Terrie's Job Tips -- Limited Japanese Ability - Part Five: Technology Guru

Our next composite sketch for a foreigner who has made it in Japan is that of a technology guru. This is the most accessible career path for someone moving to Japan and not having significant Japanese-language skills. The reason such people can find success here is simple: Japan has a shortage of IT and scientific specialists in all kinds of areas, ranging from finance to semiconductor research. According to the report published by Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare this month, there were 3.31 job openings versus engineers applying to fill them as of, January 2008.

Our technology guru was a network equipment specialist who was steadily building his reputation and career back home. Working for a global firm, he was a disciplined studier and as he passed each level of qualifications he would regularly receive headhunter calls. However, he felt that he needed a bit more experience and foundation before having the confidence to move to a high-paid consulting job. Then came his fateful introduction by a friend to a Japanese girl. He fell in love, and after a whirlwind romance made the life-changing decision to move back to Japan with her and eventually get married.

On arriving in Tokyo, the couple got themselves an apartment and he settled down to the task of finding a job. He quickly found that most network support and consulting jobs were for bilinguals and/or for software engineers required to work in remote factories around Japan. He didn't mind starting at a lower level, but very much wanted to maintain focus in his area of expertise - network design and support. And his wife wanted to be near her parents in Kawasaki.

After some months of attending interviews with foreign securities firms and large global systems integrators, he eventually found a maintenance position at a smaller foreign-run SI firm. There are a number of these companies around, indeed including my own, LINC Media Inc., (BiOS division), and they tend to be the primary support point for many foreign multinational firms here in Japan.

To get his job, our technology guru had decided to rewrite his resume to de-emphasize the high-level nature of his experience, since a number of firms had told him he was overqualified. Once he joined the local SI firm, he confided in the Technology Manager that in fact he knew how to do a lot more, and the manager talked with Sales, to see if they couldn’t sell upstream services. There was a general agreement that our guru would be involved in the sales process and after he got used to making supplementary presentations in support of the sales team, within a few months they started winning orders for higher level, higher-profit projects. The end result was that our tech guru got paid more and he gained experience presenting his ideas and leading project teams.

After several years of establishing a professional services business for the SI firm, our technology guru was becoming quite well known in the foreign IT market. Following a particularly difficult and successful implementation for a hedge fund, the prime broker investment bank also managing the fund's IT became interested in our guru and directly offered him a job as a senior design and support engineer. No recruiters were involved. The SI firm was naturally unhappy to see him leave, but had prudently started training other motivated team members to continue the upstream services and so was able to cope with his departure.

Our technology guru quickly learned both the technical infrastructure in the bank and how its politics worked. He made an effort to get along with everyone, allocating his time between maintaining personal relationships, doing his immediate job, and working on some new initiatives. At the same time he continued studying at home.

As he became familiar with the infrastructure, he realized that some of the network design was a liability both security-wise and from a point of view of reliability (redundancy). On his own initiative he worked unpaid overtime to figure out a fresh solution - which he presented to his surprised boss a few months later. The suggested solution would save the bank a significant sum in support costs from the current vendor as well as speeding up the network, and with the savings they would be able to shore up the security and redundancy capability of the network. His work was carefully thought through and subsequently recognized by the bank's senior IT manager. He was given the go-ahead to implement the project and upon its completion he was both promoted and asked to join a regional project design team that was in charge of rollouts elsewhere in Asia.

Before long he was flying to Hong Kong, Shanghai, and other branch locations, working on implementations and some troubleshooting. With diligence and study he repeated his earlier success, and at the same time passed a high-level technical qualification that enabled him to have the highest level of access to information of some of the bank's core network components. This phase lasted several years before his by-this-time wife told him to be at home more - kids were on the way. Discretion being the better part of valor, he asked the bank to find someone else to do the traveling.

Fortunately for our technology guru, investment bank senior IT staff in Tokyo tend to move on a regular basis (every 3-5 years) as a means of improving salary and career prospects, and he was fortunate enough to be put forward for a senior team manager job by the incumbent manager who had since become a friend. While one could say that the bank should have been more thorough about bringing in outside candidates for the open position, the reality is that earning the trust and faith of those around you is more often the key to success.