Moving To Japan From America as a Developer

Moving To Japan From America as a Developer
April 4th, 2023

Eight Values interviews Luis Torres, Software Engineer at RESTAR. We cover moving to Japan from the USA, becoming a developer, and working at a startup in Japan.


  • Why move to Japan
  • Finding a job in Japan
  • Working as a developer in Japan


Speaker: Text

Ryohei Watanabe: So I'm here with Luis Torres, a software engineer at RESTAR. Thanks for coming on Luis.

Luis Torres: Nice to be here.

Ryohei Watanabe: I will talk a little bit about where you grew up and how you got to Japan.

Luis Torres: All right, so I grew up in Washington state over in the good old USA. And I got interested in Japanese language first actually before anything else. I took a class back in my senior year of high school. It was a college course actually. So it was a whole year of like college level at a college level or whatever I guess. And from there, I just fell in love with the language. I just really liked it. And I graduated high school and I finished that course or whatever. I did a year at university. And I was studying business at the time actually. But I didn't really like what they were teaching me in business because they felt very like just very general. It didn't feel like it was anything specific. It wasn't like I could really use it anywhere. So I just decided that I wanted a break. But my parents wanted to let me take a gap year. So I was like, wow, what can I do to have a break and think about my future, my career or whatever. And I was just walking by with my own thoughts. And I found the International Center. I saw that they could study abroad. And I saw Japan on the list. And I was like, well, I do want to improve my Japanese skills. So let's try it out. I applied or whatever. I could only, I had two options. I think it was Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And I decided to go with Nagasaki. No real reason other than it was just one of the two options. And I was the only one from my school actually to go to Nagasaki. Everyone else went to Kyoto or something like that. So I was like a third option. But I missed the deadlines for those. So so yeah, I went to Nagasaki. I went there for a whole year. When I got there, the Japanese that I knew that I learned in my class previously out of the window. I didn't know how to like say anything anymore. I forgot everything I swear. But yeah, I said it for a whole year. And then I was able to learn more of the language or whatever. And then after I came back to the States, I was like, I need to go back. And so I ended up, I chose a career that I could have more flexibility and like remote work or just has it sought after even overseas. And computer science was one of the things I was on my list. I was a highest on my list. And things that I felt like, you know, I could do good in. So I went with that. And then after I went to the school, I finished my computer science degree. I had a two-year job and a small startup as well. And then I found RESTAR. And then I came here and then I went to Japan in all one package.

Ryohei Watanabe: So like that one year in Japan kind of changed your life? Yeah, yeah.

Luis Torres: That was the switch. And it's funny because I took Japanese. So I was interested in Japanese language. But I was actually torn between French and Japanese. So I could have, my life could have been completely different how'd I gone with French. But the French classes were full. Or it was something that there was a reason why I couldn't take it. And I don't remember the reason exactly, but I couldn't take the French classes. So I went with Japanese instead.

Ryohei Watanabe: Wow.

Luis Torres: Yeah.

Ryohei Watanabe: So it's incredible.

Luis Torres: So hold on one decision.

Ryohei Watanabe: And the one year in Nagasaki, like what made you want to come back to Japan again? Like you said, when you were there, you're like, okay, I got it back.

Luis Torres: So I guess the culture, the people, I think I was, I mean, I think it was a lot of different things. I know one of the biggest things is I wanted to improve my Japanese because I met a lot of Japanese friends. So being closer to them would be nice. I started getting pretty good at my Japanese. Like I wasn't like great or anything, but good enough where I can have conversations with people. I could at least talk to strangers. And when I went back to the States, I was like, my Japanese is going down. So I want to be able to like kind of get much better at it. That was one reason. Another reason was the, just like I said, the people, right, I felt really safe in Japan. Even though I was a foreigner, I felt that I didn't. I was kind of what's called. I stood out, right? So I guess I was like one thing that I wasn't really too much a fan of, but I feel like I stand out anyways in America because I'm Hispanic. So like it's like whatever, I'm going to stand out no matter where I'm at. So I was like, that's not too big of a deal. But people were really nice to me, right? I never felt discriminated against, right? I always felt safe at night. I feel like there's a lot more things to do, transportation, I love that. And the food. Yeah, there's a lot of, a lot of little things, right?

Ryohei Watanabe: So I think this time around, I guess I see your second time in Japan.

Luis Torres: Yes.

Ryohei Watanabe: Did you have any trouble or facing challenges when you moved here, in terms of housing, in terms of getting used to the culture?

Luis Torres: Not the culture because I feel like I already knew what to expect for the most part. Maybe moving into housing was a little bit difficult because it was kind of hard to find a place that I wanted. I had like a checklist of things that I wanted. But I couldn't, it wasn't really realistic because I wasn't currently living in Japan. I guess a lot of realistic people or whatever, they didn't want to but place people into an apartment if they were overseas, right? So it was a lot of those kind of challenges. So I ended up going with somewhere a little bit cheaper. We're not cheaper, but the cheaper moving fees or whatever. So I did that. And my goal is to eventually, for my next place that I'm moving to be somewhere working and hit all the checkboxes that I want. But currently it's not too bad. I want to be closer to the city for sure, but

Ryohei Watanabe: Can you talk about the job search process? You went through to find a job in Tokyo while you were living in Washington?

Luis Torres: I saw a lot, obviously I saw a lot of companies, but there was only a few that I really was interested in and RESTAR was actually on the top of the list.

Ryohei Watanabe: So in terms of how you decide which ones you actually interested in, what was the huge draw for you? Let's say RESTAR and some of the other companies on your list.

Luis Torres: So for me, it's kind of what do I want to work with? What do I want to work in the field? There was one, I forgot the name of the company, but it was something to do with English stuff. Just being able to teach English, I like that kind of stuff. Something I can get behind when I was reading up data or about RESTAR, whatever.

Ryohei Watanabe: It was really fresh.

Luis Torres: It was hard to find a lot of stuff to read about it, but one of the big points was they came out of real estate data, they gathered in one place, and then they kind of presented. And that's something I really like, is kind of accumulating data and then packaging it all up in one place and either displaying it with a nice UI or front end or just having it all accumulated together. That kind of idea. And that's what really draw me in.

Ryohei Watanabe: Nice. So it sounds like for you the most important things were like kind of like say domain, you know, like either English language or investing. And then also like I guess product or like what kind of like technology they're using or what kind of product that they're designing. Okay, for sure.

Luis Torres: Yeah, because I don't want to work in something I don't really believe in or have no interest in.

Ryohei Watanabe: So I guess knowing what you know now, like would you have done anything differently in terms of how you went about looking for the companies, how you went about interviewing at the companies, how you ended up deciding on the companies, like what I'm trying to get as a Japanese advice for people that are going into the same process.

Luis Torres: For me, it's just a fly to the companies that you are interested in, I guess, you know, just, you know, shotgun it right and you know, try to like make something out of something not really interested in either is because of like for the money or whatever it's just a good answer.

Ryohei Watanabe: Some people say it's like a numbers game. You know, like you like applied it every single one and then see which one gives you the best like salary. But that's like a way of thinking about it. You're I guess saying you should probably be a little slightly more slight. Yeah, what do you think you did right in the job search interview and like company choosing like process?

Luis Torres: I think I think the most important thing was that I just went and applied, right? I think for though I know a lot of people that that at least I think it's more junior level people I get really nervous about applying for jobs because they think, oh, I'm not good enough or I still have like a million things to learn, right? And I felt the same way too, but I was like, I felt like I've learned everything I can on my current job. And I can stay here for another like five years, right? But I don't think there's much for me to expand or learn on. So it's just I just went and applied, right? That's the one thing study the company, right? That's what I did study the company beforehand. Try to do lead code problems, I guess, which wasn't really relevant for this position, but that is really important. And I can just do research. I guess that's probably the one thing. Research.

Ryohei Watanabe: Did you have to do a bunch of lead code stuff? I know I RESTAR. Isn't so much like lead code like interviews, but the other interviews that you did in the, I guess Japanese tech market, were they mostly lead code?

Luis Torres: From the ones in my experience, yes, they had some lead code stuff. It was either lead code or like build like a take home test kind of thing, but like you like built like an application or something like that, like very like structured or stuff. And I know for some of them, I didn't do so good because I think they were looking for like much more experience. And I just wasn't able to bring that to the table.

Ryohei Watanabe: Again, a specific technology or something? Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Luis Torres: I remember when I actually had me use stealth, I think it was.

Ryohei Watanabe: I never knew.

Luis Torres: Yeah, I never used to be. I never even heard of it before that actually.

Ryohei Watanabe: Yeah, so can you talk a little bit about, if you have any advice for people looking for un-o-work in Tokyo or at RESTAR? How should they go about the interview process here?

Luis Torres: Be respectful.

Ryohei Watanabe: Be respectful. Okay.

Luis Torres: I think it's, I think it's the same, the same idea as like other interview processes, I guess. It's just the same rules apply, be respectful, kind of know who you're being interviewed by. Right? So like, be well-prepared.

Ryohei Watanabe: Okay, so I guess what do you do at RESTAR? Can you tell me a little bit about your current role and responsibilities?

Luis Torres: Okay, yeah, so I'm a web application engineer. So I do, I'm in the front end of the back end. So for the most part, I don't touch too much of the back end. I'm actually, it's funny because I'm actually working on the back end a little bit right now. But for the most part, I do a lot of UI, UX stuff, right? It's, I get tasks that is like, oh, we want to update this. We want to update that and they give it to me because of my junior level status. I haven't done anything too heavy, but I know they have plans on giving me just different kind of tasks to strengthen my skills as a developer, which is really nice. But yeah, a lot of, I do, I search for a lot of bugs fixing myself. Just, just stuff like that, right? I guess more like in those small tasks and, or small tasks.

Ryohei Watanabe: I feel like I learned how to do back end stuff at RESTAR. And I thought everyone was super supportive, and I learned a lot in my two years, like a lot and a lot. How have you found the team here at RESTAR?

Luis Torres: Very supportive. I can agree with that one, yeah. I think I was really working on my previous job. It was like every man for themselves, right? And it's kind of like, if you had a question, they'd just kind of like, look that you're like, you're dumb.

Ryohei Watanabe: Like, really?

Luis Torres: You're like, don't ask that kind of stuff. Like, it's like, but I genuinely don't know. Here, it's like, I asked a question. I mean, one of my, I think was my very first task. I solved like 90% of it, and I was stuck in this one part. And Yokota-san, actually, he, I asked him for help. I was like, hey, like, it's stuck on this. I tried to, you know, X, Y, and Z. And I was expecting to get like, you know, like chewed up or whatever. No, he's just ticking by the side. We did some, he shared a screen, kind of walk, trying to figure out what exactly I was trying to do. And he solved it in like 10 minutes. And he was like, oh, yeah, just do this and that. And then like, he sent me like, you know, like a link or something as to what he did. So I can use that in the future. And it came in handy because, yeah, like a few, like a month later, whatever, I used that exact same link to help me with a different problem. So it's like the idea that they want you to grow, right? They want to teach you the right, or they want you to, they want to give you materials so you can study and grow as a developer, right?

Ryohei Watanabe: Yeah, do you want to, like, give a shout out to some of your co-workers? Like, anybody coming to mind that has been particularly supportive or awesome?

Luis Torres: It's hard to choose just one. That's hard to do. I don't want to do this to that.

Ryohei Watanabe: That's a good answer. So apart from being supportive, let's say. Like, how would you describe RESTAR's culture or team dynamic?

Luis Torres: Very collaborative. So yeah, we work, it's like everyone has an opinion, right? And we all share it, which is I think is really nice. Again, drawing from my previous experience, it was just one opinion and that was our boss's opinion. And that's just, you just had to go with it, right? Here, it was strange when, like, I got here. And, you know, like, somebody says something, and then everyone else gives their own opinion, and it was like, wait a minute, like, we actually, we can actually, like, throw in our ideas.

Ryohei Watanabe: Oh, no, that's kind of nice.

Luis Torres: So I like that.

Ryohei Watanabe: Oh, we are team? Yeah.

Luis Torres: So that's probably my biggest, the biggest thing, right?

Ryohei Watanabe: Yeah, that's it. I always knew that those kinds of companies existed, like, it's like, hey, I'm the boss, like, you know, you do what I say, you know, kind of cultures. This is like the first time I'm here, like in real, in person, like for real. So that's interesting. Now, I think one of the things that's interesting about RESTAR is that the product is in Japanese. Yeah. And the clients are Japanese, Japanese companies. They get enterprise SaaS, but the engineers, mostly all are like native English speakers, or they're not native Japanese speakers.

Luis Torres: Right.

Ryohei Watanabe: How have you found working on a Japanese product? Like, do you have trouble with the language or how does RESTAR make sure that you guys can be productive in like a Japanese product?

Luis Torres: So for me, it's not too bad because a lot of the code base is still in English. So I guess maybe it's like when it comes to the UI and stuff can be a little bit tricky because one thing that comes with mine is finding typos. I can't find typos because it's small in Japanese. I would always wrong or not. But my best friend is Google translate. Just copy anything I don't understand. When I'm reading it, I just copy it and paste it. And I just do that a million times. And then I start to memorize some words or whatever. So I just do that. As far as when we're tasked to write something new, I usually get my whatever text I need to write down from a Japanese, a native Japanese speaker, which is Megumi-san. I just copy pretty much just word for word, whatever she sends me. And I just plug it into the UI and stuff. And because I can read a little bit of Japanese, I'm able to follow along a little bit. But even the communication with her is an English for the most part.

Ryohei Watanabe: Yeah. I think they do agree to me. I'm not being interviewed. Never mind. I'll forget about that. So can we talk a little bit? Thank you. Can we talk a little bit about, I just a little bit more about team culture. So what kind of engineers do well at RESTAR? Like I know like every culture has, well, values, right? In your point of view, who does well here?

Luis Torres: So go getters, I think if you just someone that just kind of sits around and kind of expects work to be handed to you, I don't think you're going to survive. I think for me, like what I do is I just whenever I get done with all my tasks, instead of just asking for more work, which is funny, which is what I would have done in my previous job, I just go out, I find bugs, or I find anything that looks like I can refactor, and I'll refactor it. So it's just keeping yourself busy knowing what to prioritize, I guess, the thing.

Ryohei Watanabe: But, um, so if somebody is thinking about working at RESTAR, right, and like they're a go-getter and that they're all these things, but like what kind of engineers don't do well at RESTAR?

Luis Torres: The opposite mindset.

Ryohei Watanabe: Thank you. Yes, yes, the fairly the opposite of go-getting. So the not go-getters don't do well at RESTAR.

Luis Torres: I guess, yeah, I mean, I guess people that always try to find like hack-ish solutions, right, like if you just try to like hack away at everything, like you're not going, I mean, one, you won't make it through the code reviews, but I don't know if you want to keep that in,

Ryohei Watanabe: but like, at least, no, let's talk about it.

Luis Torres: Yeah, like because like, you know, we're very, we want really like, you know, good, efficient code, right? And so if you're just someone that likes to put something that's really hacky together and just, you know, put it up with duct tape and, you know, whatever, it's just, it's not going to fly, right? You're not going to enjoy the comments that you will see on your PRs and stuff, right?

Ryohei Watanabe: I guess it's going. I don't know what else. No, I mean, it's a great answer. I think so, you talked about know-how, your solutions. And the code reviews are pretty, I guess, strict because from my recollection and your answer, do you enjoy those strict code reviews?

Luis Torres: I think so in the moment, sometimes I'm like, why? Like, I just, let me push it, but, you know, once it gets, you know, once the conversation happens, once it gets pushed, you realize that that there's a reason for it, right? And it's all because everyone wants the platform to be the best that it can be, right? And I think once you consider it, you know, once you come in from that train of thought, you realize that it's, you know, it's, it's better for the product, right? It's better for the company. So it's, it's not really a bother when you think about it like that. In terms of like

Ryohei Watanabe: books or resources that you use to improve your technical skills, like even throughout your career, even in university or whatever. Do you have any books or resources you can recommend?

Luis Torres: No, but I, it's funny, I was actually having a conversation with Nass and Johnson about books and stuff, and they actually recommended me a couple of different books. I know one that was recommended is something that's already on my list, which is Clean Code. I forget the author. I do want to read that. And then there was another one that Nass recommended, but I forgot the name with a title. But it had something to do with like the architecture of pretty much building like web applications and stuff like that. So since that was recommended to me, I guess I would recommend that to others. But personally, I haven't read too many.

Ryohei Watanabe: Would you have any advice? So this is the last question, but would you have any, like advice or any lessons that you've learned throughout your career career that you want to share?

Luis Torres: Don't take PRs personally. I think that's fine because I learned that on my previous job, actually, because I remember like the first, like my, one of my very first PRs was just, you know, my first time like throwing code out there every, I felt like every line was just being like torn apart, right? I guess that's one lesson. It's just, you know, the code that you write isn't really who you are, right? It's just, it's just something that you made. Sometimes it's just, though reason not to take it personally might be just because the person I was reviewing your code might just have a different idea of what's more correct than what you might think is more correct,

Ryohei Watanabe: right? So that underlying principle, but I think that's right. I mean, like one person can't really know everything, right? There's a lot like complexity in the code base or in any code base. So thank you for the piece of advice. This has been Luis. Thank you for coming on.


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