Saturday, July 23, 2011

What do I want to achieve through information technology?

A tweet told me that Twitter was seeking a Japanese software engineer at their San Franscisco Headquarters.

Software Engineer - Japanese Product Focus, Applications

It looked interesting to me, so I applied for it. Let's see what will happen.

It is actually a little premature for me to apply for any job. I am not well-prepared yet.

I need a story... I want to accomplish something in this world. However, I still haven't found it yet. I am most interested in the web among many different fields inside information technology. I am especially interested in social networks or education. I am interested in making a difference in the society. I used to write a tiny electronic bulletin board system for communication with my old friends. I was also interested in groupware software like Lotus Notes for a better communication in workplace.

Maybe I have some ideas to make the world a better place. But I don't know how to make them happen yet.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Inventing my own English

As a non-native speaker of English, I have been feeling awkward about it. My pronunciation carries a heavy Japanese accent and my listening skills are far from perfect. I am a very slow reader of English. However, when it comes to writing English, there is a silver lining. Unless you are participating a real-time chatting, you are not required to respond to something quickly when you write it. You can stop to think for a while. You can modify your sentences after drafting swiftly.

I am aware that my grammar is not perfect. I do know that I keep making small mistakes regarding choices of particles and singular/plural. Writing nouns is the most difficult part of English. The distinction between countable and uncountable nouns is just terrifying.

Choice of words is not the only problem. Even problematic is choice of phrases or syntax. There are some very English-like syntaxes. (Sorry, I can't come up with a good example) Not only words but also syntaxes are very different between Japanese (my mother tongue) and English. It is very difficult for me to compose natural sentences characteristic of English.

After a long reflection, however, I came to a conclusion that it does not really matter. The most important thing is to have people understood my ideas. As long as there exists a context, my subtle grammatical errors or unnatural syntaxes in English do not prevent people from understanding what I want to mean. What a great relief am I given if I think this way!

In a way, this is the invention of a new language, my own English. It is not exactly the same as what typical American people speak, but still understandable to them. I can express my ideas with that tool. Let's not worry too much about superficial things such as grammar and wordings. Let's focus on the thoughts that I want to convey.

My English is already good enough to express anything in the world. Let's stop worrying and start telling something more interesting. Probably, my writing skills also grow gradually. But it doesn't really matter. The most important thing is what you say, not how you say.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

You don't need a formal education to be a good programmer

Y Combinator is a startup funding founded by Paul Graham. He is a programming guru as well as a popular author. One of my friends suggested me look at "Hacker News" of their website, where job openings of many startups are listed.

Hacker News at

As I looked into it, I found some interesting features regarding the long list.

Very few of these job openings require candidates to have a formal education in information technology field. They emphasize how active their companies are and how exciting their jobs are. They list programming languages and technologies they use to perform projects. However, they don't say "you need to have a master degree or above in information technology or related disciplines" or something like that.

I don't have any formal education in the field of information technology. I started programming at thirteen. I studied economics at university. I learned everything about being a professional software engineer on the job. It didn't take long before I became a decent programmer at work.

As I observed people working at workplace, paradoxically, many of the most excellent programmers have any formal education in neither IT nor computer science. And some of the most useless programmers had degrees in computer science. I thought this mystery over and came to a conclusion. For the most talented people, probably, programming is too boring to learn in the classroom. All they need to be a good programmer is a cheap ordinary personal computer. You can learn almost everything about programming from computers themselves. If you still don't understand, then, you can also rely on the Internet (when I first started programming, I didn't have access to the Internet. I had to read technical books then. Nowadays, you don't need to read books any longer).

Therefore, it is quite a correct attitude that you don't ask candidates for a formal IT education when you try to hire good people. I think that people who put ads at Y Combinator know how software should be created. I like it. Their way of thinking resembles mine.

I am a kind of crazy person who can't adapt a normal society. My way of thinking is too little of conformist to fit an ordinary conservation organization. Bay Area seems to attract this kind of eccentric but smart people. If so, I have no choice but to go there, no matter how difficult it is.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Move beyond the comfort zone

Recently I stopped blogging in Japanese. Why? Maybe, my Japanese blog has too many readers for me to express something very personal :-). It might sound absurd, but when your blog get too much attention from the public, it will turn into a kind of "media" rather than mere personal records.

I am sick and tired with the Japanese blogsphere. Many of them are too much of inward-looking...whenever I read something in Japanese, I feel it too domestic and Japan-specific. It lacks universality which I adore.

I started programming at the age of 13. I have been a professional software engineer in the past 15 years. I am a native computer user. I am very familiar with the way digital devices work. Actually, it is so natural to me that I often forget the fact that a bunch of people still have difficulty in using computers.

Unfortunately, I could not find any computer job that is very interesting for me in Japan. The IT industry of Japan is not tech oriented. It is rather sales oriented. That is, IT companies don't pay attention to technology itself. As long as they can get enough amount of work from big corporations, they are happy with it and don't make a serious effort to improve their technical skills. This seemingly mysterious behavior has to do with the hierarchical industrial structure of Japanese IT industry. It runs deep.

When I was younger, I was more tech oriented. That's why I could not find any interesting IT company in Japan. More accurately, I was more innovation oriented. There are a plenty of tech guys who are exclusively interested in IT itself. However, most of them are not interested in innovation, which is a process where technology transforms the society. Technical people are not interested in social issues in Japan.

I am interested in both technology and the society. More precisely, I am only interested in the interface between them. I am very curious about the dynamic process where technology creates a new society. I am not so interested in subtle technicalities of information technology.

One small problem that bothers me is that I am so accustomed to be self-employed or bohemian that I am stuck in a rut. If I wish to engage in some more interesting business activities, I have to give up some part of freedom I am enjoying now. I have to sacrifice some part of my current lifestyle for a more valuable cause. Something inside me resists the change.

To judge it objectively, my current life is comfortable but somewhat boring. It is easy but doesn't help me grow. I can't keep on doing this forever. It is just not right. I must move beyond my "comfort zone" to enter another growing phase. Today we are all obliged to keep learning and growing until we die. Otherwise, we can't rationalize our long life for young people. We are not supposed to be just burden to them when we become old.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

What prevents the middle-aged from new challenges

I've been thinking of moving to and working in Silicon Valley, also known as the Bay Area in US. It's a famous mecca for IT engineers. It's been my long time dream. I used to be a very eager-to-learn and frustrating young programmer who was never satisfied with Japanese IT industry. I really wanted to go to the Bay Area. But I didn't. I can name a dozen of reasons why I didn't go there. This might be just a "sour grapes" attitude, that is, a kind of rationalization, though.

I moved to Canada in 1999. That would have been the best timing to move to the Bay Area, but I didn't. It's rare for me to regret something. Exceptionally, however, I feel a little regrettable about it. The first decade of the 21st century saw so many the Bay Area-based IT companies flourishing including Google, Apple and facebook. I missed the best decade of the Internet expansion from the Bay Area to the rest of the world.

The Bay Area has been a very exciting place for ambitious engineers and entrepreneurs. And it will be. I met a Japanese guy who had a long working experience in US. According to him, there's neither "best" nor "worst" time to move to the Bay Area. Even the macro economy is in slump, some new startups are growing rapidly there. Similarly, even when the macro economy is booming, some companies are going bankrupt there. "The real best time for you to go to the Bay Area is when you WANT to go there," he added.

I have no wife. I have no children, either. I have nothing which binds me to my home country, unlike other typical middle-aged people. I can do whatever I want to do.

Nevertheless, I still feel hesitating to go to the Bay Area. Why?

The real enemy resides in my own body. It's the memory of the past 12 years. I didn't go to the Bay Area 12 years ago in 1999. I have wandered all across the world since then. It was a great fun. I do appreciate these unique experiences. However, the idea of going to the Bay Area now makes me feel that I made a huge error in the past 12 years. Why did I not go there in 1999? Did I make a big mistake? "Are you stupid?" The inside of myself keeps blaming on me.

It's considered normal for the middle-aged people to get conservative and stop challenging something new. They usually say that it's because their body is getting old and does not function as before. Or they may say that they have a family to support and can't jeopardize the life stability. However, the real reason why they go with the status quo might be somewhat different. Probably, the real reason resides in themselves. They have too much memory to deal with. They feel compelled to rationalize what they have been doing. They might say "When I was younger, I had a dream and wanted to do that. The dream has gone, but it's OK. I don't want it any longer, and even if I did, it would be too late. What else could I do?"

Sometimes, those middle-aged people are right. Actually, their dream has gone forever. They can't do anything about it. Even if they still can do something about it, however, they also tend to give everything up. That's because they don't want to admit that they got wrong somewhere in the past.

It is always painful for you to admit your mistakes. The more serious the error is, the more painful you feel. But middle age is not old age yet. It is also true that it's too early to give up everything and to retire with the status quo. It's really difficult for me to admit my own mistakes. But I will. And I will challenge again.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

English is a language handy to address legal issues

Although I'm a slow reader, reading English sentences is fun because I find them more well-structured than those of Japanese.

Mentioning one language is more superior to another always gets political and controversial. So I'd say there's "officially" no functional superiority or inferiority between languages.

Nonetheless, experienced language learners can easily recognize that each language has its own strength and weakness depending on which matter you want to express by that. In my opinion, no other language is more excellent in terms of stating legal matters than English. For example, Japanese legal terms obviously lack sufficient vocabulary. Meanings of legal documents easily get obscure when expressed in Japanese.

Let's take a look at a few examples. The legal term "sekinin(責任)" can stand for two distinct English words, that is, liability and responsibility.

Another term "hosho" is even more confusing. Hosho can be stated in three different spellings in Japanese, which are "保証", "補償" and "保障". And these words would mean assurance, grarantee, warranty, surety, certification, compensation, indemnification, and security!

Maybe you can get by daily conversations where the context can help you, but this ambiguity could be fatal in the legal field where one wording could change the whole meaning of a document.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The reason why I left Canada

I used to live in Canada. I lived there for 4 years, from 1999 until 2003. My life there was just fantastic. I loved the liberal Canadian society. Different peoples lived in peace together. Its ethnic diversity was such a wonder for a person who grew up in one of the world's most homogeneous societies. I even obtained permanent residency and decided to live there forever.

However, I ended up leaving Canada. Why did I leave Canada even though I loved it? I should rethink of it now that I am considering moving to another English speaking country, the United States. If I don't figure out the exact reasons, I might make the same mistakes in US.

The official reason why I left Canada is its climate. Canada is simply too cold to me. I really hate cold weather. I could not stand wearing a thick gown jacket for six months a year. I longed for a warm climate. (So later I ended up living in Vietnam!)

Having a closer look, however, this is not the only reason of my departure. I was lonely in Canada... I did
n't have any Japanese male friend there. (There were very few young Japanese men, actually. It was virtually impossible for me to find a person with a similar social background in Toronto of early 2000s...) I could not find another interesting job in Toronto. I
didn't speak a perfect English and it was a source of my inferiority complex.

I wanted to make friends with Canadians who were born there. They were native English speakers and didn't seem to be interested in immigrants who were born abroad. Cultural gap was so huge that it was difficult for me to find a common topic to talk about over dinner party. Toronto people were not so friendly during the long cold winter. It made the winter even more unbearable.

Maybe, this is a typical melancholy felt by immigrants who seriously wish to assimilate into the new society. Maybe I was too short-tempered. Time might have solved the problem. However, I wanted to get it solved immediately and when I saw it would take time to do so, I just decided to leave Canada instead of sticking to it.

Asian societies are easier for me to adapt but not as exciting as English speaking countries. English speaking
societies keep stimulating my brain...make me think and grow my mind a lot. I like them. But the same time I hate them because it is difficult to adapt them...this is an ambivalent feeling.

8 years have passed since I left Canada. Time flies! I still haven't solved this paradox yet. Maybe it's time t
o give it another try. Maybe this time I can do it better. I have had variety of experiences since leaving Cana
da. Now I am more mature than before.

After all, I am still too young to give up everything.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Challenge for Working in Silicon Valley

It's been a while, my dear blog readers! I have long been away from this blog site. Why? I was just busy to update my Japanese version of blog and to tweet in Japanese. But now I feel like returning to English speaking world...

Whenever I feel this way, it is usually because I am fed up with the Japanese speaking world. Japan saw a terrible disaster this year. On March 11th of 2011, a massive earthquake hit the northeastern part of Japan. A tremendous tsunami followed it. To make the situation more miserable, a nuclear power plant exploded in Fukushima. As many as 3 reactors and 1 used fuel pool blew up. This sequence of events have changed Japan forever in a profound way. We will never be the same after 3/11.

However, the Establishment (elites in politics and economy) of Japan still behave as if nothing had happened on March 11th and nothing had changed. They are in a state of denial. They seem to pay more attention to their own interest rather than recovering and reconstructing Japan. Even before 3/11, I never like them. Now I am just sick and tired of them. I wish I wouldn't have to see and hear about them. Unfortunately, they are the leaders of Japan.

I came back from Vietnam to my mother's house in Yokohama in February 2011. I was heartbroken then. I really wanted to build my own business in this rapid growing young country. But widespread political corruption prevented my business paperwork from proceeding without bribing and it knocked me down. You might ridicule me, but I just couldn't stand helping those corrupt officials build their filthy wealth any longer. Anyway, I had to come back with a broken heart and much reduced amount in my bank account.

In the first few days back in Japan, I thought about settling down in Japan. Get a job, make money, find a girlfriend and maybe get married...well, these things did not excite me that much, but anyway I was back in my home country, what else could I do? I was standing at a loss with a diminished dream then. I was just sad. More accurately, I was really depressed. My body didn't function properly, either.

I got a small project in Japan. I worked with a team of a Japanese customer. The outcome was another disaster. The customer demanded me work in the morning and at night without a proper planning. I found it ridiculous but it was just a norm in Japan. It is how the business works here no matter how absurd it looks.

Then 3/11. Reactions of the government and business communities were disappointing enough to me. They were totally confused. They could not think properly. They could not come out with an appropriate plan. Post-3/11 consequences of Japan were so hopeless. I was forced to recognize the fact that Japan is not a kind of country that I could live with. OK, let's get out of Japan...AGAIN! (how many times have I attempted...I simply can't remember!)

You might say I am stupid. Maybe I am. 12 years ago, I went to Canada and lived there 4 years. And I came back to Japan. 3 years ago, I went to Vietnam. And I came back to Japan, again. In the both cases, I abandoned Japan when I left it. I swore to myself I would never ever come back to live in Japan. But I could not keep my promise to myself. I am embarrassed.

However, I am too young to retire. Life goes matter how many times I make mistakes! The rest of life is too long to cry over the spilt milk. So...let's move on. Let's give it a try! I am thinking of going to the United States of America...more specifically Silicon Valley. Working and living in Silicon Valley has been my dream for a long time. There is no place more innovative in terms of new industries...especially information technology. I do know it will be a difficult challenge. But it is worth challenging.