From art college to telecom: In conversation with Rakuten Mobile’s Zein Badaro

This article is part of a series of interviews with Rakuten Mobile employees. In this edition, we speak with Zein Badaro, who works in Rakuten Mobile’s International Roaming Department. A 22-year-old graduate of the University of Edinburgh College of Art, she relates her experience beginning a career at Rakuten.

Zein 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’m from Jordan. I grew up there, went to school there and then to university in the UK. I have a masters from the University of Edinburgh in Art History.

After graduating last year, I went back to Jordan for a couple of months, then started looking for jobs. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do until I found this job in Tokyo and thought, I mean, it’s Tokyo!

I got the job in November of 2018 and I was here from the beginning of January. Just like that!

Had you heard of Rakuten before?

I knew they sponsored FC Barcelona, but really not much else! But as I started reading more and more, I could see that it was a good fit for me, which made the move to Tokyo a lot easier.

What does your job entail?

So I work for the International Roaming team. Basically, we enable international roaming for our users, so that they can use the Rakuten Mobile network all over the world.

“I’m working alongside people who have been in the industry for 20 years.”

I work in operations, making process maps on how we want the roaming to work, how the customer support flow will work, how our relationship with our partners will work. It’s a lot of coordination with international companies like Orange. It’s less technical, more operational.

What do you think is the best part about your role?

It’s very dynamic. I never know what the next day is going to entail, it changes on a day-to-day basis. Today I could be working with Orange on one thing, tomorrow with another company on something completely different.

It’s never the same. It’s not your typical desk job where you sit down and tap away at your laptop all day. I like that excitement of not knowing exactly what’s coming.

Did Rakuten turn out to be a good fit?

Yes, it’s very diverse and I really like the open plan seating. You never feel there is a lot of pressure on an individual employee. Everyone’s really open-minded and always very keen to help. I really like the working culture here.

When we say, ‘Believe in the Future,’ I feel we’re talking not only about the future of the company, but also the employees. I joined and I’m 22, but I’ve never felt any discrimination because of that. I’ve never felt like my managers haven’t given me a lot of responsibility because of my age. I feel like they give me the same opportunities as everyone else. And they’re always very keen to help me grow and learn, help me find what I’m interested in and put me on track.

Zein (center), with her team in Tokyo.

What’s the best thing about the people you work with?

My managers are Japanese, but we also have people from China, Spain, Italy, the UK; it’s a lot of different cultures, and a lot of different levels of experience.

New graduates like myself are working alongside people who have been in the industry for 20 years. So you literally learn something new every day, whether it’s about a different culture or a different part of the job.

“The skills you develop here lend themselves to many different industries.”

My team in particular has a lot of people who are new to the industry. I think there are three of us for whom it’s our first corporate job after university. We’re quite a small team of around 10 people. There are some teams with so many people and so much experience, but with us, we’re still kind of learning as we go along. And we’re quite young too.

But what many of us on the team have in common is that we’re in this new company, this new country. Everyone’s in the same position, so you can relate to each other in that way.

What have been the highlights of your time at Rakuten so far?

In my first month here I got to go to Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, which is the largest mobile conference in the world, and I got to emcee in front of the Rakuten booth.

A month or so later I was helping train the new graduates, which is surreal because I’m also a new graduate! Training other employees just a few months after entering the company really made me realize how much I’m growing.

In September, I got to go on a trip to Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic to test the network. When I first started, my team was just six people and we didn’t have a roaming supplier. We were running around like headless chickens trying to get everything to work.  Fast forward a few months and we’re in Europe and everything is working! That was pretty cool.

What is your career mission?

Right now, it’s to make sure customer operations are working well. But in the future, I don’t know!

The good thing about this job is that the skills you develop here lend themselves to many different industries. You don’t really get tunnel vision at Rakuten. You can learn about all sorts of different things, not just the technical parts of building a network. Working with all sorts of different vendors—it teaches you how to collaborate with big companies and helps your communication skills.

How is Rakuten Mobile for someone from a non-tech background?

There are all sorts of non-technical jobs. But if you do want to learn more about the technical side of things, they organize training. During my first month I went to the Rakuten Cloud Innovation Lab and learned all about how the network functions.

“You have to be smart and figure out how the skills you have can lend themselves to the job.”

I mean, I joined with a History of Art degree! You just have to be smart and figure out how the skills you have can lend themselves to the job.

What kind of person works well at Rakuten Mobile?

People with good interpersonal skills, people who are positive, and can remain positive under pressure. Because there will be pressure!

There are a lot of different personalities and a lot of different cultures. Really you just need to be open to meeting people from new cultures and put 110% into whatever you’re doing.

Zein Badaro works in Rakuten Mobile’s International Roaming Department. A 22-year-old graduate of the University of Edinburgh College of Art, Badaro works alongside industry veterans in planning how the Rakuten Mobile network will function for users traveling outside of Japan.

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

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