Careers: Interviews
Wireless Expert Daniel Scuka

This week, Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P., has an exclusive interview with Daniel Scuka. Daniel is a leading international expert in wireless Internet and i-mode technologies. Daniel is a freelance writer and senior contributing editor for J@pan Inc magazine (www.japaninc.com) where he covers wireless business and technology, entrepreneurship, tech ventures, and Internet-related issues.

Congratulations also go out to Stephen who has been recognized as the 2002 Best Networking Professional – Career Achievement at the Network Professional Association’s (NPA) inaugural Award’s for Professionalism. These awards were presented at a ceremony at Networld+ Interop 2002, which took place at noon, May 8, 2002 at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Good work Stephen!

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Discussion:
Q: Daniel, you are one of the top Japan wireless industry observers, and this is a unique opportunity for us. Thank you for agreeing to this interview and for sharing your experiences and accumulated knowledge with our readers.

A: Thanks for setting up the interview.


Q: You received your education at Canada’s Royal Military College. What did you study and where did you career lead you while in the Canadian Forces?

A: I obtained a B.Sc degree in Math and Physics. Since RMC is primarily an engineering school, we science students took a lot of undergrad engineering courses -- like strength of materials (we called it "S & M") -- as well. After graduation in 1986, I spent two years training new recruits in Canada, then spent four years in Germany stationed at one of Canada's NATO bases. From 1992-94, I worked at defense headquarters in Ottawa as a maintenance staff officer, and I spent a lot of time visiting deployed contingents in places like Somalia, Yugoslavia, and Cyprus. The work was always interesting and I was often surprised to see how the army can push even heavy-duty equipment -- like armored vehicles, rugged communications gear, and weapons -- way past design limits.


Q: Can you share a story or interesting [perhaps life changing] lesson that you learned from your days in the Forces?

A: The army taught me to always push myself a little harder and a little further than I thought possible, and to make use of experts for specialized knowledge since it's impossible to know everything about a particular field of technology yourself. Also, that oral and written communication skills are key, since no matter what field of work you're in -- military or civilian -- the people who succeed most also communicate their ideas the best. I guess that was a life-changing realization since that's what sparked my present interest in writing, researching, and journalism. Also, I met my then-future wife while stationed in Germany, so that was pretty life-changing in a very positive way.


Q: Why did you move to Tokyo in 1994? Can you describe your time as a freelance patent engineer?

A: I moved to Japan with my wife, who is from the US and was hired to teach at an elementary school on one of the US bases near Tokyo.

My work as a patent engineer was a wonderful blend of technical communications, learning about ultra-new technology, and utilizing my native-English skills (since I spoke no Japanese at the time). I worked for several attorneys who had extensive foreign practices -- they would work with attorneys overseas to file patent applications for large Japanese corporate clients in the US, Canada, Europe, and elsewhere. The specifications had to be in idiomatically correct English, and I helped make sure that nothing of inventive value got left out of the translation. I also helped the attorneys respond to prosecution reports and rejections from the overseas patent offices.

At the time, the attorneys I worked for did a lot of work on control systems, optical-based computer peripherals, and software. One attorney I worked for helped file several patents related to Honda's ultra-low emission technology, which has subsequently been commercialized in Acura cars and light trucks, among other models (Honda sold about 980,000 ULEV vehicles in the US in 2002).


Q: Later you worked for Fuji Xerox. What did you learn from the experience? Do you have any tips to share?

A: My goals in moving to Fuji Xerox -- actually, Fuji Xerox Careernet, a temp staff dispatch agency wholly owned by FX -- were to learn business-level Japanese and to experience working in corporate Japan. The first goal I achieved, more or less, although I'm still trying to learn more language all the time. For the second goal, I guess I had an intensive immersion course! Ironically, I found that working in a Japanese company isn't altogether different from serving in the Canadian army. There is a rigid, seniority-based hierarchy, everyone stands up when the president walks in the room (just like when a colonel walks in), and there is a lot of team and small group activity; almost no one works on their own. I worked in the in-house translation section, doing quality control on all types of FX documentation, from sales and marketing presentations to user manuals and maintenance guides.

In Japan, if you go out drinking and socializing with your workmates after work, it's perfectly OK to show up to the office the next morning several hours late nursing a hangover -- it's considered a valid part of corporate team bonding. I guess old traditions die hard here.


Q: What led you to J@pan Inc magazine? Can you share with us some interesting stories that you covered?

A: In late 1998 FX was cutting the number of new products it brought to market each year, so translation work was falling off. I started looking around for a new job more related to journalism or writing, and found that the publisher of an English-language computer magazine – “Computing Japan” – was looking for a new editor. In February 1999, I applied, and they decided to take a risk on me. CJ was a 50-or-so-page monthly that was then 4 years old, and the publisher wanted to refocus the magazine on the emerging Internet and dot-com space, so in November 1999 we printed the first issue of J@pan Inc. I helped rebrand and repackage the content, as well as look for new staff, including a new editor-in-chief (we hired an ex-Wired editor out of San Francisco) and an associate publisher.

JI has been a fun magazine to work on. It covers the Internet, technology, e-business, new ventures, and finance space, and there’s a lot going on in Japan that merits coverage. There are also a lot of misconceptions outside Japan about what goes on here, so JI tries hard to tell the real story. Sure, the banks are in trouble and the economy is stagnant, but there’s tremendous innovation and success happening, particularly related to the Net, wireless, broadband, software, biotech, nanotech, and culture.

The magazine went through a tough time in late 2001, however, with the general drying-up of ad revenues everywhere, and the publisher cut the staff quite radically. While my job was secure (sort of…), I thought it would be a good time to move to full-time freelancing, which I did in October 2001. I’m now writing for Japanese, European, and US publications as well as JI.

JI has developed a small but loyal group of readers who are looking at Japan as a place that they or their company wants to do business, and they want to separate the hype (both positive and negative) from the reality. There’s also a Web site (www.japaninc.com) and several weekly email newsletters covering tech gadgets, music media, wireless, and general business.


Q: You edit a weekly newsletter on the wireless Internet. Please talk more about this new venture.

A: In mid-2000, it was becoming obvious that NTT DoCoMo’s I-mode was becoming a real killer phenomenon, so we ran several stories covering the wireless Internet. I did most of the research and writing, so I sort of got interested at an early stage. The wireless Web in Japan is a fascinating blend of big business, very high technology, the Internet, and social transformation.

By March 2001, there was news coming up everyday that we wanted to cover in JI, but couldn’t since it is a monthly with a long lead-time. The editor in chief, Steve Mollman, suggested that I start a weekly email newsletter that would extract the most interesting news and provide my commentary. I’ve followed that same format from the start, although a lot of my comments come from smart people in the business here who are the real insiders.

We’ve only ever promoted Wireless Watch on our own Web site, and so it’s been a pleasure to see the subscriber list grow organically to over 2,300 today. Also, In January this year, I started producing a weekly video newsmagazine that we webcast each Monday. It also covers the business of wireless in Japan, and you can see the current program and archives at www.video-link.com/wireless/index.asp.


Q: What advice would you give to others considering relocating to Japan? Share with us a few stories of your experiences - culture shock?

A: You have to give it a solid 12 months before you can even start to decide whether life in Japan is for you. Everything is so different here that it’s hard to point out just several things to think about before relocating. I guess the key thing is that if you do decide to move to Japan – or any other foreign country – to live and work for a while, don’t just hang around the malls once you get here (there). Get out, meet people, and experience the life, culture, and customs, otherwise you’ll miss the best part of the expat experience. Some of the best times I’ve had in Japan have been far outside Tokyo soaking in a hot spring under the stars – and it doesn’t matter if you don’t speak the language. And people here have treated me with unfailing kindness and help (except for some of the drivers).


Q: You are a co-author of the book, i-Mode Developer’s Guide, published by Addison Wesley. Can you describe your involvement with the book? What useful tips can you share with us?

A: I wrote four chapters dealing with wireless networks in general, the NTT DoCoMo i-mode network architecture, how the wireless Web in Japan works compared to, say, the WAP-based systems in Europe, and future services. The wireless Internet is one area of technology and business that changes at a tremendous pace. If you really want to understand what’s happening, you have to do a lot of reading; I hope the i-Mode Developer’s Guide will help with that. Note that, despite the title, the book isn’t only for developers. There is some pretty good information on the business model and underlying technology as well.


Q: Please describe future book titles and articles we can expect from you?

A: I’m working on a proposal for a new book that will focus on the business of wireless in Japan and that will extract some valid lessons for content, application, and service providers that are looking at launching mobile Internet efforts on the baby i-modes staring up in Europe and the US this year. I’m also continuing to work on the streaming video version of Wireless watch, and that’s proving to be very interesting. We’re hoping to persuade some of the wireless insiders here to come on the program and share their experiences and show some of the new 3G handsets and mobile services that are being deployed.


Q: For those relatively new in the computing field and for seasoned veterans, which areas should they target for future study, what are the high-growth areas, and can you provide specific advice?

A: That’s a tough one, since the subject area is so huge. I think one trend that bears real study is the provision of e-commerce and e-payment via wireless platforms. Japan is once again in the lead here, and we should see handsets next year that work with contactless smart cards or other smart cards to enable pay-on-the-go shopping using the cell phone as a secure, authenticated terminal. I also think that telematics is gaining a lot of ground; look for many new cars to be wireless-enabled starting this year.


Q: What 10 tips can you provide to others that helped you in your path to success? What would you do different looking back in hindsight?

A: They are:
1. It’s always tougher than you think; don’t quit and always keep trying.
2. Define and maintain the aim. Make your aim a single, well-shaped goal that you can state in a single sentence.
3. Turn off the TV
4. You don’t have to know everything yourself, but it is real helpful to know those who do.
5. Remember all that motherhood stuff about eating well-balanced meals, getting lots of exercise, and not staying up too late? It’s true.
6. There’s two kinds of knowledge: information that you know, and information that you think you know. Don’t rely too much on the latter.
7. If you want to develop a skill -- any skill, like writing or speaking – practise, practise, and practise.
8. Find a mentor – someone who’s been around for a while – and seek their advice regularly. And then act on that advice.
9. Never underestimate the hidden or unseen consequences of technology. Sure – using the Internet to share data via mobile terminals helps enrich many lives. But don’t forget that that terminal uses silicon chips and other components manufactured at factories that use some of the worst environmental pollutants around.
10. Take a break. Play with a child. Go for a walk with an old-timer. Call your mom. And above all else don’t take yourself or anything too seriously.

As for what I’d do differently, I would definitely spend more time experiencing the world. I think I was a little to intensely focused on studies and work in the first part of my career.


Q: As a writer about the Internet, you have your finger on the pulse of what to expect in the future. What are the five hot topics in IT today and where do you see these stories/areas developing in the next two years; five years?

A: I’m not too sure I have that much insight, since my area of interest is just one tiny slice of all that’s going on. But If I had to gaze into my crystal ball, I’d probably look for:
1. Extended wireless capability that enables even more devices to share information, like your watch, your fridge, and your home.
2. Telematics, and the deployment of “CANs” (car area networks) that will enable all sorts of useful data to be accessed while moving.
3. Hydrogen fuel systems that can replace gasoline engines and finally cut our economy’s dependence on hydrocarbons. While this has little to do directly with IT, this combined with telematics will, I think, utterly transform how we move about over then next ten years.
4. The end of the hard drive and the development of new solid-state persistent memory materials.
5. The establishment and growth of new players in the mobile software area that helps keep traditional players (like Microsoft) from dominating wireless like they have desktop computing.


Q: Businesses are seeing many technologies in their strategic paths. What advice, would you give to businesses as they plan their own evolution in the next five years? Do you have specific technologies and processes they should watch out for and implement?

A: Technology is irrelevant unless businesses can devise and develop business models that help customers, provide sustainable and fully costed profits, and create workplaces that don’t exploit people.


Q: What do you do to relax?

A: Go to the gym, rebuild computers, go hiking, read (about non-technology subjects), and travel – ideally without staying in huge, sterile hotels.


Q: Daniel, thank you for sharing your valuable insights with us today and we look forward to reading your books, and articles.

A: Thanks – it’s been my pleasure.


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