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Success Story: How Kumiko Haraguchi landed a position as a front-end engineer at Paidy
Considering the Japanese norm, Kumiko Haraguchi has taken a rather unusual path. Kumiko steered away from the typical Japanese “path to success” and ventured off into the unchartered territory of Canada, wanting to immerse herself in English language.
After graduating high school, Kumiko studied abroad in Vancouver for a year. Upon her return to Japan, she wanted to apply the vast knowledge and experience she gained while being abroad.
The typical educational path of a Japanese is:
1. Graduate high school with stellar grades
2. Graduate with stellar grades from a top “brand” college
3. Suit up, job-hunt and land a position at a large well-known corporate
The recognition and prestige that comes with working at a famous corporate marks the culmination of one’s hard work over the many years (in most cases, since kindergarten) in Japan’s “ganbari-ya” (hard-working) culture.
So, how did Kumiko wind up at Paidy as a front-end engineer?
Kumiko sought to keep her English language alive and decided to work at Sakura House, a guest house for foreigners. It was through this experience that she witnessed first-hand how the Sakura House website dramatically increased customer growth. Finding herself deeply inspired by the power of the web, she wanted to start coding. She then enrolled at Tokyo University of Technology at 27 years old on a full scholarship.
In this interview, we ask Kumiko about her journey as an engineer and the events that lead up to her current position as a front-end engineer at Paidy.
(read part 3 of this series ft. the voice of Nonoka Kaneko, Wahl & Case Consultant here)
–Could you tell us more about how you first got inspired to code while working at Sakura House?
Yes, working at Sakura guest house was the “kikkake” ( or “trigger”). That’s how I got interested in coding. I wasn’t sure about programming but I was sure that I wanted to do a job where I could create something with my hands, but I wasn’t an “artsy” person. Something where I could learn and study, and something that involves logical thinking would suit my career goals. I didn’t think about design work, but I thought more about the “thinking” side of programming. I tried [learning to code] at a university and I found that I was O.K. with programming. It was a good decision.
–What happened after graduation?
After I graduated, I started working at a company as a systems engineer. The company was actually outsourcing the coding so I didn’t have a chance to code. But I really wanted to code. I wanted to make software and I realized that I wouldn’t be able to do that at the company. I just left after a year and a half, and was looking for a new job. I was a team member in a UI/UX project at that company, so I decided that looking for a job in front-end would be an easier path to take. I looked for a job as a front-end developer and I found one quickly.
–How did you find out about Code Chrysalis, the advanced coding bootcamp in Tokyo and why did you decide to apply?
I met Yan [CTO & co-founder of Code Chrysalis] at a meetup. I enrolled in the bootcamp and now I am working here at Paidy. Applying was the best decision I made in my life.
I was doing this front-end job for about two years but I was interested in back-end and how the overall system worked as well. I realized my work was only a tiny part of the system, so I got interested in learning about the server-side technology as well. I purely wanted to know more about this part and Code Chrysalis teaches heavily about back-end. That was perfect for me. In those two years, I was thinking about changing my job and it was a very good time to do something new. So, I decided to apply to Code Chrysalis (read part 1 of this series ft. CTO & co-founder of Code Chrysalis, Yan Fan here).
Being comfortable with being uncomfortable
–Do you think you’ve also gained soft skills such as communication, empathy and autonomy from your experience?
The first or second day of the intensive course, we talked about “growth mindset”. Kani, [Founder & CEO of Code Chrysalis] and Yan taught us that you have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. I never heard of a phrase like that before and it just really made sense. The course was tough, especially the first half because I didn’t know much about back-end. Every day, I had to catch up. Other students had computer science degrees, so I felt like I was the most behind. I sometimes felt bad about myself but then I remembered the words, “be comfortable with being uncomfortable” and I realized that I was learning the most compared to the other students.
Being able to communicate technical terms in English was a good experience as well. You don’t really get to learn that at a normal Japanese coding bootcamp. It’s helping me a lot here. When you communicate, you have to be really clear with what’s in your head and you have to express with technical terms. Because I had the training at Code Chrysalis, it’s easier for me to talk to my teammates in English here.
Just being quiet and trying to understand others is something that, as a Japanese person, I am used to. It’s considered polite and well-mannered. But, you get asked questions all the time and I realized I wasn’t thinking deeply enough in meetings. I had to really think when speaking about what I was thinking. It was definitely not comfortable at all in the beginning. Now, if I am in a meeting, I make sure to say what I think without having the fear of what others think. I never had that mentality before.
–Typically, Japanese are seen as being hesitant about leaving Japan, what was your motive for leaving Japan and learning English?
I was always fascinated by foreign countries and cultures ever since I was little. I was interested in people, what they were thinking, what thoughts were universal, what was considered ‘good’ or ‘valued’, and things that were ‘different’. I really liked the sound of English, it was my thing. I wanted to speak it and to me, the language is beautiful. I learned basic English in Japan and the reason I was able to do that is because I just loved it. I feel the same about programming. I just love it.
Programming is a good mix of logical thinking and creativity. You need to be able to troubleshoot and when you find a problem and solve it, it feels so good and it’s fun. If you want to make good quality code, other people have to be able to understand it. There are many ways to write code and there’s no such thing as a “best answer”, however there are conditions such as time constraints and how you work with your team members.
The code is like a creature. It’s about creativity and communication. You can never be satisfied; you always want the code to be better.
–What do you treasure most about your experience at Code Chrysalis?
Team projects. We had a collaboration with Rakuten’s airmap API. It was the last team project and all the students were together. We only had a week to finish the project and we all wanted to try and experience new things, so I was working on back-end and a student that usually worked with back-end was doing front-end. The schedule was really tight and we helped each other a lot. We all were really enjoying our tasks together. The teamwork was just beautiful and I miss it.
–How was your first experience working with a recruiting firm and getting ready for a job transition?
I was impressed. I communicated everything I wanted to Nonoka (read part 3 of this series ft. Nonoka Kaneko, Wahl & Case consultant here). I wanted to work in an international environment in a strong engineering team as a front-end engineer. I also wanted to work in a small company, so I could have the opportunity to learn back-end in the future. Nonoka completely understood these conditions and what I wanted. She gave me several job descriptions and they all really matched my preferences. I felt I was able to communicate with her very well.
–Even though the role for Paidy’s front-end position was a bit more senior, the Paidy team was looking for a candidate who was really passionate. Do you have any comments about that?
Yes, Nonoka and I realized that the position was for senior engineers. Nonoka shared with me that there was an interesting homework assignment on Github. There was nothing to lose, so I went to the site and just did it and submitted it. I got the interview opportunity and never expected I would make it to the next stage. But you never know, just try and it’s all up to the company to hire you.
–What kind of advice would you give Japanese engineers who also want to work with international top talent and really develop that “growth mindset”?
Maybe their worries are that they don’t believe they have enough skill to be in a global environment. I would say go to Code Chrysalis. Taking a risk and trying something new and challenging is a huge investment for your future. Staying the same and limiting yourself is actually a huge risk in the long run–You’ll have few opportunities outside and eventually get stuck. So, if you have something you are interested in, go for it. No matter what the result will be, I bet you won’t regret the decision.
Paidy reaches Series C funding!
Paidy has recently announced a Series C funding round of US$55 million. We’re excited to see the continued growth and success of the Tokyo-based fintech startup! (read part 2 of this series “Paidy Ranks ‘Creativity’ & ‘Collaboration’ as Key Factors for Growth” here ft an interview with Paidy’s VP of Engineering)