This article is the interview contents by this author for the Spanish Server Engineer been working in Japan about 10 years.
1. The career history before coming Japan and why he came to Japan
Could you let me know your background before coming to Japan?
I was born in Spain and, my family background is, my father was Engineer and, a lot of our relative is also engineers mainly electronic engineer so on. My mother worked for a telecommunication company in Spain like NTT for Japan and when I was very young, she divorced so she was very busy and some times works even weekend. At that time, I (5 years old) had nobody to stay with me in my house so I go to her company with her and her colleagues also bring the kids. We played with them around old matrix printer, tapes and it was like data center environment. These environments might have been the starting point I became interested in engineering.
When I was 8 years old, I got a first computer which is TK 2000 and started programing BASIC and crazy about doing it and stayed home all days and sometime not go to school. My mum didn’t know that.
I studied electronic in the school and started working a technology company early 16 years old and doing a lot of PC repair and supporting for HP device, Cannon and Kyosera’s manly printers for several years. Among the experience, there were opportunities to get in touch with servers basically printer server and I found the interesting of the server than repairing machine so started studying Server and Networking in depth.
After graduated the school, I developed my career as an IT infrastructure Engineer while moving several companies and was able to have quite good condition than averaged in Spain considering my age and social backgrounds. However, I realized that, there is not enough chance to develop much further my life that I wanted (Career opportunities, financially and so on) in Spain and I was feeling it is very limited so I have decided to leave from my country.
I moved to UK, lived there for more than 3 years and worked for 2 companies. The first company is running nightclubs and restraints. Initially, my position was staff in the restaurant but, as I have done repairing POS client in the restaurant by myself, I was assigned for IT engineer in the company and, eventually I handled almost all IT works there. After a year, I got new job for the company developing voice software and I was in charged of looking after production & development server, Datacenter and test environment for the software. At that same time, I met my wife who came from Japan as a working holiday and, after a while, we decided to get married and I went back to Spain with her to have wedding party and, after staying few months there, we moved to Japan.
2. Struggling to get a job in Japan
In 2008, I came to Japan and that’s actually bad timing because of world crisis (Lehman shock) and I did not have any connection and did not speak Japanese at all so struggled for 6 months to find full-time job although I was trying to get everything not only focused on IT job. As a result, the money was running out. Eventually I started to part-time job in a vegetable market close to my house and did picking up vegetables and packing those everyday. Along that, I started to teach English and IT as a freelance to local people because we found that there is demand that especially elderly people want to learn the way of using PC and so on. As well as that, I also started to make website for local shops and restaurants. As a result of that, those businesses were expanding gradually and, in parallel, my Japanese was also developing while going to language school and doing those businesses with Japanese customers. It seemed to be everything is going well.
However, after three years we came to Japan, my wife got pregnant which is my son and I felt pressure to get more stable job because of regular salary, insurance and this kind of stuff. By chance, before starting to search new job and doing anything, I received call from a recruiting agency and they said, “ A Spanish company in Japan is looking for Server Engineer role”. So I joined in it and finally came back to a career as an IT infrastructure engineer. I worked for 2 years in the bank of Spain and then, moved to a global IT vendor and currently been doing IT infrastructure project manager in a global biomedical company.
3.The gap between he expected about Japan and the fact
Through those experiences of working in Japan, what is the most surprising thing like culture and working style?
Although I expected, the most Japanese company, even international companies has been still very picky (careful) in terms of selecting foreigner working with Japanese. I applied for many Japanese companies and failed to get offer. Sometimes, the only reason and feedback I have got from the companies is just that I am not Japanese although the position does not need to speak Japanese and the role completely match my background and skill.
Have you met same situation in the UK?
UK doesn’t really matter that at all. As an example, in the first office I worked, many nationalities were working together. In the UK, not only nationality is not mattered but also looks, dress cord also is not mattered. If you can deal with role properly, that’s no problem but I feel that Japan is still not like that.
Did you expect that Japan is more like open?
I had thought that, there was the gap of such a culture between like UK and Japan but in fact, the gap was much larger than I thought.
4.Good and Bad point in Japanese working style
Please let me know more unique point and the feature of Japanese working environment and culture.
There are good and bad things and, saying good and bad might be hard because what I am saying is that they are just deference. However, if I try to answer the question, of course, there are many great things. Initially, I come up with such as punctuality.
Is it true? Japanese tend to be punctuality?
Yes. If you have a meeting and the meeting at 10 o’clock, it will start exactly the time. If you come the meeting a couple of minutes later, they apology very much and, they tend to call (inform) in advance even if they might be late just 3 minutes latter. I felt that, especially, when I was working in the banking industry, we worked with several Japanese networking service provider and telecommunication companies and they came to our office to sell us their stuffs, they always come to our office right on times. In the experience, I realized that Japanese people are very punctuality and that’s surprising me because Spainian people tend to not consider much it.
There are many good aspects in Japanese business environment. For example, Japanese tend to have solid planning, documentation skills and they tend respect elderly people. However, those things also sometimes are excessive.
For example, when we have issue in the project, if you (young staff in the team) suppose to solve the problem and have an idea as well as that the older people also come up with the idea and propose it. If you supported your idea is better than it, from my point view, the young people should share the own idea and try to discuss with team. That’s the best way as a team. “No matter forgive the idea.” However, in Japanese environment, even if a young staff has a good idea, there is something not to be able to share the idea without getting approved the senior person and, in the most of the case, the idea of senior people is selected. Of course, it is depending on the culture of organizations but I have often seen this kind of situation.
5.Difficulty of communication in Japanese
Uh… I also have seen the sort of it and might have faced it myself…
Is there any other typical thing that you are surprised in the environment like communication styles?
Yes, it’s hard to find the opinion of Japanese staff. Japanese who I have worked with, they tend to not say “NO” and it was sometimes obstacle to proceed efficiently projects as a team. For instance, in the project meeting of previous company, there are Western, Brazian and Japanese staffs. When I suggested my idea in the meeting, they gave me the feedback like agree, disagree or suggestion except the Japanese staffs but, although I tried to get from the Japanese colleagues about good and bad thing, did not get his opinion. That’s not only in this project and the persons. Actually I’ve had the situation several times.
Is that not language issue?
No, his English was no problem. However, I realized that, Japanese is not good at expressing opinion and the reason might be education. I am not sure this is correct or not but, after having a kid, I have understood about this gradually. In school in Spain, there is a lot of group work such as the kind of competition debating and opportunities of expressing own opinion that we often have to have and present own opinion in the games. However, Japanese education system does not focus on such a program. Therefore, Japanese tend not be trained ability to present, defend own idea and to point out idea of other person. I do not mind to be criticized my opinion and, I want just to improve our idea as a team by sharing each opinion but Japanese people sometimes are afraid to say and to be said, “Your idea is bad”.
Do you mean the situation is verbally? What is about email communication and documentation?
Yes, this is mostly verbally but, even though they can do that in mail, it takes 5 times longer doesn’t it?
In addition to that, the Japanese persons I have met before, even if they present their opinion, the way of expressing tend to be indirect instead of saying “No”. This is also spending time and makes us confused. This communication problem is the most annoying thing for me.
Ok, that’s probable true. I am not sure recent environment in Japanese school but, when I was kid, there was almost nothing such a group working and, I was also surprised that there is lots of time to share my opinion when I studied to University in UK. I needed time to be able to be used to the style.
Ok, as you said, Japanese skill of planning and the preparation would be good?
It’s great but again, because of having the communication problem, it sometimes takes very long time. Especially international environment, people come to the same table is better than email considering the time efficiency and the time difference for each region.
However, of course, without doubt, Japanese people come up with great idea, formulate systems and especially there are many solid respectable processes not communication aspect. For instance, I see the maintenance work for pipe in the road that Engineers come there early morning and complete the process precisely and quickly finish it within a day. Maybe, in Spain, it takes 3 weeks or a months and, even they finish, it is likely to happen several issues but nothing happen it in Japan. This seems to be not surprising thing in Japan but such a quality and precise work is the highest level around world.
So that’s why there is definitely good and bad thing. In the internal community, there are a lot of things that we can to learn for each other. However, in order to do that, communication is critical.
6. Average skill set of Japanese IT environment
Ok, we are talking about mostly interpersonal side of Japanese working environment. As a next, what is about the trend of technical skill environment and the average skill of Japanese or Japanese IT environment compare with UK and Spain?
To be honest, obviously there is a lot of type of skillset in between many people so it is not fair to say which is more skillful or not and hard to say such a trend but, if comparing individually and if simply trying to draw the average, I think averagely foreigner might be more skillful than Japanese among IT engineers I have seen so far. That’s my opinion and I don’t know if everyone agrees or not.
Do have any idea why Japanese tend not have skillful? I guess the reason is we have started to use offshore and outsourcing service out of Japan regarding hands-on side work and Japanese more focus on project management and managing such resources. That’s why we tend to be good at designing process, managing precisely schedule and documentation.
Yes, this might be one of the reasons, I have seen many documents produced by Japanese and they are beautiful and great work but, I thought how long time used for generating those and they were not often exactly what I wanted to know. I think that Japanese people tend to focus on too much theory than practical side. When we come to dynamic environment that IT is, these lack of the skill and the approach that they want to spent time for preparation sometimes would be big problem.
7.Opportunity to be able to touch with new technologies
Ok, what is about the chance and facility like to be able to touch new technology in Japan?
I think that, some Japanese do not like changing stuff. Even if the new technology comes up and that is better than current way, by the time that takes until accept to be used the technology would be much longer. I just take for example. In terms of the number of FAX, in Japanese people still use it. Also, if we go to bank to do some stuff without having the stamp (called 印鑑：INKAN), I cannot do anything although they can recognize my biometric and signature. They don’t stop the old way because of tradition.
That’s good example. Have you seen the kind of aspect in the UK?
No at all, there might have been FAX machines but we did not use so basically the pace of changing is slow until the new technology is implemented. When I dealt with a Japanese large company and design the architecture of server and the deployment, they were not willing to do the best way possible and they prefer to do like old school style.
Actually, I worked for the project of developing railway system and there were a lot of legacy systems and they spent huge cost to maintain those. However, the reason is there is no guarantee and experience that the new environment works.
Yes, but I have seen a lots of legacy systems in Japan such as analog PBX. In some firms, the all equipment of whole branch has still been used. That’s simply because they don’t want to change. The new technology is better than the analog one considering the quality and cost. That’s is just because of the old management.
By following our discussion, is there not much opportunity to be able to have new technology in Japan IT environment?
No, that’s actually opposite. As there is so much old stuff, there is a lots opportunity to put new stuff. However, it’s hard to sell perhaps. I don’t know well because I am not sale guy. For instance cloud system, Japanese has been still late than another developed countries although they have been starting but it is very slowly.
So, since the managing style tends to not be willing to accept new technology even if potentially, there seems to be opportunity. As an IT engineer, how do we get a chance to use new technology in Japan?
In order to get a chance the new stuffs, you are more likely to find it in foreign companies than Japanese companies in Japan. The companies I have been working with and, who they apply for new technology are mostly foreign companies.
Are they more open?
They are more dynamic. If there is good way to save money and resource, they want to know and use it a well as that they tend not to want to wait few years.
Because they need to follow the policy of IT headquarter abroad?
Not only the case. It is even Japanese company having the IT HQ in Japan and, if the CEO and CTO are non-Japanese, they tend to have such culture.
So it is based on personality?
It is the way of thinking
Also, since there has recently been a lot of M&A between local Japanese foreign firms, joining in an IT work of the kind of projects would be good for getting chance to touch new technologies.
8. Working environment and atmosphere in Japanese office
What is about office environment and atmosphere in Japanese working environment?
There is also good and bad thing. The good is very respectable. People do not interrupt each other and they try to keep quiet.
Are we quiet?
In comparison to Spain, it is definitely quieter because they are chatting a lot and sometimes shouting each other. Even compared with European office, it is less chatting in Japanese office. This is quit good point. Of course, it is depending on the company’s culture and people working around.
9. Work too much over time
However, the point I hate Japanese working style is that they want to stay office late even though they actually don’t need. This creates image and idea that Japanese people work a lot that is actually not right. In my opinion, Japanese people work long hours being less productive. European people do not mind even if boss still is staying the office but Japanese tend to be aware of it.
Because there is still the way of thinking that the performance of staff is assessed based on how long time we work.
10. Japanese language difficulties
Could you let me know the language difficulty you have met before?
Basically especially speaking Japanese language is not hard but the difficult thing is writing and reading because of a lot of Kanji, Hiragana, Katakana but the structure and grammar are more simple than Portuguese. However, as I said before, Japanese tend to not be direct in communication even in Japanese, it is quite hard to understand what they say if they express their idea indirectly. Also, if I do not agree and if I say directly, “I do not like very much your idea in Japanese”, people tend to have not good impression about me even if they know that I am not native Japanese.
Is there any strategy about this issue?
Anyway just trying to listen carefully and learning their reaction from actual communication is the best way because there is no knowledge in the textbook.
11. The benefits of working and living in Japan
Ok, this is a last question. As you said, the main reason why you came to Japan is because of your family. However, could you let me know what the benefit to work and live in Japan considering your career and life?
I have worked only 3 countries so cannot describe the benefit compared with all places but, the beneficial point for me so far in Japan is high and stable income if you are skilled person.
Is that different from the UK?
The thing of the UK changes much more than Japan like inflation and the price is still changing especially housing and quality of services generally is also not stable. Although Japan’s house is also extremely expensive, the food is cheap if you can right place and mostly they have excellent service. Like, train is always right time and everywhere is clean and everything does work well. On the top of that, the best point to live Japan is anyway safety. There is no gun basically and Japanese avoids to fight and to compete each other and much less crime and violence than especially Spain so there is a lot of benefit of having kids.
What is the benefit as an IT engineer?
I don’t see any difference because if you are skillful worker, you can get good opportunity anywhere. There is no special point in Japan for that sense.
Ok, thank you very much for taking time. This is actually a fantastic session.
You are welcome.