By Pamela Chan
Giri Kuncoro wanted nothing more than to be an engineer like his father. Along with attending a science-based pre-school where projects like incubating a chicken egg were commonplace, Giri often accompanied his father to his workplace at Indonesia’s sole aircraft manufacturer, IPTN. Giri recalls, “Witnessing how my dad works and how aircraft are built firsthand made me very interested in engineering.”
As a native of Bandung, Indonesia, Giri credits his local community for instilling a deep appreciation for his culture, one famous for its traditional Indonesian musical instruments like the Angklung and sports like Pencak Silat [Indonesian karate]. This appreciation also fostered in him an innate curiosity for other cultures.
Leaving the Nest
So, when he was the only one in his college class who was selected for a software engineering internship at Toshiba’s Shinkansen [Japanese bullet train] manufacturing plant, he jumped at the chance. Moving out of Indonesia to Tokyo on his own, Giri dove deep into learning the Japanese language and working customs, honing his English skills with foreign clients, and becoming competent in the various moving parts (quite literally) of a Japanese bullet train — from its head, motor, control system, and networking.
Five years later, Giri was hungry to explore a new culture, setting his sights on the US. To ease his transition to his new life stateside, he first attained his master’s degree in Information Science from Cornell University.
The years after graduation saw Giri work remotely from the Bay Area as a Technical Advisor at Kata.ai, an Indonesian Conversational artificial intelligence startup, then as a member of Technical Staff at VMware. In 2017, during his time in San Francisco, Giri met Kevin Aluwi, Gojek’s co-founder and former CEO, who invited him to Singapore to meet Ajey Gore, Gojek’s Group CTO at the time.
Tipping the Scale in Moving Home
“My long-term plan was always to come back to Indonesia. There were just no tech opportunities for me before. But after meeting Ajey, I realized things have changed tremendously and was heavily inspired to join him at Gojek. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity I couldn’t pass up, and one that I could only find in Indonesia,” Giri responds.
Two additional reasons fueled his return home. He found peace of mind when Gojek was able to provide competitive compensation and benefits that mattered to him. He details:
“Indonesia’s tech ecosystem has grown rapidly within the past few years, so the compensation and benefits at companies like Gojek are very competitive, even with the global market. This surprised me the most.”
The other reason was ignited as he was scanning a QR code to pay for his food at a street vendor in India. He states, “I had the opportunity to be at the front lines of establishing a digital payment service in Indonesia. GoPay’s Infrastructure team was just starting at a time — a small team of five — and I was determined to help bring this service back home.”
Since Giri frequently visited Indonesia, either for work or to visit family, his eventual homecoming was a breeze. “As Gojek has a very ‘western’ work culture and mindset, it was easy to acclimate to coming from the Bay Area,” he admits. Growing up in Bandung, however, he did have to adjust to the faster, more metropolitan way of life in Jakarta.
Life as a GoTroop
Giri joined Gojek in early 2018 as a Technical Lead for GoPay — Gojek’s digital payment platform that eventually matured into GoTo Financial. As one of the first few members on the GoPay Infrastructure team, Giri has seen the platform go from a single column in Gojek’s database into becoming one of Southeast Asia’s leading on-demand payment platforms.
Today, he oversees a team of software engineers who manage GoPay’s developer platform and maintain its availability 24/7. “It’s our job to keep the platform running smoothly to ensure our product engineers can innovate more efficiently and increase the reliability of the service,” he notes.
From a team perspective, Giri found great comfort being amongst people of similar backgrounds. Speaking the same language with common interests in anime, video games, and engineering fostered a close-knit team both in and out of the office. He adds, “The bottom-up nature of Gojek also gives us the freedom to choose which problem statements we want to work on, which makes for a very fun work environment.”
He also highlights how the nature of working at Gojek allows GoTroops to see the relative impact of their work:
“The things I build at Gojek directly impact people like my own family who use GoPay on a daily basis. You don’t normally see the fruit of your labor so up close anywhere else.”
Moreover, Giri believes that he has learned more within a year at Gojek than in his time in the Bay Area altogether. He details, “In the US, I would work with huge engineering teams on a small part of a product. It’s the opposite at Gojek: we work with a small team on various parts of the product, getting more exposure to its breadth and depth.” His first task at Gojek, for instance, was to build GoPay’s Data Center from scratch with just three other teammates — a job that would normally require 20 to 30 engineers at a larger company.
But for Giri, the most meaningful facet of working at Gojek is his ability to represent Indonesian engineers in the global tech ecosystem. Since 2019, he has been an active committee member of the Cloud Native Computing Foundation which governs many popular open-source projects, including Kubernetes, assisting in their conferences around the world. He explains, “You rarely find us in global tech conferences or in foreign companies.
The work I do here is more fulfilling than anything I did abroad because I can represent Indonesia while exposing younger Indonesian engineers to things much earlier than I was.”
By coming home to Indonesia, Giri has been able to bring wider financial services to underbanked Indonesians, bear the Indonesian flag on a global stage, and cultivate the next generation of Indonesian engineers — all the while actualizing his childhood dream of becoming an engineer like his father.
Going back to his roots not only meant advancing his career but advancing the community in which he holds immense pride: “There’s really nothing like it.”
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