From AI Research to Web Developer in Japan

From AI Research to Web Developer in Japan
April 5th, 2023

Eight Values interviews Shunji Lin, Developer at amptalk. We talk about AI research, web development, domain driven design, and working at amptalk.


Moved to Japan from Singapore to do research on heuristic search algorithms in the Master's program at the University of Tokyo, graduating in 2018. He has worked in development roles at Nomura Securities and several startups. He views software development as an art and always tries to develop software that provides the best experience for users and developers. His hobbies include listening to and playing jazz.


  • (00:00) - Intro
  • (01:45) - University of Tokyo
  • (04:25) - AI Research
  • (05:38) - Why study AI?
  • (07:43) - Why become a software engineer?
  • (11:22) - Why continue being a developer?
  • (14:22) - What are you trying to achieve at amptalk?
  • (19:52) - Domain Driven Design at amptalk
  • (26:00) - Why focus on process?
  • (29:15) - What does amptalk look for in the interview?
  • (42:20) - Keys to amptalk's success
  • (45:28) - What keeps you in tokyo?
  • (50:16) - Advice for software engineers


Ryohei Watanabe: So this is Yohei from Eight values. Today I'll be talking with a software engineer at amptalk and a previous coworker of mine, Shunji Lin. Shunji, thank you for coming on.

Shunji Lin: Thank you. Thank you for having me. Nice to meet you.

Ryohei Watanabe: So Shunji, I want to start off with our previous work relationship. So it used to be you onboarded me to the company that I used to work at. And taught me a lot about software engineering and also just a good friend of mine now. I would consider you a friend.

Shunji Lin: Same here.

Ryohei Watanabe: So Shunji, I want to talk about your story a little bit about who you are. And then a little bit afterwards, we'll talk about amptalk. But what were you doing before you came to Japan?

Shunji Lin: Came to Japan. So I finished my military in Singapore. And I came here for my university education pretty much. So that was 10 years ago.

Ryohei Watanabe: And when you were here?

Shunji Lin: Oh, sorry. So I've been here for a while.

Ryohei Watanabe: When you were deciding between your options after the military, what were you considering? Do you remember what you were thinking about at the time?

Shunji Lin: Not really. I just wanted to get out of Singapore. And my mom is Japanese. So I used to have a Japanese passport. So I happened to go to the embassy once, I think, to renew my passport or something. And they recommended this new program in University of Tokyo. It's only for foreign students. So I was like, why not apply?

Ryohei Watanabe: And what was the program that you ended up applying to and then joining?

Shunji Lin: It's like a liberal arts program at the University of Tokyo. Nothing to do with programming, actually. But through that course, I managed to take some computer science-related classes. And that got me interested in software engineering. And eventually, that led me to choose a career in software engineering. Yeah.

Ryohei Watanabe: Yeah. What else were you interested in at the time? This is just the stuff that I want to know.

Shunji Lin: Interested in it. I wasn't thinking too much. I think I just wanted to have fun and enjoy university. So Tokyo is a pretty fun place.

Ryohei Watanabe: And apart from Tokyo, were you considering any other places to go to? I know you said you wanted to leave Singapore. Not really.

Shunji Lin: So what happens in Singapore is we usually apply for universities after high school. So we have mandatory military service. So before we enter the military, we apply for our universities, et cetera. So I applied mostly to Singapore universities. And it's only after I went through military, I realized, oh, actually, I got to go to many overseas exercise programs in the military. And I realized, oh, it might be nice to study elsewhere. And I just applied to the University of Tokyo.

Ryohei Watanabe: And then what did you end up studying for? undergrad at University of Tokyo, and then the master's as well for graduate school?

Shunji Lin: So it's a bit complicated. It's a liberal arts program. Officially, the title is Environmental Science, Programs in English at Comaba. But basically, we can pick from any of the courses available in English in the campus. And we each get assigned to a lab in our third year or so. And when I got to pick my lab, I picked something that is called Joho Kaga, I guess, information science lab. And we did some very niche classical AI planning research. And that's why I got really interested in computer science, programming, et cetera. So I did that my third and fourth year. And also, I did the master's under the same professor.

Ryohei Watanabe: And I feel like you had a claim to fame during your master's time. I think you were published in some sort of paper. And I've read the paper. And it uses lots of concepts. I don't know. Do you still remember what that thing was about?

Shunji Lin: Barely. I'm not so. I mean, I'm proud of the work I put in. But it's not something that I remember so much of. Yeah, it's something to do with optimizing search algorithms in external memory space. So something to do with hard drives and solid state drives. It got published for its novelty in Triple AI, which is, I guess, one of the more well-known AI conferences. But it's so niche that I don't think is that interesting. I wouldn't recommend anybody to check it out. But my lab has a lot of pretty cool research that come out of it. And a lot of them went on to pursue their PhD in the States or Canada, I think. Some of them are, I think, postdocs, professors as well.

Ryohei Watanabe: Out of all the subjects you could have studied, why study AI and the stuff that you did in graduate school?

Shunji Lin: Good question. I don't think I had so much of an option, firstly, because in University of Tokyo, there was not so many professors who could speak English. So there was very limited selection of courses that were taught in English. And it just so happened that I took this introduction to computer science class by my professor, Alex Fukunaga. And yeah, he was very, I liked the class a lot. I remember it was Common Lisp, Functional Programming 101, Straight Introduction to Recursion. Actually, it's funny. I remember he came into the class. The title of the class was Environmental Informatics. But when he saw us, he told us, I'm sorry if he's listening. He said, guys, I know it's called Environmental Informatics, but I was pretty much forced to teach this class. So there's nothing to do with the environment.

Ryohei Watanabe: But we're going to teach you Lisp.

Shunji Lin: Yeah, I'm just going to teach you Lisp for the next few weeks. And I got hooked. And then asked him if I can join his lab. And he very nicely said, OK.

Ryohei Watanabe: So do you think that if there wasn't Lisp taught in that class, like let's say there was like, I don't know, something else. I don't know. Name your other language. I don't know. A language that you don't like, let's say. That was taught. Do you think you would be doing what you're doing right now as a software engineer?

Shunji Lin: I think if I have not found that class, then maybe not. But I don't think the language is so important. I'm pretty language agnostic. So I just like the challenge of solving problems in programming language. At the time, it felt like magic. You can just type some code and some seemingly intractable problem you can solve in a few seconds. So that's cool.

Ryohei Watanabe: Yeah. And so when you graduated, I guess your options must have been either go to get a PhD, go get a job doing AI, or become an engineer. I guess with that published paper, you had some options, I assume, right? What were you considering after you graduated from that course? And what were you thinking about? That means you decided to become a software engineer out of all the things.

Shunji Lin: So I think academia was pretty interesting, but maybe I felt that it's not completely fit for me. Firstly, because I think the quality of the paper, I mean, at least when I saw my peers, they were publishing so many papers and they're really into that research lifestyle. For me, I was more interested in software engineering books, how to scale with software. I remember having debates with my professor and he told me, that's not important in research. You just write a code without tests. So I was more interested in how to structure your code and that kind of stuff. So I thought maybe engineering is better fit for me. At the same time, there was like an AI boom in, I think everywhere, but also in Tokyo. So many companies were raising funds by pitching AI solutions, like deep learning solutions. I don't know if you remember, I think it was three years back, it was a huge boom. So there are many of those interesting startups and I applied to a lot of them. So my first job was in a robotics company, trying to tackle self-driving car technology. So yeah, that was my entry into software engineering.

Ryohei Watanabe: So the very first job was, do you join thinking that you were gonna work on AI problems? or did you join knowing that you were gonna be like a software engineer, like maybe web dev stuff or something different?

Shunji Lin: So not web dev, but I thought I'd be working at the intersection of like software and AI. So of course they have researchers in it or more senior engineers in that company. And as junior engineer, I thought I'll be just implementing some of the AI solutions that they had. Not web dev, but yeah, somehow they needed a, well, do you wanna go into the web dev story?

Ryohei Watanabe: I mean, I guess we can, but I'm here to learn about you. So I mean, whatever you want.

Shunji Lin: So yeah, like I think almost every technology solution needs some kind of interface, right? So somehow, I think I was at a company and we were building this dashboard for the drivers to collect information when they're on the road and had no one to build that web interface or just a UI interface and somehow I got assigned. And I think that's where I started like into the full stack web dev space, yeah. But it was completely by accident. I thought I'd be doing more like, I don't know, systems or C++ type of work, I was more familiar.

Ryohei Watanabe: Which is what you were doing, the C++ stuff. Yeah, okay. And you've had now some experience as a software engineer and I think a lot of like web dev stuff, especially lately, what keeps you going?

Shunji Lin: I think I like working with people and I think like in software engineering, maybe the impression people get is you work alone a lot, but at least a lot of my work right now is I'm talking to customers, not directly, but I'm getting feedback from customers through chat or talking to the product managers, talking to my CEO, CTO, working with my other teammates to figure out how to implement a feature. So I like that collaborative process. I like solving problems in general. So I think that's what keeps me going, yeah.

Ryohei Watanabe: And so if you think about your own particular style as a software engineer and as somebody that is collaborating with other people, how would you describe your own style as a software engineer? Style, what do you mean by that? There is such thing as a style, but like as anybody that does anything, I feel like there is some sort of style with any activity. Do you have a particular style that you would? That's interesting question. What do you do? What do you value? I guess might be another way to rephrase it, but how do you go about it?

Shunji Lin: I think for me, at least for me and in my current team, I think we value improving the processes for communication quite a bit. So we try not to be too dogmatic about how we do things. And we always trying to evaluate, are we doing things in the best possible way, effective way? So when it comes to communication, we try to make sure that's not, like people don't waste too much time in meetings, we try to make sure everyone is unblocked from able to do their tasks and not like constantly waiting for something to happen before they can proceed. And I think as a small company, we can do that. And I think that fits my style. I really don't like waste stage or like, when it's inefficiencies, I get very, a little bit frustrated. So we try our best. Does it make sense? Or are you talking more about interpersonal, how I talk to someone?

Ryohei Watanabe: I think I'm trying to get at what you value as, like what you think a good software engineer should do. And the kind of things that you're trying to do here, or like if you could speak about the kind of software you're trying to be, software engineer, you're trying to be at amptalk, like what is the ideal, what is the goal?

Shunji Lin: Okay, okay. Okay, so maybe I guess they can look at the other videos for the background of what we do, right? And talk, so basically it's a sales enablement platform that salespeople use to improve their own sales processes, the sales pipeline, sharing information across the sales team, for example. So I think to be successful here, what I personally enjoy doing is finding out how to always improve the product, finding out what delivers the best value to our customers. Yeah, and I really enjoy working here because I think everyone is on the same page. When we are discussing features, we're always talking about, is this really the right thing to implement? Does it really improve the quality of life for our users? Yeah, and I think to succeed, how to succeed as an engineer, at least in amptalk is to have strong interest in improving the product. And hopefully you're proud of the product that we are building, yeah. That's one part of it.

Ryohei Watanabe: I think going back just a little bit, you said that you were trying to take out inefficiencies in a communication or in the kinds of things that block work to be done. Has there been stuff that you guys have found out to be inefficiencies and solved within the past year?

Shunji Lin: Sure, sure.

Ryohei Watanabe: Any specific examples of things that have been inefficiencies in the past?

Shunji Lin: Sure, so maybe inefficiencies, it seems a little bit negative, but it's more like, it's always a moving target, right? Because we are not a static company, we are always changing, we're growing. When I joined, I think I was, maybe there was only four of us or five of us in the company, and now we have maybe 20 people. So as we grow, we need to adopt our processes to adapt to this growth. So for example, something specific is that maybe we used to have a standup meeting every single day with the whole engineering team, but we realized as we're growing now, not everyone has to be roped into every discussion. We know it's more of a opt-in type of process. So if you are working on this feature, if you are a key stakeholder in this feature, you can choose to join, you should join this meeting. But if you're not, you can choose to join, otherwise you can, we use our own Mtalk platform, you know, we record our meetings, all of them. So even if you're not a key stakeholder, but you're interested in contributing, you can always look at the videos, play it at two times the speed when you're free, if you want to, right? Otherwise, so it's, so we're always trying to adapt, like, you know, eliminate waste and improve the processes, make sure everyone is happy, not frustrated with, yes.

Ryohei Watanabe: Sure, with the processes, sure. When you think about the exciting things you get to work on within the product, has there been anything in the past year that was exciting for you to work on that you got to learn something, even like after all these years of doing software engineering?

Shunji Lin: So I'm working on one currently, I can't really say so much because it's not really.

Ryohei Watanabe: Sorry, sorry, yeah, okay.

Shunji Lin: No, but yeah, definitely, maybe I can go into the specifics, but yeah, it's, I think we're a startup, so, you know, when I joined, we only had a handful of users, handful of clients, and now we have like in the thousands, I guess, so as the system scales, right, definitely the challenges also scale, and maybe initially I was only focused on, you know, making sure the front end is, works well, but recently I had to work more on like making sure of queries scale properly or what else, what else I can talk about. Yeah, our infrastructure is, like there's proper type validation, for example. Let me think of a better, it's hard to give a concrete example.

Ryohei Watanabe: because like you don't know what, you don't know if you're allowed to say because it's not released yet, right, okay, in which case?

Shunji Lin: And it's also hard because like we have features, we release like every week, so there's always like a new feature being released, so I wouldn't say like there's this one feature that is super fun, they all of them are really interesting because they all solve like the client's pain points. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Ryohei Watanabe: And I've been interviewing some of the team at amptalk today, and there was a lot of talk about DDD and clean architecture and stuff that I've heard you talk about quite a lot when we were together. I also heard a lot about focusing on process instead of I guess what's called being blameless. I heard this was your contribution to the values at amptalk, the blameless. I hear this from Ino's son today.

Shunji Lin: I see.

Ryohei Watanabe: Can you talk a little bit about what these things mean and like why they're important to you? Specifically, let's go one by one. The first one would be just like DDD as a approach to software. What drew you to DDD initially and why do you think it's good?

Shunji Lin: So DDD, domain-driven design, to just give a little bit of explanation, I guess when you search up domain-driven design, a lot of articles may focus on the technical aspects of how you structure your code, how you separate your interfaces from your business logic, your repositories, whatever. But I think when we say DDD, we are more referring to the, how to say, not the technical part, but the processes part, right? So how do we talk about our code in a way that is understandable for non-engineering stakeholders, right? So like in a system like our CEO or sales people. And the basic idea is that we have this ubiquitous language where we define all our business logic terms in a way that is, how to say, understandable for everyone. So there's no different terms for the same thing. Like if you look at a code base, at least if you look at a business logic portion of our code base, you will see that a salesperson will be able to identify like what this use case or what this module is doing because of the way we express the terminology. So I think that that part is what is most interesting for me, because in the past, maybe at bigger companies, I realized there's a lot of gaps in communication between the product manager, the designer, the engineer, just because we don't know what we are talking about exactly, right? And because our terminology is not defined properly. So when you look at the code, it looks like very, it's like business logic mixed with a lot of technical logic and it gets really messy. So we try to make sure our business logic is very clean and easy to understand for everyone. And that makes communication easier between different parties.

Ryohei Watanabe: How does DDD get implemented in practice at let's say somewhere like amptalk? You said that you want a ubiquitous language where people can communicate with each other. But I guess there is a connection between what that language describes and the actual code. Can you speak a little bit or describe a little bit how amptalk does DDD?

Shunji Lin: Sure, sure. So I think that ties back to the processes. So in DDD, they have something called event storming, which is when it's like war gaming for the stakeholders. So like a designer, maybe the CEO, an engineer will come together and maybe even the customer, right? And they may talk about a feature and they start doing like a flow chart on the whiteboard. So here, you're not allowed to talk about technical details, right? You're just making sure like how a user may interface with this feature. Everyone knows in that meeting. So, and then that's where you derive the terminology from. And then later when the engineer implements it, they implement just the business use case with these terms and then all other like technical details, like where you store the data, how you store the data, which database you use, those will be interfacing with the business logic. So they depend on the business logic instead of the business logic depending on those technical details. So we try our best to isolate the business logic. So at least in the code base, hopefully you will see a portion of the code base that look at it and say, okay, I know what's going on. I know what this use case is. What is the customer expecting when they trigger this use case, for example. Yeah, but I think it all starts from the planning process. If you don't have that kind of like capacity to plan like that, how I have that event storming discussion, then it might be very difficult to implement DDD no matter how well you implement all those repository pattern. So I think that's what we like to focus. Does it make sense?

Ryohei Watanabe: No, I think it does. I feel like DDD can be like a set of patterns that are used to implement DDD. But I guess there is this aspect of having this ubiquitous language, which is just like shared common knowledge, I guess. And the words with baggage, everyone understands what that baggage is as opposed to the opposite, which is, I guess, a lot of communication overhead and a lot of missed, I guess, communications. I guess the other thing was also a focus on process as opposed to like blame. Why is that important to you? And why do you feel it's so important that you wanted to put blameless as a part of the values here at amptalk?

Shunji Lin: Oh, it's a difficult question. I think personally, I like to focus on things that we can improve. I mean, of course, when something goes wrong, it's easy to just say like, hey, this person did this thing wrong badly, so we should put the blame on this person. But yeah, maybe it's valid. Sometimes it's valid, of course. But I think at the very minimum, we should always try to look at are there any gaps in our processes? What can we do to prevent something like this from happening again? And not only is that, I think that improves the morale for teammates to know that you're in a safe environment where you're okay to make mistakes as long as you follow the process. But then if we spend too much energy focusing on why someone did something badly, I think that just takes away our energy from doing something that can have much better long-term impact to our...

Ryohei Watanabe: Yeah, I think there's only one case in which blaming the individual is okay. It's like if there's ill will or it's malicious in some way, then I think that's definitely a problem to be solved. But definitely there's, I guess there's other part about process. How do you make sure that you guys focus on process at amptalk, or even just, I guess you personally, since you're the one speaking, but how do you make sure that you focus on process as opposed to all the other things you could think about?

Shunji Lin: Well, it's interesting, even like ill will, right? We can still put some safeguards to make sure that no one has so much power that they can destroy.

Ryohei Watanabe: It's the ill will AWS container somewhere. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Shunji Lin: Like additional checks, right? Not one person can destroy the whole system. But yeah, I think it's more of a culture thing. I think it's easy, I hope at amptalk, because everyone is on the same page. Blameless is one of our core values, right? So we try to always be critical about what we are doing. Of course we follow the processes, but when things become inefficient, or if someone feels that something can be done better, we always encourage to speak out about it, or even implement the change that they want to see. So I think it's just a culture. It's harder to do somewhere where you're not encouraged to speak out or question processes, for example, right? But here, anyone can make a change or raise their opinions.

Ryohei Watanabe: There seems to be a culture here at amptalk, and when you interview people for potential software engineers that want to come on the team, what do you usually look for within the interview process? So I kind of uphold the culture or keep the culture or maintain the culture in this way, or am I thinking about the question wrong? But what do you do, or what do you look at during the interview process?

Shunji Lin: Sure, sure. Personally, I think, because we're kind of a small company right now, and the domain is quite niche, right? Sales domain. So I would say just by the fact that people are applying, it kind of signifies some interest in our product. So maybe our product itself is a good filter for what kind of engineers we attract. Someone who is not interested in the sales domain or are not open to learning about the sales domain may not apply for this position. Yeah, but I think, of course, we are looking at how open-minded someone is, how are they willing to interact with the salespeople? We have more salespeople than engineers, for example, at Amtok, so you're gonna be interacting with salespeople often. Yeah, so see if they communicate well with them, show an interest in the product. I think it's not very difficult.

Ryohei Watanabe: And turning the tables a little bit, what do you think Amtok saw in you during the interview process?

Shunji Lin: I think actually, when I joined, it was really small, right? So there was not so much a formal process. I think even now we don't have so strict a formal process, but okay, for me, I think I just worked really well with the team, which was InnoSusan and Nihon-san and Novosan, the ML engineer. So it was easy to communicate, easy to suggest improvements, easy to work with each other. So yeah, and I think hopefully we try to bring that in our current interviews as well. So as far as I know, I think I don't conduct interviews myself personally, but I think Nihon-san, Suzuki-san. Keita-san. He will pair program with a candidate and just to see whether someone is easy to work with, can break down a problem, decompose into smaller solvable units, very basic stuff. Nothing too challenging here. As long as someone has the fundamentals and is willing to learn, I think that's more or less what we're looking for.

Ryohei Watanabe: And when you talk to, let's say your friends or other software engineers about the benefits of working at amptalk, let's say apart from salary, because every company has salary. What do you usually emphasize? Let's say to your friends, hey, here's why you should work here. If they're the kind of person that would do well at amptalk, what are the main points that you try to emphasize?

Shunji Lin: The team is really fun to work with. I think it will be fun. I'm sure you met a few of them. They're easy to communicate with. It's almost like flat company. There's no, yeah, there's no need to, there's no hierarchy, I hope. So that's my first thing I would say. Job is pretty flexible. We try our best to accommodate to each person's needs as well. So we have a lot of parents, our young parents in our company. So some of them, they have to take some time off to go to the, I don't know, nursery, or sometimes a child falls sick and they have to take like a sudden break. So yeah, we are flexible around the schedules as long as we get the work done. We don't have too many meetings for engineers, I think. Of course, sales, they have to do a lot of sales calls. So that's a different thing. Yeah. And then I think you can make a contribution. It's a pretty small company, so you can make a contribution in the way that you, you can actually effect change in the company in the way that you want to, yeah. So, you know, we might, if you join and you have some cool, how to say, practice, best practice for, I don't know, architecting the code base, for example, you are free to try it out.

Ryohei Watanabe: I guess what part of the explanation that you just gave is the most important for you, like for your personal joy or happiness?

Shunji Lin: I think the team, it was most, yeah. I mean, yeah, because you're gonna be working with them, you know, five days a week. So you can spend a lot of your time working with people. So you want to make sure that they are fun to work with and nice people, yeah. So, it's very important to me.

Ryohei Watanabe: So for eight values, right, like I do like the profiles, I do the interviews, right? I'm like, I think the main thing for like any company is like you like the people that work there, right? It's like the most simple thing, but like that is the most important. I guess on the flip side, like, are there, like is there a certain kind of person that doesn't do well at amptalk? Like, let's say somebody like wouldn't be a good culture fit, or like just wouldn't be happy here. Like we're not making value judgments about if it's bad or good or bad or, you know, like those kinds of judgments, but like is there a kind of person that like probably wouldn't be very happy here if they applied and I got in?

Shunji Lin: I think maybe that's up to the person to decide once they, I hope it's fun for most people, but of course, like realistically speaking, we are a startup, right? So there are some constraints, right? Maybe pay or maybe things can be a bit loose sometimes. We're moving so fast, right? So it's not, we may not be able to provide that kind of security that maybe a bigger company can provide. So, but I'm pretty sure if someone applies to a startup, they know that that is part of the package. I don't know, I think our tech stack is pretty standard. We AWS, TypeScript, JavaScript view. So maybe if someone like doesn't want to work in Vue, for example, then there's nothing much we can do. Right? Yeah. So, yeah, but I don't think, I think as an engineer, if you're willing to do full stack at a startup and you enjoy working with cool people, I think it's one place to work.

Ryohei Watanabe: Do you think people should have an interest in sales before they apply or can it just be something that they learn on the job? Like, I feel like, I know there's like interesting parts about every like domain, I think, but I think from what I've heard today in the interviews and stuff, like it'd be like the potential candidate should have an interest in the product, right? I think that is like a big part about interviewing and like getting hired here. Is this something that you can develop on the job or is it something that like you think you should have beforehand?

Shunji Lin: Sure, so for me, I didn't know anything about sales before. I know that it's integral for every company and there's always a sales department in every company. But I never knew what was- I've seen those org charts. I never know what's going on in sales. So I think for me, it was not so much the sales domain. It's more that we have a product that has some users that are quite satisfied with it. And I was interested to see how they're able to make, or like someone like InnoSaysan who is an expert in that domain, how he's able to create something that positively impacts the clients, the customers. And I was interested in seeing how, maybe the process itself. And then of course, eventually when I'm working on this product, then I learn all about sales and oh yeah, there's something called like Salesforce, like very popular tool, which yeah, the more you learn about it, the more you realize it's very powerful and it's used everywhere. So it's definitely interesting. I wouldn't say you need to have the sales expertise before, but if you're open to learning about the product, then that's good enough. But if you're someone that like, never wants to touch Salesforce, then might have a problem when you're working here. What else? Oh yeah, and also we use the tool, not just for sales, it's basically an archive platform. So we use it to share the sales calls within the team as well. We can even share our internal dev meetings or any tech talks within a team with that platform as well, with our platform. So yeah, I think if you're working on it, you'll definitely gain an interest, hopefully. So okay, like specific example, I can sometimes see like the clients may, say, oh, this feature is really useful, thank you. Or the client may say, oh, this feature, I wish there's some improvements. Whereas in the past, they usually be like product manager telling me that that's what the client said. But now I can like just see the video and I can see them saying that in like, and it's different, like you actually feel, how to say, bigger impact.

Ryohei Watanabe: Yeah, so you can actually see them like talking about your feature.

Shunji Lin: Yeah, yeah.

Ryohei Watanabe: Yeah.

Shunji Lin: And apart from our platform, we have direct channels to our customers as well. So yeah, I'm pretty sure if, as long as you're open-minded and you're willing to learn about sales in general, you definitely get to know a lot about sales enablement in general and about our platform.

Ryohei Watanabe: And I guess you said it was a startup, right? With a lot of changes and like, and it will continue to change. What are some of the biggest changes that you've seen since you've been at amptalk?

Shunji Lin: Oh, we used to, when I joined, we used to be in this like really shoddy, sorry, in a cellar, really shoddy, shoddy like apartment in Ebisu. It was a good location, but it was so, like everything was breaking down.

Ryohei Watanabe: Those were the good times.

Shunji Lin: A little communication overhead, right?

Ryohei Watanabe: That's what they call it.

Shunji Lin: So we moved a slightly bigger office, but still it was above like 10 year, you know, the tempura. So you can smell like into the vents at the balcony, you can smell the tempura. So, but now we have a, I think you saw the office is three times bigger. So within a span of one and a half years, we've moved like location. So, and our team, of course, we grew our team from, I think just for when I joined to now, maybe 20, not including all the part-time and administrative stuffs, yeah. Yeah, I think that would be biggest change. Yeah.

Ryohei Watanabe: Yeah, I feel like talking to Inose son today, he said that he, since the first press release, things have been going like quite well. Like there wasn't like a really like a super tough time at the beginning. Maybe to do some hiring and stuff now. What do you think has been the key to amptalk success so far? I think you guys have recently raised your series A as well. You know, what do you think is some of the keys to the success here?

Shunji Lin: Of course, the engineering team is, I think it's great. K Tassan, he's really fantastic CTO. We have a good team, of course. But I also think that, I think most of it maybe is we do the fact that we have a lot of people that are just passionate about sales, our sales team, they use the product, right? And they all, I think they all know what the experience of being in sales is. So they know like in the past, when we didn't really use all this Zoom meetings or all this web technologies to do sales, I think they had to just go down to the client's office and do sales pitches and sharing information was very tough. So yeah, they know what it's like to be a customer. So they really care about the product and they always telling the engineers or how we can improve. So I think that's definitely, we cannot discount the fact that, yeah. Yeah, I think that's not that, just lucky to be in a good team here.

Ryohei Watanabe: And like for you personally, what are your goals, I guess, at amptalk? Do you have any big picture stuff that you really wanna get done here? What you really wanna maybe learn or kind of a role that you wanna fill? Like, is there something, some goal that you have in mind that you wanna share with your friend?

Shunji Lin: Not specifically like a goal, but I think, yeah, I always liked the challenge of being in a small company and seeing, I guess, kind of cliche, but the fruits of your labor, it's very obvious compared to, when you're in a big company, sometimes you implement something and it takes forever before you actually realize what you did had any impact. Yeah, but I've never really, I mean, I worked at a couple of startups, but I had, I mean, I had a good experience of course, but I always feel like things can be better. And I think through my experience here, I realized also through meeting Inno's son, Kaita's son and the team, I realized like, yeah, like team building and just interpersonal relationships and communication, those are really, really much more important than I thought they were compared to the technical stuff. So I think for me, my current goal is just to become better at some of those skills. maybe, yeah.

Ryohei Watanabe: And you moved from, I'm just gonna go back to just like, I think Tokyo in general and I guess just life, but you have been in Tokyo for a while now. So you said, you say, how many years was it again?

Shunji Lin: 10, maybe 11, 10 years.

Ryohei Watanabe: 10, 11 years. What do you think about living in Tokyo? What keeps you here? What do you like about Tokyo?

Shunji Lin: Yeah, Tokyo, this has everything I think. I live a little bit on the outskirts of Tokyo, Machida, so yeah, it's like one hour to Shibuya. But if I go the other way, one hour I go to somewhere like Hakone, where there's all the onsens, you see the mountains, you can go to like, where's that? In Oshima, you can see the, you can go to the beach. So I think you can do, there's always something for everyone. And personally, I really liked the music scene in Tokyo. So I'm always trying to visit some random jazz bars and they're everywhere in Tokyo. Almost every station has some underground music bar where people are just playing music and you can enjoy. And I feel like just because Tokyo is such a dense city, there's almost like, if you're into some kind of subculture or into some kind of activity, you can find a community for it. So I think that's, for me, that's the main appeal of being in Tokyo, yeah.

Ryohei Watanabe: And what's the best jazz bar in Tokyo?

Shunji Lin: Oh, that's subjective. One I like really now is a bit, maybe not so accessible, it's in Komai. It's called ADD9TH. Yeah, there's a lot of, every, I think Thursdays, Wednesday, Thursdays and Saturdays, they have a jazz session. Anybody can go and play and sing. They have a lot of very passionate, slightly older, but very passionate like musicians and vocalists. It's fun.

Ryohei Watanabe: What do you usually play in terms of the instrument that you play?

Shunji Lin: I play the bass.

Ryohei Watanabe: The bass? Okay. And is there a specific kind of music you like to play?

Shunji Lin: Mostly jazz, but I listen to, yeah. Do you like jazz?

Ryohei Watanabe: You mean, not really, to be completely honest.

Shunji Lin: Actually, there's one really near your place where you have to go, yeah.

Ryohei Watanabe: Yeah, but maybe if I go with you, I'm like, you know, I might actually like it, but I don't spend that much time listening to it in my spare time. But I think it's because I don't play. I think, do you think it changes once you play an instrument and you know the intricacies of whatever it is that the person that you're listening to is doing?

Shunji Lin: Maybe, maybe. I'm sure there's like, people go to like rock festivals here in Japan too, right? Yeah, a lot of like famous, what do you call it? Fuji raw. So I think there's something for everyone, yeah. Is that sound?

Ryohei Watanabe: Yeah. Yeah, so I guess you've been now living in Tokyo for quite a long time. When you look back at like what you've learned about living in Tokyo, would you have done anything differently in terms of how you went about things?

Shunji Lin: Oh, it's a very, very big question. Yeah. Definitely. This is starting to get very philosophical.

Ryohei Watanabe: Or even just like meeting your friends or whatever.

Shunji Lin: Ah, okay, like, you know, for someone who is thinking about.

Ryohei Watanabe: Yeah, it's mostly about, yeah, thinking about.

Shunji Lin: Oh, I see.

Ryohei Watanabe: Like this is mostly about like somebody that just moved here or is thinking about moving here.

Shunji Lin: I think, language maybe, maybe one of the biggest difficulty, even for myself, I didn't learn until I came here. And I think maybe I didn't spend enough time initially learning the language. It just makes life much easier when you get some. You can, the thing is, Tokyo is so convenient that you can get by without speaking.

Ryohei Watanabe: You can definitely get by without, yeah, without Japanese.

Shunji Lin: It makes life much easier and you get access to, you know, local communities, which improves your quality of life. So maybe that's something I would, I'm still studying, but that's something I would have paid more attention to when I first came here.

Ryohei Watanabe: And I guess last two questions for you, Shinji. Do you have any advice to become a better software engineer? So you've been a software engineer for 10 years. Is there some sort of like career lessons?

Shunji Lin: I mean not 10 years. I've been here 10 years. Maybe four or five years maybe.

Ryohei Watanabe: Or five years. Do you wanna share anything that you've learned about what it means to be a better software engineer during that time?

Shunji Lin: I think just, at least for me, I don't know, other people might have different paths, but I think I'm just curious to learn, keeping an open mind. Yeah, like in web dev especially, it's not so much, we're more of a generalist, right? We have to learn whatever comes our way. The technology is always changing, right? So yeah, just keeping an open mind. And also maybe you can get overwhelmed by too much information. So yeah, what's the good advice? Maybe just be more like assured in your abilities. I mean, there's always something to learn, right? So this is very easy to fall into that trap where you feel like you're not capable because you don't know X technology, for example. But yeah, as long as you have a strong foundation in some core technologies and you're willing to explore other technologies and you're willing to learn on the job, I think you'll be fine. And then maybe, I think people are just looking for someone who can, is easy to work with, right? So apart from tech skills, you'll just be a nice to work with person and I think you'll be fine.

Ryohei Watanabe: It'll get you pretty far.

Shunji Lin: Yeah, hopefully.

Ryohei Watanabe: Yeah. That was Shunji Lin from amptalk. Shunji, thanks for coming on today.

Shunji Lin: Thank you. Thank you for it.

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In this show, Ryohei Watanabe talks with founders and engineers in Japan's startup ecosystem. We talk about their journey, their products, and their learnings.

Ryohei Watanabe