Crystal Widjaja on Gojek’s growth and gender diversity in IT: Women In Tech

Widjaja believes in creating a safe environment in the tech space so women can excel.

Crystal Widjaja is a key person behind Gojek’s big data strategy, which has facilitated its rapid growth. Widjaja spent nearly her whole life in San Francisco, returning to her homeland in 2015 to join the country’s first unicorn. Today, she holds dual roles at Gojek as its senior vice president of business intelligence and growth, and chief of staff.

Widjaja has a big passion for data and science, and she realizes that there are challenges for women wanting to excel in tech, which is widely known as a male-dominated industry. Keenly aware of this situation, Widjaja and her friends founded Generation Girl in 2018. Generation Girl is a non-profit organization that introduces young girls to tech and science through fun and educational holiday clubs. Its goal is to shape future female leaders and support them to make their mark in the tech industry.

KrASIA recently sat down with Widjaja to discuss her roles at Gojek and her passion for empowering other women in tech.

KrASIA (Kr): How did you join Gojek?

Crystal Widjaja (CW): I joined Gojek in 2015. I was working as a research associate at an investment bank in San Francisco and they had just dismissed their receptionist, so they asked me if I would be the receptionist and answer the phone. I remember telling myself, this doesn’t seem like something I’m passionate about. So I tried to push for a more technical role there. I was drafting data designs for the investment bank but the idea was almost immediately shot down.

I realized if I wanted to do tech, an investment bank probably wasn’t the best industry for me to be in. I had visited Indonesia for the first time in 2015 although my parents grew up here. The friendliness and sense of community here really inspired me to rediscover my roots and see if I could make a difference in Indonesia. What I did was to literally google the best startups in Southeast Asia, and Gojek came up first in the list. Then I googled “HR Gojek”, emailed, and asked if Gojek needed someone to work in business intelligence. And so here I am.

Kr: What exactly do you do at Gojek, considering that you have two roles in the company?

CW: While I have my duties representing the business intelligence and growth team, my role as chief of staff involves understanding the problems within the organization that we tend to overlook and how to address them. Also, my responsibility is to continue creating a sustainable work environment and ensure that everyone is heard and empowered so we can grow together with the company.

As for the business intelligence team, my daily duties include giving the team space to float ideas at the technical level, such as how we create and design data systems for international teams. We also regularly conduct various data experiments and analyze the results to determine our next strategies.

Kr: What have been your biggest achievements at Gojek?

CW: One of the things that I’m most proud of is writing the algorithm for the home screen that determines what cards are shown to users. I really enjoy doing mechanism design, namely creating a system that has been able to send the right data point to the home screen so we can deliver the best content to users.

The second thing was creating an experimental platform called Litmus. When we started the project almost a year ago, very few people wanted to do it, and few thought it was important. We actually had half of our team working on this product for many months, almost in silence and in secrecy, so that they could focus. But when it launched, it made life easier for our engineers. We use Litmus to standardize A/B or multivariate testing, hence everyone is able to communicate in the same vein to define the success of an experiment.

Kr: How do you view the growth potential of Gojek today?

CW: If I were to look at Gojek’s number of orders or growth rate from 2015 to 2017, I would have said there’s no way that this curve can get any steeper. But when I zoom out and look at the rest of the graph up until 2019, it actually just looks like a straight line, meaning there’s still so much room to grow. So I don’t want to say that we know exactly how the market will develop and how much more we’ll grow. But we believe that if we focus on the right things, and create the best user experiences, the company will continue to grow with our drivers, service partners, and merchants.

Crystal Widjaja (far right) after a panel session during the demo day of Gojek Xcelerate Women Founders

Kr: How did you start Generation Girl?

CW: Generation Girl was founded in 2018. We saw that the problem with gender balance in tech had actually started since the advent of the digital age. For example, when the computer was first launched, many people looked at that as a toy and a family would put it in the son’s room even though the girl in the family was also interested and wanted to learn about it. So from the very beginning, girls have been excluded and not given equal access when they can actually excel in tech.

Generation Girl provides girls interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) the opportunity to learn. Because without that opportunity, you’ll never have a chance to be great at it. When we opened that pipeline, we saw many other tech companies, one of which is Tokopedia, keen to partner with us. They want to train and work with these young girls as mentors. I think their commitment and willingness to participate show a really deep passion for empowering young girls in tech.

Kr: What’s the progress like so far and how great is the interest by girls out there in this program?

CW: We have two bootcamps every year during summer and winter. We also just started Saturday classes for older girls and we have an internship program in collaboration with another tech company in Indonesia. Through these four different programs, we already have over 150 girls participating to date.

The interest is very high. We had ten girls join our week-long pilot bootcamp. We taught them how to build a website and interestingly, although we created lesson plans for five days, these girls were able to finish them within three days. This proves that when girls are given the opportunity and space to learn tech confidently, they are able to excel. If we keep doing these initiatives and support more girls, I think we’ll see the (gender) gap in tech closing quickly.

Kr: How diverse is Gojek as an organization?

CW: Women have filled about 33% of the leadership positions at Gojek. Although this is better than most tech companies, we still need to do more as we always want to set an example for other organizations in Indonesia.

Kr: You recently participated in Gojek Xcelerate – Simona Accelerator APAC Women Founders Batch 2, as a mentor. Tell us about your experience in mentoring women founders from ten startups?

CW: I mentored the data session and I was inspired by their enthusiasm. I think it is very important to create a safe environment where people can actually ask anything, learn, and not be afraid that people would look down on them when they fail. Because sometimes the bar is set very high for women. If we make a mistake, people might write us off and undermine us because we’re girls. Therefore, this accelerator program is a very positive initiative as it allows people, especially women, to be much more productive and help each other.

This article is part of “Women in Tech,” a series by KrASIA that highlights the achievements of women who are a driving force behind South and Southeast Asia’s tech startups.