Tokyo Dev

Developer jobs in Japan Developer Life in Japan

Is it too late? Did I just make a huge mistake?


#1

I’m going to be completely honest, lay everything out, and then listen to any and all advice you guys can give me.

Until Now:

I’ve been living in Japan since 2011. I arrived three days before the big quake, and decided to stay to marry my wife and get a life started over here. Over the last 6 years I’ve gotten married, become the proud father of a wonderful kid, and spent the whole time working in English teaching at two international schools. I hit the head teacher ceiling at my first job and was invited by a long-time friend to work for his wife and direct a new school which we opened last year and is performing very well.

The Past:

I left school at 16, went to college and studied art and design, attended university and got a 3-year BA Degree with honours in Graphic Communication, specializing in interactive design - which was basically building projects in Flash, Java, Processing etc. Graduated in 2009, and spent the following year saving money to visit Japan and training to get a CELTA. My entire life I’ve been interested in tech. I built my first PC when I was 9, around the time of DOS 6,22. I’ve setup and tweaked PCs, Macs, Linux boxes, played with Arduino and Raspberry Pi, iPhones, Android devices etc. I like to learn how things work. The most complex coding project I’ve undertaken was building a Haiku generator that parsed eBooks from Project Gutenberg and made themed Haiku. It involved me figuring out how to teach a computer to parse the number of syllables in words and I had to create a flash front-end for the project so that it was visually appealing for my exhibition project at university. I’ve taken a few courses through Coursera, such as Python and some HTML stuff to refresh my memory. I’m currently studying full stack development through Hong Kong University of Science and Technology via Coursera,

The Future?

I’m a good English teacher. Enough coworkers and customers have complimented me that it’s one of the only things I’m sure of. It feels rewarding when I look back on each year of preschool / kindergarten / afternoon classes and see what I’ve done for the kids. I enjoy the gifts and compliments from the customers and the chance to be physically active every day at work, but I’m miserable.

I’m not getting paid overtime because I’m contracted as manager of my school and therefore am not eligible for overtime payment. I’m working around 50 hours a week, so my boss gets an extra 40+ hours of work out of me every month. I’m exhausted, I miss spending time with my family, and I’m bored of teaching English. I live and work in what I call “English Bubbles” - places where I don’t have the option to listen to or speak Japanese, although over 6 years I’ve picked up enough that I can chat with my in-laws, konbini staff, neighbors etc about mundane things.

The exhaustion started to affect my mental well-being, and I began to feel severely depressed last month. So upset about what my working life had become, so tired, and feeling so hopeless that I could barely stagger home or get out of bed in the mornings. This was totally unusual for me. Something was very wrong. I had to do something - anything.

I began to log my working hours and presented them to my boss, along with my contract which promised many things that were impossible to deliver. After a long discussion it became clear that my well-being and job satisfaction were a very low priority for both her and her husband (a long-time friend). The following week I made the decision to tell her that I will be leaving, and gave her four months notice, to give her the time to hire replacement teachers and for me to train them according to the methods and curriculum I have developed, thus minimizing impact on the business and customers.

HALP

I have three months left to find a job that isn’t English teaching. I just can’t do it any more. I need to wake up and feel invested and interested in the work I do. I need to design or create something. I need to improve my Japanese. I need to figure out where my niche is in tech / development. I feel like speaking and playing with children in broken English all day has somehow affected my ability to communicate with others, and I want to socialize either at work or elsewhere so that I can “get back on the bike” so to speak.

My resume basically reads: high school -> art college -> design degree -> teaching certificate -> head teacher with some Coursera elementary tech certificates.

I’m interested in IoT, Cloud, Networking, Security, App / Game Development, cryptocurrency / blockchain etc. but I’m in a real chicken-and-egg scenario in terms of how I should be investing my time and energy. Coursera has me working in HTML5, CSS, Javascript etc. I run a home webserver that hosts my wife’s art website so I’m not too bad with LAMP etc. I can fabricate graphics and simple animations pretty quickly in Photoshop / Illustrator / AfterEffects. I have a very broad but not very deep understanding of current technology.

Should I be looking for junior developer positions? If so, where?

Should I be going to meetups? If so, which ones? I checked the Doorkeeper site and a lot of the meetups beside the HackerNews one seem very specific.

Where can I get experience? Reading job postings on LinkedIn is freaking me out. Many of them expect native or near-native Japanese, 3-5 years experience in directing projects, or 3-5 programming languages with commercial samples of your work. I’m nowhere near any of that!

Having graduated 8 years ago and being 31 years old now, did I screw up? Have I missed the boat?
I’m worried about how I’m going to pay the rent in September, but if I stay in the English-teaching career-hole any longer I’m going to have a mental collapse. I need to challenge myself and steer myself towards a career in something I love.

If you’ve read this far, thank you, I sincerely appreciate your time.
Even a reply like “I’ve been there” or “I know the feeling” would mean the world to me.

~Ratticon


#2

It certainly is possible to change careers. I know people who have made the transition from English teaching to development. I don’t think you explicitly mentioned this, but I’m assuming you’re married to a Japanese citizen and eligible for a spouse visa. That already gets you over one of the hurdles.

I would adjust your timeframe for getting a job as a developer though. While you might get lucky, if you don’t have any professional development experience, nor a relevant degree, it will probably take years before you can be doing development full time.

Instead of trying to get a job as a developer now, I’d be looking for one that uses your current skill set, but is both more stimulating, and that helps you get closer to being a developer.

For instance, it sounds like teaching English itself isn’t so much a problem, but the current environment is. One idea would be to teach Japanese developers English. My only experience with teaching English was a class I held for Japanese Rubyists to learn English. I got too frustrated, because I wasn’t good at getting the students to talk, and so stopped it, but there’s clearly a market for it. I had four students for a two hour class, and so it worked out to about ¥20,000 per class, which isn’t bad money. The advantage of this approach would also be that you’d get to make connections with Japanese developers, and learn more about technical topics, and so it would help get you closer to being a developer. For getting started, I’d check out the I Teach You Programming, So You Teach Me English meetup.

I also know other people who have had better gigs teaching English. I think if you’re working somewhere more academic, like a public school or university, you have enough free time to work on improving your development skills. I don’t know if you need some more formal qualifications to do this though.

The other job that’s relatively easy to get is recruiting. A recruiter that actually understands the basics of software development can be quite valuable. It would also give you a chance to make connections. The downside is many of these companies apply high pressure tactics. These don’t work well for hiring developers, so I wouldn’t recommend using them myself, but you’ll probably experience pressure to sell from management.


#3

Hey Ratticon,

I’m sorry to hear about your situation. It sounds like you’ve made a good decision if your mental wellbeing is being damaged by your situation.

I may be able to provide some advice that could help you make connections and become more employable, and would be happy to sit down for a coffee in Shibuya sometime if you like. I run a small digital agency called Tacchi Studios (www.tacchistudios.com), and have gone from being a freelance software dev to running a small but growing company, so know what it’s like to both hire and be hired. I also have many connections in the international side of the design, tech and startup industry.

So please feel free to give me a shout at mark@tacchistudios.com and we can arrange for you to swing by the studio some time. Warning - I tend to be pretty matter-of-fact with my feedback, focusing on the things that need to be improved in order to achieve your goals. This means I’ll tell you the things you that others might not be comfortable telling you, which I personally think is invaluable.

Also, our team set up a service for creatives in Tokyo targeted at people like you, so perhaps you should check it out at www.canvas.co.com and let me know if you’d like an invite (or you can apply for one via the site). In particular, you can find an array of events (https://www.canvas.co.com/tokyo/events) ranging from tech, design, art and others that may give you a starting point.

Cheers,

Mark


#4

Hi Paul

First of all, wow! Thanks for great advice and taking time out to reply.

I’ve worked with people that have taught in high schools etc before. They said something similar about having to sit in an office pretending to work for a few hours every day. Perhaps that would get me some time to work on my portfolio and build some skills that I can demonstrate to people later on. I’m currently commuting over an hour each way so I should probably look for somewhere closer to home too.

Teaching English to developers in exchange for being taught how to develop sounds fantastic. Currently I don’t get out of work until 7 so the 7PM Monday meet up is not do-able yet. I will look for similar opportunities though. It’s a fantastic idea that i would have been completely oblivious to had you not mentioned it.

Yes, I’m here on a spouse visa that I need to renew in April. So far I’ve had 1 + 3 + 3 year spouse visas, so I suppose I’m eligible for permanent residence if I don’t screw up the job change in September. That would certainly make life easier.


#5

As for recruiting, I wandered into “anonymous recruiting company” in 2011 for an interview and the place made me sick to my stomach. I just can’t fathom working at a place where I would have to con contact information out of people and coerce them over the phone. I’d like to have coworkers I can have a beer and play games with, not compete against. There was a real cutthroat vibe in that place, and I even got hazed while I was leaving because I disagreed with the CEO in my interview. It was literally my first interview in Japan and one of the automated GaijinPot invitation ones. I went there in peace to find out about what the job entailed, and the head guy - I think his name was Conan - expected me to be licking his boots. He kind of reminded me of Lumberg(sic?) from Office Space crossed with D-FENS from Falling Down.


#6

Mark, I’m very grateful that you’re offering your time, and I’d love to meet up. I work 8:30-19:00 Monday to Friday so I wonder what kind of time I could drop by. I work in Yokohama but live in Meguro, near Jiyugaoka and Sangenjaya.

My school is closed next Friday (June 2nd) so I’ll be free all day then. I can’t figure out if it’s a national holiday or not, but kids don’t go to school on that day.

As for being frank, that’s fine. I might be defensive initially, but what I need is pragmatic advice to help me figure out which moves I should be making to start being taken seriously. I don’t want to think I wasted time because I couldn’t take good advice.


#7

After three years of being marriage (and residency in Japan) you can apply for permanent residency, so it sounds like you may already be eligible. For permanent residency, you need to apply while you have an existing valid visa, so there’s no need to wait.


#8

OK cool. Please email me at the address I mentioned in my previous message and we can set something up. Unfortunately I’m out of the country from tonight until Monday, so it will need to be next week onwards. :+1: