market percent is more than 80%. So Microsoft has the Windows Phone but at the same time you’re also benefiting from Android—is this okay for Microsoft? Or does Microsoft want to be a serious competitor to the Android or the iPhone?
Mr. Kasugai: As you know, Windows Phone 8 is not available in Japan. Microsoft Japan employee want to release it to the Japan market more than anybody. Mobile first, Cloud first is our principle at the moment. iPhone and the Android are competitors with such a perspective.
Yang: Windows phone’s problem is not only about Microsoft, but also about Japan’s mobile phone marketing. The Windows Phone is good because it integrates well with different Microsoft products and because of this, there is a business advantage. And another thing that I don’t think is good for Microsoft is its promotion for Surface. You’re trying to market it as young and dynamic. But that is not Microsoft. Microsoft is calm, professional, and it’s about businesses. That is a high-level need. It is not only for the young generation.
Kasugai: I can actually have a 2-3 hour discussion on that. But regarding the Windows Phone, I believe that it has a really good OS. It will depend on our acquisition of Nokia. I am hopeful about the future of these products. About our Surface promotion, I will feedback to Surface team.
Nazim from Algeria, Nahel from Bangladesh, Tiffany from Philipines, Able from France, Daniel from pain, Yang from China and Farhan from Pakistan