By Adira Chow
Experience+ is a series of online learning journeys and industry visits that give students the chance to virtually visit workplaces, speak directly with working professionals, and learn about organisations they aspire to join. Given the developments in the COVID-19 situation, Advisory is keen to provide support to the many students who are experiencing woes in this time of disruptions, by digitalising opportunities to engage with industry.
On 8 July 2021, Advisory hosted Experience+: PayPal, where participants benefited from panel discussions, small-group networking with PayPal professionals, as well as an exclusive FinTech introduction led by PayPal experts. During the visit, we were privileged to have experienced professionals from PayPal, including:
- Jerry Tso – Senior Director, Head of Singapore Development Center
- Andrew Gregovic – Director of Software Engineering
- George Chen – Senior Information Security Engineer, Cybersecurity Defence Centre;
- Zhang Xuqian – Senior Software Engineer;
- Kanika Jain – Software Engineer
- Irena Hu – Tech Recruiter and SG University Relations Lead
Our selected participants included students from various education levels and institutions with a common curiosity in PayPal and FinTech, and how to best position themselves for roles in the company and in the industry.
Below are some key points shared during the session:
PayPal is a US-based payment company that is committed to democratising financial services for both individuals and businesses to join and thrive in the global economy. PayPal currently serves more than 400 million customers worldwide, processing more than a billion transactions on a monthly basis. The company is expecting to onboard some 50 million new customers in 2021. Having achieved 100% gender and ethnic pay equity for four years in a row, and with its employee happiness in the top 25% of similar-sized US companies on Comparably, PayPal champions employee development, diversity and equitability.
As a company, PayPal’s core values are collaboration, innovation, inclusion, and wellness. Currently, PayPal has offices around the world, spanning across North America to Asia. With over 27,000 employees globally, collaboration is key, as it is not possible to rely on a single team to serve its customers.
In terms of Talent Attraction, PayPal’s Singapore office consists of many Gen Zs and Millennials. PayPal conducts many recruitment talks, career fairs, open houses, and outreach events to educational institutions in Singapore. As a company, PayPal focuses on people and talent development, with an emphasis on helping individuals upskill and think about their careers from a mid to long-term perspective. There are internally-run programmes to help engineers build their technical or software skills, as well as career days where leaders are invited to share their experiences in order to help employees think about their career prospects.
PayPal is also involved in different external engagements. Firstly, in terms of ecosystem engagement, PayPal participates actively in tech conferences and FinTech festivals. The company also engages on many fronts with different universities and polytechnics, through guest lectures, sponsoring hackathons, and offering bursaries and scholarships. Secondly, community engagement is central to PayPal’s values and culture. Annually, the company engages with selected non-profit organisations they work with, in order to give back to society together as a team.
For PayPal Singapore, everything that is done locally is also delivered on a global scale, and is not limited to the region. The different teams in the Singapore office include: Digital Commerce; Payment Experience; Professional Services; Information and Security; PayPal’s Innovation Lab; the Programme Management Office which focuses on project management and product launches; as well as the Cyber Defence Centre.
The three main Product Engineering teams in PayPal Singapore are Compliance, Payment Experience, and Consumer In-Person and Digital Commerce. Firstly, the Compliance team focuses on keeping PayPal secure for users. They deal with the verification process that is required when a user signs up for an account, such as authentication codes. They also have to navigate through the different regulatory policies of different countries and regions. PayPal’s centre of excellence for compliance is based in Singapore. Secondly, the Payments Experience team manages the different financial instruments within the wallet function in the PayPal app. Thirdly, the Consumer In-Person and Digital Commerce team works on enabling cashless payments in an offline world. This is in line with the recent shift in consumer trends and the growing demand for contactless payment methods through solutions like QR codes.
PayPal’s Cyber-Defence Centre is a high-stress and high op-end environment. The team conducts investigations when security issues crop up. Their role involves classifying information, as certain types of information can never be put into storage, being familiar with different degrees of data encryption, and managing the different security checkpoints.
If you want to progress on the technical track, then a technical degree is certainly important. If you do not have experience in a certain field, a certification or educational qualification may come in useful. For instance, it is possible to enter PayPal’s security team without having prior experience in security technologies, but having had a Master’s Degree in the field. It is also possible to start with a non-technical role in PayPal, and then receive support to progress into a technical role. The question to ask yourself is: if given the opportunity, would you have the resilience and aptitude to stay within a technical role?
Yes, there are non-coding related jobs in PayPal, with half of the roles being in engineering. Technical roles are more in number, which is why they usually appear more frequently on websites. There are other functions within PayPal, such as sales and marketing for those who are good with numbers and spreadsheets. If you come from a legal background, it is also possible to join the Legal team, and similarly the Communications team for those with a background in this area. There are also product manager roles, which are non-technical in nature, and do not require coding skills. This involves knowing the products PayPal offers and doing market research. There are also roles within data analytics that do not require coding knowledge. PayPal also has roles within the HR department, as well as in brand management, although the latter may not be suitable for fresh graduates. It is, however, still possible to take on a brand management role at a lower level, and then continue to progress in that role.
For one, Java is always in demand. Java is the predominant programming language used by the compliance team, and from a backend perspective. Java is extremely portable as a programming language. When PayPal hires new engineers, a good knowledge of Java would ensure that you are capable of performing about 70 to 80% of the day to day work. For teams that specialise in AI, Python is used as well. PayPal uses a lot of open source tools as well, in addition to agile test-driven developments and microservices architecture.
Yes, PayPal does evaluate applicants through coding tests. Most companies in the industry do.
Yes, definitely! However, you have to make sure to do it professionally and not exploit the system by moving from division to division too often. Ultimately, those who want to move need to ensure that they can deliver value to their new team.
It is not always possible to execute whatever idea that you have. You do still need to attain the relevant and required approvals. However, there is a lot of support from the management to help employees get the approvals they require. For example, there is a bi-weekly clinic that happens during office hours, where employees get to review ideas pitched by people in the company. These sessions allow professionals to receive feedback on how feasible the idea is, and how it can be implemented. While one does get support from the leadership to drive an idea, those who initially suggest it have to be the ones to run it.
There is no best strategy, and you have to find the way that you think you will enjoy more. Some may find that working in a startup can be tiring, and you may have to think about things like the salary of your staff and the company’s run time, whereas working in a corporation may be more comfortable. In a startup, it is likely that you will be playing a lot of different roles, whereas at a big company, you will have a better-defined role, though this is not the case for every team. Some may choose to alternate between startups and big corporations in their career. Ultimately, you have to find a path that you yourself believe in, because there is no right answer for this.
Several of our panelists joined PayPal right after completing their master’s degree. It was the technical skills that they acquired in university which they benefited a lot from. On top of that, the communication skills and necessary soft skills that they picked up from previous internships also helped them to perform well and work better in a team when they joined PayPal. As new hires, they were initially unfamiliar with the company, but found the necessary support throughout their time in PayPal. The travel opportunities in PayPal also meant that employees could join the company’s US office, before moving to India, followed by Singapore. As a newcomer, they began their careers as a blank slate, and had to learn many things along the way, such as how they should speak to businesses.
For others, they had prior experience working in startups, which forced them to learn rapidly. They found that in order to be successful in PayPal, having the openness to learn new things is crucial. In a startup, there tends to be a mix of administrative and management tasks alongside one’s technical role, so the pull to joining PayPal was the possibility of doing 100% technical work, such as security investigations and engineering.
The new hires who joined in 2010 were met with a code base that was unfamiliar to them, and quite different from what it is today. The many steps within the process confounded them, but they were given mentors that could lead them in the right direction.
New hires also tend to find themselves using too many technical terms to speak to business or legal people, oftentimes receiving responses like “can you speak in plain English?”. They had to learn how to communicate with the relevant audience and avoid using too much jargon.
For those who came from a purely technical background, they initially found the financial terms confusing. They spent some time picking up the basic financial terminology and received a lot of help from their mentors. It was possible to pick up these new terms within 1 to 2 months.
For cybersecurity professionals, they have to complete daily tasks and operations, including solving breaks in mechanisms, or fine-tuning systems. In between meetings, they will clear their work and get some progress on the projects that they are currently working on, such as community impact projects or an upcoming innovation lab. They will set aside some time every day to work on these passion projects and look at balancing their time as there can be meetings with PayPal professionals in the US time-zone taking place at night.
Engineering managers also work a lot with colleagues in the US, which means they may have to attend meetings early in the morning or and late at night because of the time differences between Singapore and the US. PayPal provides its employees with a high degree of flexibility, which means that it is up to each individual employee to manage their own time to get the job done. Throughout the day, they will either write code, or check on some codes from their team. They can take a 3-hour break in the middle of the day to go to the gym or may choose to end work early and continue later at night. The important thing to keep in mind is that this flexibility in work timings is always a give and take.
Alternatively, with the current work-from-home situation, some professionals prefer trying to fit everything into a 9-6 schedule. This involves planning their day and trying to stick to their schedule. Mornings usually commence with a meeting to sync-up with their team, and there will also be a post-lunch meeting to check in on their progress. There may be time during the day to chat with their friends at PayPal and get to know how their day is going.
Others prefer a different workflow – starting their day with a cup of coffee, before clearing their emails. For those who work closely with PayPal teams in the US, working across time-zones means that they often leave the day with an empty inbox but wake up with a filled one that they have to attend to. This is followed by updating their team on their progress the previous day, and what they will be doing for the rest of the day, whether it is working on internal codes, design reviews, or engaging in technical discussions.
Our panelists spoke highly of PayPal’s nurturing, diverse, and dynamic company culture.
PayPal does not simply talk about supporting their employees or giving back to the community but puts these values into practice. For employees who were running their own ground-up initiatives during the Circuit Breaker period last year, PayPal funded the work that they did outside of the company, and they were able to utilize the funds to purchase new diapers for babies from struggling families.
Some of our panelists love the diversity that PayPal offers, particularly the opportunities to work with people across different functions. PayPal’s “Random Connect” Programme makes it easier to meet people across the company, allowing those in tech teams to get to know a lot more about how to run a business, without actually being in the business team. This expansion of knowledge is extremely beneficial for those who are curious or interested in different work functions.
Others love the pace at which changes can take place in the company. If you are unsatisfied with a current system, operation, or workflow in the company, you have the ability to take ownership over problems and make suggestions to alter it. The company also makes it very easy to file a security or innovation patent. This is good for one’s personal branding, and employees who do so also receive a monetary reward, which is not common in other companies.