Moving to Japan from the Philippines

Moving to Japan from the Philippines
March 23rd, 2023

Eight Values interviews Jonas Villanueva, Developer at RESTAR. We cover moving to Japan from the Philippines, the challenges of living in Japan, and working at RESTAR.


  • (00:00) - Intro
  • (03:10) - Working in the Philippines as a Developer
  • (04:39) - Why move to Japan?
  • (06:43) - Challenges in Japan
  • (07:44) - Philippines vs Japan
  • (10:22) - Making friends in Japan
  • (12:00) - Initial reaction from users
  • (12:42) - Why join a startup?
  • (19:12) - Working with Elixir
  • (21:05) - Why work at RESTAR?
  • (29:30) - Books for software engineers


Ryohei Watanabe: So I want to talk about what we're talking off camera, which is used to be a streamer. You saw this set up and you said, I've seen this before. Yeah. Can you tell me why you want to become a streamer and how it went down?

Jonas Villanueva: Okay, first of all, I didn't try to be a streamer to be mainly a streamer. Okay. It's mostly just, I want to do something else. So I tried other different hobbies actually. I think I mentioned it to you before that I did calligraphy, Japanese calligraphy as well. So many things. Yeah. I tried archery before, but bow couldn't use it anymore because it's in the Philippines. Yeah. Okay. So yeah, so I'm really, I'm just trying out new things. Like right now I'm still kind of a YouTuber, photographer. And yeah.

Ryohei Watanabe: Would you happen to have an insta that you wanted to plug? Yes.

Jonas Villanueva: Yes, please follow me on Nandemonas on Instagram. How do you spell that? N-A-N-D-E-M-O-N-A-S.

Ryohei Watanabe: Okay, and so in your attempt to become the world's most interesting man, you've done calligraphy, streaming, archery, and YouTubing, and you're also a pretty damn good engineer. we worked together for a little bit, full disclosure. but you came in like just coming in hot, like you already knew what you were doing from the very first day.

Ryohei Watanabe: Yeah. Yeah.

Jonas Villanueva: I mean, I guess it comes with experience actually. Like in my previous job, I'm already handling a lot of stuff that even moving to different jobs, I already have, like it comes naturally to me, the responsibilities.

Ryohei Watanabe: And I think you've had quite a long career now already in software engineering. I think it's like seven, eight years already.

Jonas Villanueva: Yes. I think I'm past eight now. Yeah. I think I did around four years in the Philippines before coming to Japan.

Ryohei Watanabe: Were you doing mostly web dev stuff for the entire time?

Jonas Villanueva: Yes, web development. But the first, my career started with Java actually. I used to be a certified, well, still certified.

Ryohei Watanabe: Yeah. I always wonder, does the being certified, is that a big deal? Is that like being a certified lawyer?

Jonas Villanueva: In some companies in the Philippines, yes. There's this one, I used to have this dream company before that I've heard that to get promoted, you have to get more and more Java certification because they're really a Java dev shop. So I just took it in attempt, like maybe I can apply there, but then Japan came, an opportunity in Japan, which changed my career path from a Java developer to a JavaScript developer.

Ryohei Watanabe: I see. And who's making money off these Java certificates?

Jonas Villanueva: I guess Oracle? Oracle. Definitely Oracle.

Ryohei Watanabe: Okay. So take me back to the time working in the Philippines as a software engineer. Did you enjoy your work in the Philippines?

Jonas Villanueva: Yeah, yeah. I used to work at two companies in the Philippines. They're both consulting companies, so like company with a lot of projects, whoever comes in and says, build us an app. So yeah, I've worked on different projects. I enjoyed it because I got to learn, experience other technologies. But I guess the first job. Whatever, whoever comes in and they say, Hey, build us an app. So yeah, I've worked on different projects. I enjoyed it because I get to learn experience Other, technologies. Yeah. But I guess the first job was stressful because the company's clients are mostly government and they're pretty... they change a lot of stuff and they also have a lot of restrictions. Like for instance, we had to support IE because they don't like Chrome. Okay. Because Chrome updates too fast that they don't have time to do a security check on the version. That's the reason.

Ryohei Watanabe: And then IE is, in those situations, even better because the updates are...

Jonas Villanueva: Yeah, for them, it's better because they can security check it before letting their users use it.

Ryohei Watanabe: Okay. Were the government people, your clients, impressed with your Java certification?

Jonas Villanueva: I don't think so, no.

Ryohei Watanabe: While you were working in the Philippines, at some point you decided to Move to Japan.

Jonas Villanueva: not really Japan. Well, okay. Moving back. it was my dream to just live in Japan, but when I was applying to different countries, I applied everywhere. America, Canada, Amsterdam, Singapore. And then I got, some offers from Singapore and Japan actually. so I was like choosing a path, what I, where I want to live. I wanted to live in Japan long term, why not just pick Japan, even though the Singapore opportunity has better salary and so on.

Ryohei Watanabe: And so what made you decide on Japan as opposed to Singapore? Because Singapore has low taxes, right?

Jonas Villanueva: Actually, I mean, aside from high salary, I don't know anything. Also, the Filipino community is bigger there.

Ryohei Watanabe: And so what made you decide on Japan as opposed to Singapore?

Jonas Villanueva: I mean, aside from high salary, I don't know anything. Well, also the Filipino community is bigger there.

Ryohei Watanabe: Sounds like good reasons to choose Singapore.

Jonas Villanueva: Yeah. I don't know, it's just... Japan sounds so... If you haven't been to Japan, Japan just sounds like a place where you want to go at least once in your life, right? And that's something I thought about back then.

Ryohei Watanabe: Were you already building your resume as the world's most interesting man at this point?

Jonas Villanueva: I don't know. Maybe .

Ryohei Watanabe: look, cause I didn't Yeah, you've done all of this. I'm like, it's like super interesting.

Jonas Villanueva: Yeah. I mean, I had plenty of time.

Ryohei Watanabe: Like, weren't you scared about moving to Japan like the first time?

Jonas Villanueva: I was scared, yes, because it was my first time living alone. I was living with my parents, like other Asian families are. Yeah. but yeah, it was so new to me, but luckily I have relatives here, that supported me when I was starting up here.

Ryohei Watanabe: Nice. Like, what were some of the challenges that you were facing when you moved here?

Jonas Villanueva: One of, well the biggest is language barrier. Yeah. Aside from watching anime with subtitles, I don't know any Japanese. Yeah, yeah. but that got fixed because, my previous company, the first company here in Japan provided, Japanese lessons. Nice. Yeah.

Ryohei Watanabe: And how is your Japanese now?

Jonas Villanueva: the last JLPT exam I took was N3, but I failed by two points. So I guess I'm around that level maybe even more.

Ryohei Watanabe: But can you live in Japan without any Japanese like at all?

Jonas Villanueva: If you live in Tokyo? Yes. I'd say yes every place, even though, some places doesn't really speak Japanese, but they can actually understand limited English. Which you can get by by moving your hands.

Ryohei Watanabe: And so you've been in Japan for a while now. Like how would you compare the Philippines to Japan? Like for somebody that's in the Philippines, that's like thinking of moving to Japan, like how would you describe it to that person?

Jonas Villanueva: I think Filipinos know this already, but anything's better than Philippines at this point. So yeah, the commute is very reliable. Train. Japanese trains are very reliable. They're always on time or almost always on time. When I was working in the Philippines, my commute to work was three hours, one way.

Ryohei Watanabe: One way? So six hours a day?

Jonas Villanueva: One way. Six hours a day. Yes. So I had to take a bus and then train. And it takes,

Ryohei Watanabe: That's like a full workday that you spent on the train.

Jonas Villanueva: Yes, exactly. That's why any even one hour here for most people living in Japan, one hour commute is already tough. But for me, anything less than three hours is fine. So it's great.

Ryohei Watanabe: Tokyo must be amazing.

Jonas Villanueva: Yeah, exactly.

Ryohei Watanabe: So, other than the commute, is there anything of note that you would tell, people in the Philippines.

Jonas Villanueva: Just living in Japan?

Ryohei Watanabe: Yeah if they're considering moving here.

Jonas Villanueva: It gets lonely here if you, if you don't try to go out of your way and find your own community. I think for me, I'd say I was alone here for like a year. I mean, of course you have work friends, but work friends here is very different. In the Philippines, work friends in the Philippines is like having your high school friends, like close friends. You can call them anytime. You can invite them anytime. That's like, that's easy, easy making friends if you have some kind of community. in Japan it's very different. if you want to schedule a meetup with someone, You have to schedule them way ahead, even one month ahead. Yeah. So that's, that's, difficult, especially if you want to make Japanese friends. so I think you have to go out of your way to find your own community here. Be it like from other Filipinos as well, or some activities you like. Let's say I do photography. I found a photography community here as well. I used to try, food cell community, but I'm not really sporty, so. Okay.

Ryohei Watanabe: Yeah. I think you've done all of these things to find your community here. what has worked the best, in terms of finding your friends here in Japan?

Jonas Villanueva: Worked the best, huh? The best would be like, find something you really, really, really love to do. And for me, that is photography, that I can talk to anyone when it comes to camera equipment. That's really what I enjoy. So finding people with the same interest, then that's easily the best way to find your own community here.

Ryohei Watanabe: Nice. And your community here, is it like, mostly other Filipino people or do you have, like, have you been able to make like Japanese friends? Well,

Jonas Villanueva: Actually the photographer community here that I have, it's mixed. some are Filipinos, because, the events we go to are organized Bay Filipinos, but we have models who are Japanese or, from Thailand and so on. Different basis. Nice.

Ryohei Watanabe: Yeah, and like coming to Japan, like has the food been okay for you? Like in terms of like, is it better back in the Philippines is kinda my question.

Jonas Villanueva: Um hmm. Japanese food in the Philippines is expensive. It's like premium stuff. I'm talking like Filipino food though. Yeah, I mean, I'm just saying that. It, it's hard to compare, but when it comes to Filipino food, of course it's something I grew up with. So I'd say it's better. But, living here for, what, five, almost six years now. I got used to, Japanese food.

Ryohei Watanabe: And where's the best Filipino restaurant in Tokyo?

Jonas Villanueva: There's one famous one, it's called New Nanay's, which is in Okay. It's near the Philippine Embassy actually. Okay.

Ryohei Watanabe: Okay. New. New

Jonas Villanueva: Nanay's. Yes. Nanay's is a Filipino word for mother.

Ryohei Watanabe: So new mother. New mother. Yeah. It's the stepmother guy. Yeah. Okay. Got it. And if you wouldn't mind, I'd like to talk a little bit about, you at RESTAR, right? Can you talk a little bit about why you chose RESTAR?

Jonas Villanueva: I chose RESTAR of all the companies I applied to because I wanted to try a startup or a smaller company where my impact is really important or my decision making is more important because in my previous companies, they're already established. The project is already started up by someone, all the decision making is already done, and I wanted to do more of that. That's why I think, RESTAR would be a great company.

Ryohei Watanabe: Do you feel that you have an impact at RESTAR?

Jonas Villanueva: Yes, definitely. RESTAR, I'd say is the real flattest, flat company, hierarchy-wise, that I even get to voice out my opinions to our CEO, Uno-san. Because we often go to the office together. I mean, we see each other often. Sometimes he consults with me with regards to anything front end or any like the design of the application that we have. So I'd say yes, I can feel that I'm actually contributing here. But just based on that, that I get to talk to anyone and give or receive their opinions about the project.

Ryohei Watanabe: Is there somebody that you work most closely with? Like as a software engineer at RESTAR, I know you can talk, you said it's the most flat organization. Yep. but like, can you describe like how the team is like structured and how they, how it works a little bit?

Jonas Villanueva: The engineering team? or...

Ryohei Watanabe: the whole, I guess like who do you talk to as a software engineer? Like I know, like there's Uno and then who else do you talk to?

Jonas Villanueva: I guess that would be Megumi-san, which is our product manager. And there's also of course our CTO Yokota-san because if there's anything big regarding to the project, they have to talk to them. Or if there's a feature and have to run most of the questions to our product manager.

Ryohei Watanabe: Okay. Yeah. And I guess the difficult part, I guess, is to work in a Japanese product, in English, right? Yes. As a, like, does, what does RESTAR do to help you? finish your features, like work on what you wanna work on in like a Japanese like language environment as well as while being an English speaker.

Jonas Villanueva: well, right now I guess it's just having people, I mean, asking people if the Japanese is correct, if ever, or going to write messages, or it's just that the labels are already given, so it's just easy to understand for us, English speakers. Aside from that, I mean, I guess, RESTAR actually is going to offer language lessons as well, so that would help other non-Japanese speakers learn the language.

Jonas Villanueva: So that would help other, non-Japanese speakers learn the language.

Ryohei Watanabe: Yeah. And how did you find the interview process at RESTAR?

Jonas Villanueva: I think it's a nice way, it's very casual. Yes, it's actually good that you get to talk to the whole team, not just one person reviewing your exam or whatever. And the last part, which is culture fit, you get to actually talk to the whole team, I got to talk to the sales team, even some analysts, and of course, the CEO as well.

Ryohei Watanabe: And. Who is a culture fit at RESTAR? Like how would you describe this? Like, I'm a representative person who does well here at RESTAR as a software engineer.

Jonas Villanueva: I'd say Jean. Okay. But I guess how would you describe Jean? Jean's a very intelligent developer. He really knows Elixir. You can see just by talking to him that he's very, he's had this like, a very what, strong experience with everything. That he can give opinions, even on stuff that he's not very familiar with. But the good part about is that he's really open to, opinions as well. Like if you can. if you can say that, if you think that this is better based on something, then you can easily discuss it with him, which is, I think a representative of RESTAR's culture where you can actually give, your own feedback as well and then be heard of course.

Ryohei Watanabe: nice. yeah, so talking a little bit more I guess, about Jean. what makes him the, I dunno, like quintessential, developer, not quintessential, but somebody that does well here at RESTAR. Like other than, you said that he, like, he has both strong opinions, he's intelligent and he's got the experience, like the battle scars to talk and to think about all kinds of problems.

Ryohei Watanabe: is there anything else that comes to mind?

Jonas Villanueva: I guess that would be the other, the last one would be like, he's really humble when Yeah. When it comes to something that he doesn't know, like he can just, he can have his own assumption based on like relative knowledge. Like of course software development. Once you know something, you can easily translate it to another similar thing. Like let's say frameworks or languages. Right. So even if he doesn't know what, or like not fully know what something is, he can just. say, oh, what he thinks, how it should work. And of course, if you can say that, oh, that's not how it works for this particular thing, then he can just, he, he will openly accept it.

Ryohei Watanabe: The backend is written in Elixir. Right. And I don't think you had any experience before you came to RESTAR with Elixir.

Jonas Villanueva: No.

Ryohei Watanabe: How was your, experience learning Elixir and becoming productive because my image is of view is you are productive from like day one. Yeah. Yeah. I tried to, was it easy to learn? how did you find it?

Jonas Villanueva: Elixir is a fun language. I really like it's feature, which is pattern matching. Which apparently is already present in other languages. Actually, yeah. one of my, I guess deciding point on. Picking El RESTAR, even though I don't know the language that they're using, which is Elixir, that one of my close friends advised that I should learn one crazy language. And that is elixir for him. That's why I said, okay, I'll try this. Yeah. But yeah, learning Elixir is very fun and it's, I think it's, it's easy. It's easy to learn actually. Yeah. It's more of learning some context. That's only the Elixir community knows that. The Java, that community I had Or JavaScript community I had, has a different opinions on.

Ryohei Watanabe: Yeah. How, how would you compare the, like, let's say the spring like framework and I guess Phoenix was what you guys use? Yeah. in terms of like working within it, like just in terms of developer happiness, is there any difference?

Jonas Villanueva: Developer Hap No, I don't think there isn't both Spring, especially spring framework, which I actually used before, is, does a lot of magic That can be compared to what Phoenix Phoenix's Magic does. So I'd say it's the same. You just have to know. What needs to be, like known. Okay.

Ryohei Watanabe: Yeah. And like apart from salary at RESTAR, like what does RESTAR offer, in terms of what you can learn about, the culture you can be a part of? like what are the benefits of working at RESTAR apart from salary

Jonas Villanueva: benefits? Well, there's one benefit that I'm the only one benefiting from, which is. The office location. Okay. I, I live just two stations away. Yeah. And which is, I, I think I'm the closest employee here right now. but other than that, I don't think they, they, they would list it in like job boards, but I find it great. I find it the benefit that every inside, everyone is young and also an expert on each of their domain. okay. The first part's being young, so. I used to work at a company where everyone was basically late forties. it's hard to connect with them because of course I was in twenties and in their forties. It's hard to, yeah. It's, it's, it's hard to befriend them. It would be weird if you hang out with them and then get drunk, right? so I get to connect with more people here because they're almost, close to my age. The next part, like the experts on their domain. so aside from the engineering team being good at their, like what they do? For example, the analyst team or like sales team is actually former employees of our, our former, like their job is the customer's jobs. I. Our current customer's jobs is like their previous jobs.

Ryohei Watanabe: Oh, so they used to work Yes. At like those kinds of companies? Yes. Yes. Doing that role. Yes. And now they're doing

Jonas Villanueva: sales for that? Yes. Okay. So they know how the, customer works, which, means that you can ask for their opinions and it'll be mostly correct. Because, in my previous. organization. I mean, in the Philippines, we have business analysts, but that means that they're not really an expert on the business of the customer. They just know by asking. But you don't know if actually that's what they want. Right. And having this, the main experts be inside the company that you can actually just ask For opinions is actually a great person because you can make even. Better, software. I see. Just by, knowing that,

Ryohei Watanabe: do, do you think that, it's necessary for the software engineers at RESTAR to have some domain knowledge of real estate to work Well, I think it sounds like there's, a support system as well, but I mean, is it necessary to have domain knowledge

Jonas Villanueva: at all, or like, I wouldn't say necessary. It would help, of course. if you're trying to create something big, something new, But I don't think it would be, a necessity for, for you to join RESTAR. Yeah.

Ryohei Watanabe: What would be a necessity, like if you were gonna advise somebody, that was thinking about joining RESTAR, what would you say is like, Hey, you should probably be, this kind of person, or you, your goals should maybe include this like, What would those things be?

Jonas Villanueva: I guess as a kind of person you have to be open-minded, especially for, those with more experience. Of course, you, you'll be opinionated because of your experience, but usually those are fit to your, previous. Work or like your current work That might not be applied or can't be applied to, like other companies, not just RESTAR. So you need to be, like open-minded. Yeah.

Ryohei Watanabe: Yeah. Would there was, would there be anything else?

Jonas Villanueva: other than being open-minded, I guess you really have to see, I mean, how do I say this for me? I saw the value in the product. I really believe that this can be something big and I wanted to be a part of that. So yeah, it, I think you need to find the application like remedies that we sell to be something you're interested in. Because if you're just wanting, if you just want to find the next job, then probably it's going to be hard to, to actually enjoy working at RESTAR.

Ryohei Watanabe: Yeah, I totally agree as well. Do you have any advice for somebody like in particular that's trying to get past the interview stage, at RESTAR? would, would you have any advice for them?

Jonas Villanueva: I would say always review your exam. Exam answers. the technical interview at RESTAR. It's basically going over your test answers. And if you didn't review it, if it ask you something and then you, you, the first response would be, let me check my answer again. That doesn't seem like you're prepared enough or you didn't know your answer enough for you to just answer right off the bat. So I'd say before going to interviews, be sure that you've reviewed what you answered. Because it came from you in the first place, right?

Ryohei Watanabe: What do you personally look for in the interview? Like how do you evaluate candidates? Like what do you look for?

Jonas Villanueva: Like, I know each person has their own thing, but, during interviews I leave the technical aspect of it, with the other interviewers like Jean or Adam. But for me, I personally look for, things like how they answer it, how they think. And whether I'd want to work with this person. Yeah. So yeah, if they answer too defensively or aggressively, that doesn't sound like someone I would want to have a discussion with. Yeah.

Ryohei Watanabe: Yeah. So I think you answered this question as well, but Yeah. What makes you wanna work with somebody, of course, like the, the passive aggressive answers are, you know, something I don't really need in my life. But, is there anything else, that you would say, Hey, I wanna work with this person.

Jonas Villanueva: It's, it's hard. it's just like, I guess intuition That I've worked with a lot of people that I can already read them based on how we, I talk to them. So it's not really, I guess a good factor, but I do factor it in when deciding whether this person is good or not. So, yeah, if, if you're, if someone is giving up like murders vibe, that doesn't sound good. Yeah. Yeah.

Ryohei Watanabe: And if somebody is like considering applying to RESTAR, is there any advice you would have for them? Like what would you say about RESTAR that says, Hey, like, any advice for them?

Jonas Villanueva: hold on. Could you, could you repeat the question? Sorry.

Ryohei Watanabe: Sure. So if somebody has two offers, one from RESTAR and another from another startup, well, would you like, do you have any advice for the, the specific person?

Ryohei Watanabe: like if, if your friend was like, Hey, should I work at RESTAR? what would you say?

Jonas Villanueva: I'd say, yes, they should pick, RESTAR mostly because our team is very collaborative. you can discuss any. Any aspect of your work with anyone. And then they, they will most definitely have some, something to say about it, and it'll be an open discussion that if you have a better one, and of course you can raise it and then find to come to a conclusion that, that, that works best. So, Yeah, with the co comes with it, the collaborative aspect of it comes like the quality of code that we write. It's really, we try to achieve the highest code quality. that's why we try to be more, very open to opinions with everyone. So having like, if you want the collaborative team, then I suggest you pick RESTAR.

Ryohei Watanabe: Nice. and just before, we end, Can you recommend any books, for software engineers about getting either their technical skills up or thinking about their career in tech or in software engineering?

Jonas Villanueva: I can't recommend any technical books, but I did enjoy a book called Phoenix Project. Yeah, it's not really about like technical skills, I guess. Soft skills. Like people skills and how you like, so basically the Phoenix project shows you what not to do in teams. So, Okay. So I think I got a lot of lessons from there that, like what not to do, like, for instance, don't rely on just one person And document every decision done by any pe, any person, so that even if they take a vacation leave, or even if they quit, You can still have some documentation on what to do here, what the decision was for doing this thing. And so on. Yeah. That does sound like a really good idea. Yeah.

Ryohei Watanabe: Yeah. Do you have anything from your own personal experience to add to that, what not to do in teams? It sounds like a funny topic to discuss.

Jonas Villanueva: Yeah.

Ryohei Watanabe: What not to do in teams. So you said don't rely on one person. Yeah. document stuff. so, you know, if they go away on vacation or you know, they quit, The machine still keeps going on. Yeah. Do you have anything from your personal experience, to add to that something you do, you've done or that you've seen as well? It's totally true. It's true

Jonas Villanueva: what not to do in teams, what not to do in teams. Don't, don't update production code, don't, don't configure production environment directly. A lot of things can go wrong. Maybe you missed the space and now the production server is not running. So yeah, don't never touch production directly.

Ryohei Watanabe: Who should touch production directly?

Jonas Villanueva: once you've, well, you can, but I mean, you shouldn't directly just make sure that you've tested it before. Oh, okay. As in like, yes, sure. Don't change the file that controls everything. Yeah. If you have a test, you have a staging AWS setup, do, if you're adding some notification stuff there, do it on staging first before doing it in production. Yeah. And try to think of some edge cases, of course. Yeah. Point is don't try to, modify production directly.

Ryohei Watanabe: That's sounds like wonderful advice. Yeah. so thank you Jonas. Thank you. his Instagram is @Nandemonas. You can follow him. Jonas, thanks for doing this. Yep. And thank you.

Jonas Villanueva: Yeah, thank you.


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