Becoming a PC Engineer While Still in Japan
One marked difference about working for a foreign firm in Japan versus the home country is that most of the technology jobs are support and implementation roles than design and solutions oriented. This is because, simply, most foreign firms have their IT standards and requirements mandated by headquarters.
Thus, the demand for engineers and PC/networking experience, some qualifications, some language skills (minimum 2-kyu spoken Japanese), and a great "bedside manner" with computer users is ongoing. Especially in the current economic recovery of mid-2004, the demand for such people now exceeds supply.
This clearly creates an ideal situation for those of you thinking about getting into the engineering field, but worried over whether there will be a job for you. As I've mentioned in the past, the main entry point for newcomers into the Japan IT field is through one of the many outsourcing companies (including my own LINC Media business) looking after foreign firms. These companies have a generally uniform set of conditions that they hire under, and they are looking for bilinguals with good personalities and a proven interest and experience with technology.
The most common background we see for people entering the PC/network business for the first time is that of a JET or some other language teaching position. Many people come to Japan for the experience of living overseas and not because their career goal is to teach. Thus, if you're one of those people, so long as you have a technical bent, you won't be the first looking for a longer term opportunity in Japan.
Many new applicants say to me, "But I don't have any work experience in the IT field." Yes, while that is a challenge, it's not insurmountable. For example a few years back, I hired a guy who had messaged around with Linux servers that he had set up for a friend's web site. He had learned from books how to do scripting, how to connect the servers to the Internet and how to connect a firewall. He was also very bilingual. We took him on as a trainee. Within 6 months he was working as a full-fledged engineer, in 12 months he was a manager, and at the end of 24 months (the amount of time I request trainees to stay with the firm before going elsewhere) he found a fantastic job as a network engineering manager in a major foreign firm - and in the process became a client. I've seen this kind of story repeated over and over, so it is possible.
Right now, as of September 2004, even though there is a shortage of support engineers, customers are preferring to wait for the right person rather than hire a non-Japanese speaker. This has been a major shift in the market over 3-5 years ago, when it was still possible for non-Japanese speakers to get jobs here. Of course, this is not to say that you can't get a job - especially if you have strong technical qualifications - as a mono-lingual English-speaker, however, the competition will be severe and the bilingual will always get priority in hiring. Bilingual really means being able to converse politely and accurately with the Japanese staff (98% of the employees of most foreign firms) and to be able to read the Japanese applications screen messages.