This article is part of a series of interviews with Rakuten Mobile employees. In this edition, we speak with Rahul Atri, who manages Rakuten Mobile’s Automation CoE (Center of Excellence) Department. His team is responsible for innovation and automating a range of tasks that are traditionally done manually, while also designing and planning ahead for Rakuten Mobile’s future 5G architecture.
Rahul and 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 started as a regular, orthodox telco engineer. However, early on in my career I was lucky enough to work with greenfield telco operators & startups and I learned a ton. I started with Network (RF) Planning: how to design a network from the ground up; how to monitor and operate it.
Along the way, we came across multiple use cases where we realized that a few “simple lines of code” could do tasks much more efficiently and reliably. This is what inspired me to look outside the telco industry and learn about software and development.
During my journey, I met [Rakuten Mobile CTO] Tareq Amin and we worked together on multiple projects and solutions. He was the reason I came to Rakuten. He reached out and said this is probably something you’ll find exciting. And here we are!
What do you and your department do at Rakuten Mobile?
My department is called Automation CoE, or Center of Excellence. This is one of the teams which touches the width and depth of the entire network and network lifecycle.
“[Our approach] is not to worry about how things were done, but how things should be done.”
Automation CoE is all about software development and DevOps. It’s less like a telco than a web scale company. We manage how all the network elements come into the system, how they’re managed, provisioned, secured and upgraded. None of these things are done by humans at Rakuten Mobile — they’re managed through automation.
We’re also involved in designing architecture for the future, designing what Rakuten’s 5G network and architecture will look like. That’s all part of the job.
What’s the most exciting thing about your work?
Every day is something new. Something we couldn’t possibly have planned for. Because nobody has attempted something like this before. A fully cloud-native network: It’s the world’s first. There are no playbooks. There are no cheat codes. So every day we come across something new, something interesting, and that’s what is most exciting.
What we are doing here will become the playbook for the rest of the world. That’s what inspires us.
What is your team like?
Young and not yet corrupted! (laughs) The average age is about 30 years old. They’re driven to find out-of-the-box solutions instead of sticking to standard processes. They don’t come in and say, “In my previous experience of 15-20 years, we solved it like this.” We solve things the right way.
For us, it’s the motivation to change. It’s the motivation not to worry about how things were done, but how things should be done — how they could be done. Whenever we encounter challenges, we don’t talk about problems: We always talk about solutions.
“It’s the world’s first. There are no playbooks. There are no cheat codes.”
How does Rakuten compare to other companies you’ve worked at?
Previous companies I’ve worked at have been either startups or big corporations. I think Rakuten is the only company which has elements of both. As a brand name, it’s a major corporation. But at heart, it’s a startup. We have the agility, the desire to learn, and the culture of a startup, but also the policies, security and internal synergy of a big company.
The good thing here is that you walk into the office and it doesn’t feel like an office. You see people of all nationalities, from all different parts of the world. It feels like university for me, with so much potential for learning and so many challenges. But what you’re getting here is experience in something that’s never been done before. You are doing something which will become part of history.
Where do you want to take your career in the future?
I feel lucky in the sense that I have experience in both telco and software. I know the pros and cons of both in any given situation, and I can use that knowledge to create solutions.
When I talk to new employees, I tell them this: Not everyone gets this opportunity. Normally, you are either a telco engineer or a software engineer. Most of the time an engineer is working on one layer or one network element. But in Rakuten and on the Automation CoE team, we are working on software, hardware, telco, cloud, infrastructure and an end-to-end network.
Rakuten gave me an opportunity. I can either go down the telco path or the web-scale path, or I can continue doing what we are doing here. What’s special about Rakuten is that you are appreciated for your talent and your skillset, rather than simply the number of years of experience that you have.
I think for me personally, coming to Rakuten was a journey that took me from an individual contributor to a team manager. From somebody who was designing solutions, to a platform architect. I think it’s probably given me a jump start of five to ten years in my career.
“What you’re getting here is experience in something that’s never been done before. Something which will become part of history.”
Do you have any advice for anyone considering joining Rakuten Mobile?
I have some advice for people like me, who love technology and want to solve problems. I’ve seen many people end up going to startups over big companies because they think that startups provide more of a challenge and opportunity to grow. I want to tell you that if that’s your dilemma, then Rakuten is probably the right place for you.
How do you communicate with company executives? How do you solve problems together with people from different countries, overcoming language barriers and different backgrounds and different levels of knowledge?
This is where you will learn, where you will meet challenges, where you will grow both professionally and personally. Forget the PowerPoint presentations, let’s get a whiteboard and solve the problem together. I think this is the best part of being at Rakuten.
Rahul Atri manages Rakuten Mobile’s Automation CoE (Center of Excellence) Department. His team is responsible for innovation and automating a range of tasks that are traditionally done manually, while also designing and planning ahead for Rakuten Mobile’s future 5G architecture.
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