Interview – Samy
Job Title: Application Development Specialist
Length of time in Japan: 2 years
We spoke with Samy today to get his perspective of working life in Japan. He’s been here in Tokyo for roughly 2 years now, and has been working for about a year and a half with a major Japanese company in the IT industry.
Why did you want to come to Japan?
Honestly, I had the Japanese “bug” as we say in France. But really, when I came to Japan for the first time, I felt a completely different atmosphere; the culture, the behavior. I appreciated the clean streets, the security, the punctuality, etc. Japan is so practical. You’ve got all the convenience stores, the 100 yen shops, restaurants, etc.
I had it in my mind that I wanted to live abroad before I moved here. Originally, I was thinking of going to Quebec. A friend actually suggested I try Japan to have a different experience, and I thought “okay, why not.” In the IT field, it’s quite easy to move here so I decided to give it a try to boost my resume with a different profile. I’m glad I did it, I’m really enjoying it here.
Did you know Japanese before coming here?
Once I knew I was moving to Japan I studied for the 5 months or so in France. Once I was hired by my company, I took private lessons at Coto once a week, and now I’ve joined group lessons twice a week. We use Japanese in the office, and although I don’t know all the vocabulary to communicate as well as I’d like to, I improve every day, and I’m certainly better than when I first started working a year and a half ago.
What is the communication process like at work?
In written communication we have to use keigo. However, we’re quite casual when speaking with colleagues and superiors within the division. Every morning we have a team meeting for us to share how our personal tasks are going. At first, I couldn’t understand anything and for a long time my German colleague would translate for me when I shared my piece in English. Now I have fewer issues participating in Japanese. Everyone in my team gets along well and I never experienced any tension as a result of my communication. About three times a year we have an official nomikai, and occasionally some of us will go out after work together.
Do you work with other foreigners?
Yes, I mostly work with a German colleague, my senpai. We work in the same division (application development) so we interact a lot for work. He mostly does application design and I do programming. My company is looking to increase foreign employees but for now we’re only about 2%. Apart from my German colleague, I’ve met some employees from Uzbekistan, Europe (British, Swedish), and other Asian countries.
What’s the biggest difference between working here and in France?
Well, working in the IT field in Japan is very similar to my experience in France. It was interesting for me to bring the “French touch” to the Japanese way of developing projects. I could show them how I work, how I think, and how I deal with a problem. On the other hand it’s also great to see how they do things and solve problems.
Something I appreciate is that they take their time; they take the time to think of a solution. They dislike rushing their projects – something I really appreciate as I dislike sloppy work. Also, when I face a technical problem, I know they will help me. Even if they’re overwhelmed with work, the team will stop what they’re doing to assist me. I find the teamwork wonderful.
What were some of the challenges you dealt with when you decided to move here? Was finding a job difficult?
Finding a job wasn’t so bad. I just had no idea how to do a Japanese resume and what the best way to present myself was. I had a friend help me with my resume and ended up being recommended to my current company by another friend. The interview process was long – it took about 5 months from first contact to getting hired. My first interview was rough because the person I met with didn’t speak any English, and my Japanese wasn’t that great yet. Luckily, by the time I had my second interview I fit the profile of the person they needed for the position, so I ended up interviewing again with someone else who spoke English. I realized at that point that the language barrier could be a problem, but my company included one year of Japanese lessons in the contract!
On the other hand, finding a place to live in Japan is challenging, especially for someone who is tall, like me. It’s almost a handicap here! It seems like nothing is made for tall people here, even door frames are a problem. At first I was staying in guesthouses and it was frustrating because I was just too tall for everything. I recently moved to a new place, which is better, but still not ideal.
What’s the worst experience you’ve had since working here?
Communication. The most obvious reason being my lack of knowledge of the Japanese language, but also the way people communicate here is very different. In France, when we have information that should be shared, we do it without thinking much about it. In Japan, it’s a completely different story! In the beginning it was hard for me to handle; first because I was not used to it, second, because I had no idea when information should be told, to whom, to which extent, etc. I would get feedback like “you should have told us that” about things I thought were totally irrelevant. It’s not intuitive, but after spending time observing how others communicate, I was able to get used to it and now there are no issues.
And to end on a positive note, what’s the best experience you’ve had while working here?
I earned the respect of my colleagues and managers when working on a dysfunctional application. In fact, I ended up saving the project because my managers thought it was impossible to fix it. I must say, I’m proud of myself for that one because I was not at all used to working with such tools. Anyway, I remember this well because of how my managers showed their appreciation. Japanese people are usually quite indirect and hard to read when communicating, so seeing their emotions on their faces was a big deal!