Helping build a revolutionary network: A conversation with Rakuten Mobile project manager Mark Cooksley

This article is part of a series of interviews with Rakuten Mobile employees. In this edition, we speak with Mark Cooksley, a project manager in Rakuten Mobile’s Portfolio Management Department. Mark is responsible for managing a number of projects including the deployment of cutting-edge components in Rakuten Mobile’s new network.

The Rakuten Mobile team recently launched the world’s first end-to-end cloud-native mobile network, which you can read about here.

Where were you before coming to Japan?

I’m originally from the U.K. I studied computer science in Plymouth, but soon realized that I was more interested in the business side of IT than development or software engineering.

I got my first job doing ERP (enterprise resource planning) at a pharmaceutical company in London, where I got to travel around doing rollouts across the globe.

What inspired the move to Japan?

At the time, I wanted to work abroad, so my company sent me to Japan on an 18-month placement doing business analysis and project coordination—again for ERP systems.

I really knew nothing about Japan until I came here, but after being here for a few months, I knew I would be staying here for a long time. It’s just such an easy place to live! So once those 18 months were up, I started looking for another job.

What brought you to Rakuten?

I wanted to work for a tech company willing to take on lots of new projects and take risks. A friend told me, if you want to work in a high-tech company that’s expanding globally, Rakuten would be a good place for you—especially for a non-Japanese speaker.

How did you start working for Rakuten Mobile?

It was actually thanks to an internal project management training program. I was talking to the head of Rakuten Mobile’s PMD (Portfolio Management Department), and he told me that mobile is the biggest thing that Rakuten’s going to do for a long time. With all the energy, time and resources being put into this, this is the place you want to be, he said.

In Mobile, they really value project management skills. [CTO] Tareq [Amin] wanted everyone to have a PMP certification, so I thought, this is a place for me to grow.

“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. Of course it’s going to attract all of these passionate people looking to make a difference.”

Describe your current role

I’m a project manager focusing on Radio Access projects. We currently have 20 or 30 project managers, all assigned to different departments and projects throughout Rakuten Mobile.

Up until now, I have worked on various types of small cells—indoor small cells, outdoor small cells, FEMTO cells—they’re kind of different access points which expand the coverage and capacity of the network in various user locations, so it’s quite important for what we’re doing with this network rollout.

With everything running in parallel, it’s been very challenging, to be honest. Challenging, but also very rewarding—especially being my first externally-focused role.

What’s the best thing about your job?

What we’re doing with this network in Japan is revolutionary. This is the first time anyone is building a virtualized end-to-end network. To be part of that, to see our service being rolled out, more customers using it, seeing just how far we can go—that’s really motivating for me.

“These people—they’re crazy smart!”

Learning from the people around me is really exciting, too. I’m a technical person at heart, so I love sitting down with the engineers and learning about the ins and outs of the network. As a project manager, I have to make sure I don’t get bogged down in the details, but I could probably sit down with these guys and just talk for hours about this stuff!

That’s the fun thing about being in project management, you can be involved in all sorts of technical subjects without being limited to a single area.

Mark Cooksley (far right) with teammates at Rakuten Crimson House in Tokyo.
Mark Cooksley (far right) with teammates at Rakuten Crimson House in Tokyo.

What are the people at Rakuten Mobile like?

I’ve never worked with people who are as smart or as talented as the people at Rakuten Mobile. Especially the engineers—they’re crazy smart! Really at the top of their game. They always know exactly how to fix the problems they face.

A lot of the managers are young but they’re working at a senior level, running their teams really professionally. I feel lucky to be in a position to learn from people like that.

In PMD, we have seasoned project managers working alongside people relatively new to the trade. Some have a background in telecom, but a lot of us are learning this for the first time. So there’s a kind of camaraderie and a willingness to learn together and build a better company.

Launching a brand-new network, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, so of course it’s going to attract all of these passionate people looking to make a difference. It’s inspiring to see everyone come together and work so hard to make this network a success.

What kind of person works well in Rakuten Mobile?

Someone who is curious, ready to learn and willing to take on new challenges. Someone who can thrive in a startup environment, in a little bit of uncertainty and mess. You don’t necessarily need a technical, or even a telecom background. You can learn a new skill set, but you can’t learn to be curious and motivated.

“What we’re doing with this network in Japan is revolutionary.”

A project or company like this doesn’t come along every day. Not at this stage, in its infancy. If you want a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience the birth of a groundbreaking network; if you want the chance to improve yourself and your skills; if you want to live in Japan (which is an awesome country to live in), then this is the place for you!

How is Rakuten different to your previous jobs?

There are a few key differences. One is that Rakuten has a ton of companies, and they’re very, very diverse. And the fact that we’ve linked all these together to create an ecosystem, I’ve never seen this been done successfully anywhere else. Once you’re in Rakuten, technically you could transfer around and get experience in many different types of industries. So that’s one cool thing.

Another is that I’ve never worked in a company that has so many people from different backgrounds, different cultures—even just in our Tokyo headquarters! Being able to talk to people from all over the world and get those different perspectives, it helps us become better people and a better company as well.

Also, I’ve never had a morning meeting with the whole company. Rakuten has this Asakai culture, where the entire company comes together each week. You get to hear directly from our CEO Mickey Mikitani and get a feel for how the entire company is working. I don’t think the CEO of any other company spends that much time with all the employees.

Mark Cooksley is a project manager in Rakuten Mobile’s Portfolio Management Department, where he manages the deployment of cutting-edge components of Rakuten Mobile’s network rollout.

Visit Rakuten Mobile’s LinkedIn page for job postings, announcements and more info.

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