Google Indonesia’s Head of Corporate Communications Jason Tedjasukmana spent his career as a journalist for two decades during the reformation, one of Indonesia’s most historic and tragic periods. Yet his curiosity and fascination with technology led him to make a different career move. I caught up with him to discuss the journey so far.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and where you’re from?
I grew up in the US but have now been living outside the country longer than in it, including stints in Spain, France and here. I have lived in LA and New York but most of my early years were outside of the ‘Motor City’ aka Detroit.
How did you end up here in Indonesia?
My dad is Indonesian. His mother was from Minang and I was always interested in getting to know her better (my grandfather, Iskandar Tedjasukmana, a former minister of labour under Soekarno, died in 1981). Perhaps that was a motivating factor. I never learned much about my Indonesian family growing up, so I took it upon myself to find out first-hand. I have been drawn to Indonesian culture ever since I was a kid and remember staring at a batik map of Indonesia on my wall, wondering what it would be like to live here. Curiosity has always been a potent force in my life, in so many aspects.
You currently work as Head of Corporate Communications at Google Indonesia – what exactly led you to this position?
I covered Indonesia as a journalist for 20 years, during some of the most violent and disruptive moments in the country’s history. I managed to interview every president except Suharto, and by now, I’ve probably been to 27 of the 34 provinces. From Krismon and Lengser to Sambas and Ambon, from GAM and Fretilin to the Marriott and Ritz Carlton bombings and the Aceh tsunami.
I feel as if my own identity was partly forged by the tumultuous history of this country.
As a reporter, it doesn’t get much better than that: to have seen the birth of reformasi and the growth of democracy, with its many fits and starts. As someone who has been fascinated by the tech world, I suppose my curiosity led me to find out more about another industry that thrives on disruption. I wasn’t going to be hired as a software engineer, so corporate communications seemed like a pretty logical next step.
How do you like working for Google Indonesia?
One thing that I loved about journalism was the constant learning that goes on and the fascinating people you meet from all walks of life. The same holds true about Google. The company believes that education is a lifelong process and I really feel like learning on the job is an incredible perk. The people I work with teach you a lot, and there is a great deal of respect for what you do, regardless of what area you work in. The culture of innovation and calibre of people keep me motivated and it is a real privilege to work somewhere where your values and judgments are respected. I’m fortunate to be part of a team that is committed to helping the country reach its digital potential and I’m glad to be witnessing history once again, as Indonesia rises to become the Silicon Valley of Asia.
On August 25, I attended Google and Temasek’s event in which your firm predicted that Indonesia will dominate SEA’s digital economy by 2025. What do you make of this?
The report, which can be found on our Think With Google site, contains some fascinating insights into the future of the country’s economy. We can see how quickly the digital economy is growing in e-commerce, ride-sharing and online travel. Now we have some in-depth research to back up what we can all see happening around us – that Indonesia is rapidly becoming the largest digital economy in Southeast Asia. This will have profound implications for the country and we wanted to share our findings on the scope and rate at which these critical sectors are growing. Given that there are more than 50 million small businesses in Indonesia, and more than 43 percent smartphone penetration, understanding and adapting to a mobile-first world is essential. We would like to help these businesses make the transition and find more success in a rapidly changing world.
How does Google Indonesia maintain its position locally?
Google is focused on making great products and platforms for everyone. We have seven products with more than one billion users, and are now working to make them as local as possible, while coming up with new ones to serve countries like Indonesia. In just the past year we have released a number of products that we hope will make it easier for Indonesians to run their businesses and turn creative ideas into lucrative professions. We have made it so Google Maps can work offline or be stored on an SD card, made videos viewable offline on YouTube and made it easy to use Voice Search in Indonesian.
Google Indonesia has one of the most interesting offices to visit. What does this say about the company?
Google’s offices are designed to allow collaboration and to foster better communication among teams. You would be surprised to hear how many great ideas were conjured up while waiting in line for lunch. There is no hierarchy in the office’s open-plan layout, and this is meant to encourage the sharing of ideas. Open debate is welcome, and what I like is that you don’t have to wear a suit to be taken seriously. I hope I never have to wear a tie again in my life.
Can you describe the working environment?
I love working with people who are the best in their field as a means of getting better myself. I also like the egalitarian and merit-based philosophy of the company. It doesn’t matter who you know or what family you come from. Everyone is hired because they are qualified and have a certain ‘Googley’ quality such as being willing to listen to others and not being afraid to fail. You can disagree with someone more senior, or even find yourself persuaded by someone much younger. I prefer being around people with open minds and Google is filled with them. I also enjoy a diverse workplace. The office here is 50 percent women and that’s important to creating an environment and products that truly reflect the reality we live in.
What are some interesting facts about you?
I’ve been a music head all my life and I’m always seeking new bands to check out. I’m a big fan of the local indie scene and can often be found on weekends looking for CDs in Blok M Square or trying a new restaurant in South Jakarta. I try to take in as much art as possible too and am thrilled to see how many art fairs and exhibitions there are now in Jakarta.
Thank you, Jason!