When it came to standing out in his job interview, Mike Otsuka’s longtime love of comic book superheroes made him a unique job candidate at Jet. But it’s his superpower of being able to bridge the technology and business operations in the real world that’s made him an early standout.
As an associate with the online retailer’s partner integration division, Otsuka has a variety of roles for Jet, a darling of the high-tech world for its ambition to disrupt Amazon’s online retail kingdom with an emphasis on aggressive pricing. Each day, he’s on calls explaining to prospective retail partners how the Jet platform can be designed to work for their business, as well as with the developers who create the API integrations used by those partners to upload products and handle orders and returns, as well as everything else in the Jet/retail partner relationship. Throughout and even after the integration has been completed, Otsuka is the retail partner’s primary point of contact.
“My days are incredibly varied, but they come down to understanding, and being able to communicate with, the business and technology sides of Jet,” Otsuka, who graduated in 2015, said. “The Business & Technology major was perfect for me. Sometimes, I have to explain business concepts on my calls, other times I have to explain the coding and API aspects to developers on the call — and often, I have to do both on the same call. My work at Stevens gave me the knowledge I need to think fast on my feet in both worlds.”
Stevens' location puts opportunity within reach
Before earning his degree in Business & Technology — with concentrations in Information Systems and Finance, as well as a minor in Quantitative Finance — Otsuka was a student at Loyola University, but transferred to Stevens after his freshman year to take advantage of being so close to New York City, as well as his Bergen County home.
“At Stevens, everything is so close to home — all the job opportunities, the companies, the big banks, everything,” he said.
Stevens “helped me to see the world in a different way, an analytical way — not just looking at the surface, but digging into the numbers.”
Those big banks lure a fair share of Stevens business students for internships and employment, but tech-focused Jet has been an ideal fit for Otsuka for both personal and professional reasons. As a growing force in online retailing, the company needs skilled employees able to bridge the gap between IT departments and programming specialists and the core business functions of sales, supply chain management and account management. And the company has a soft spot for superheroes — with conference rooms named after the Fortress of Solitude and the Batcave, for instance — which Otsuka “was right at home with.” The lavishly appointed workspace, typical of tech startups, is home to open workspaces, plush couches and snacks, as well as pool and ping-pong tables.
Before getting the job, though, he was in for what he called “the most important test of my life” — a full day of interviews at the company’s Hoboken headquarters, where he was grilled on everything from how to troubleshoot code to how well he understood the company’s business model and expansion potential.
“I had 30 to 35 pages of notes that I studied over four or five days,” Otsuka said. “I was constantly preparing, at home, on the train — pretty much any time I had free, I was studying. And afterward, my now manager told me that I was more prepared than they could have imagined.” That was especially true when Otsuka was asked for his favorite superhero; the candidate gave a five-minute answer explaining why he loves Superman, “which was probably more detail than they expected.”
Value of his Stevens experiences
After nearly a year on the job, Otsuka said he still leans on his Stevens experiences — both with coach Joe Favia, in his four years on the Ducks wrestling team, and classroom lessons with professors Don Lombardi and George Calhoun — as he continues to make a name for himself. Those experiences helped him earn a promotion over the summer.
“I appreciated Professor Calhoun’s honesty — if you weren’t doing a good job, he’d tell you, which is how things work in the real world,” he said. “He helped me to see the world in a different way, an analytical way — not just looking at the surface, but digging into the numbers.”
Dr. Lombardi, meanwhile, “has a lot of life advice,” he said. “I had a few offers on the table when I was graduating and I didn’t know what to do. He helped me think about how to find the right mix of a great company and the salary and life I wanted.”