From Mongolia to Japan as a Software Engineer

I’d love to share my journey of almost six years of experience as a Mongolian software engineer in Tokyo. My path to securing a job in Japan was somewhat unconventional in that I applied for jobs in Japan through career fairs at my graduate school, the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IITB).

Job Hunting

I pursued a graduate degree for two years at IITB in Mumbai, India, specializing in Computer Science and Engineering (CSE). As a graduate student at IITB, the job hunting process was both straightforward and stressful. Like many universities, we had career fairs where companies such as Google, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Palantir, SAP, and many others, along with Japanese companies like NTT, Yahoo Japan, Konica Minolta, Softbank, and Mercari, actively sought out new graduates before graduation.

The application process involved several stages:

  1. Submitting resumes to interested companies.
  2. Passing an online coding test.
  3. Technical interviews with team managers, which could include multiple rounds.
  4. Final interview focused on behavioral and culture-fit assessments with the hiring manager.

The interviews were tightly scheduled and conducted in a competitive environment. However, students from the IITB Computer Science and Engineering department have a nearly 100% success rate in securing jobs, and almost all of them received and accepted offer letters within 1-2 days of completing the process.

I focused on applying to Japanese companies for several reasons: there are short, direct flights between Japan and Mongolia, both countries are similar in having four seasons, Japan has diverse food choices, and there is also a warm Mongolian community. Most importantly, Japan’s high-tech industry adopts advanced technologies, which offers great opportunities for me to apply my research effectively.

After completing rounds of interviews, I received an offer from Konica Minolta in Tokyo, Japan. I was thrilled about the opportunity to start my career in a multinational technology company. One concern was fitting in, especially knowing that English is not the primary language (although Japanese wasn’t mandatory for our company, it was more encouraged). So I began learning Japanese.

Japanese Language

I am deeply appreciative of the support my employer provided to help me get to a conversational level of Japanese after I completed my degree. They provided me with full-time, intensive study for 3 months in Ho Chi Minh city, where I attended classes from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. to study for and pass the JLPT N4 exam. Daily one-on-one conversations with my teachers prepared me for the cultural nuances awaiting me.

My company had initiated the visa process while I was studying Japanese, so after I completed my course, I needed to return to Mongolia to receive my visa and then fly straight to Japan.

Working in a Corporation

In Tokyo, the sight of professionals in suits and carrying briefcases during rush hour is a common one that you might have seen on TV. The corporate culture is characterized by well-structured divisions, large-scale projects, and busy schedules.

I was in the IoT department, where I worked on a variety of R&D projects. The great part was that my department is like a small startup within a big company. My colleagues were open-minded and proficient in English. However, fluency in Japanese was essential for broader, cross-departmental contributions, such as participating in the project’s early-on ideating processes. As most long-term projects involve many departments, I had a chance to work with sustainability, and manufacturing teams to develop a data-collecting system for the factory.

My role involved research into IoT technologies and coding across various projects. I was fortunate to contribute to an award-winning project aimed at driving the company’s digital transformation. This experience provided insights into how major corporations make global decisions to make technological progress. As our company has undergone a significant shift into digital transformation across its global branches, extending beyond Japan, I have come to recognize the pivotal role of R&D in a company’s success. The allocation of funding to develop high-impact innovative ideas is just as crucial as staying competitive in the rapidly evolving tech industry.

I gained experience through working on a variety of projects not only as an IoT engineer, but also as a backend, full stack, and frontend developer. While this breadth of experience looked amazing on my resume, I wanted to specialize in a particular platform or programming language. My interest in entrepreneurship led me to volunteer for startup projects to help a broader audience and understand their pain points.

At the beginning of the pandemic, our team adopted a remote working culture, where we were only required to go to the office once or twice a week, which helped familiarize me with remote work practices.

The working culture of the company was significantly different than what I experienced at KhanBank, one of Mongolia’s largest corporations. I noticed that my Mongolian colleagues tended to invest heavily in personal relationships. We celebrate birthdays, visit each other’s homes during Tsagaan Sar (Lunar New Year) and share hobbies outside of work. In contrast, my Japanese colleagues tended to maintain formal relationships, with less emphasis on personal interactions outside of the workplace.

I learned that if someone loves order, structured management, and the pursuit of long-term career goals, the corporate world would be a perfect place for them.

Working in a Startup

One day, I was contacted by the COO of a thriving startup company in Tokyo via LinkedIn to discuss my work experiences and plans, including potential job changes. After a couple of interviews with the team and C-level executives, I received an offer for a frontend engineer position. The projects I worked on before aligned with the skills that were needed at the new company, so it was a perfect match and personally a great place to specialize in Typescript and Vue.js.

The environment was very different compared to the corporate world. The first thing I remember was I didn’t need an employee ID to enter or exit the office, and team members seemed easygoing.

On my first day, I went to the office to receive my work laptop, greeted my colleagues, and had lunch with them. By the second day, I started working fully remotely, which continued until September 2023.

Our company developed an AI-driven solution to predict people’s recommended sizes for online purchases. Our small, dedicated team works tirelessly to assist hundreds of thousands of individuals in finding perfectly fitting clothes online. This experience provided me with insights into the importance of startup agility and the critical role of teamwork in achieving success. Even though the company was only established around 10 years ago, I learned that succeeding in the competitive Japanese startup ecosystem requires years of dedication, hard work, teamwork, and solid investment partnerships.

Working with people from more than 10 different countries daily was a life-changing experience that allowed me to learn, grow, and contribute to our shared goals. If someone thrives in diverse, open-minded, and fast-paced environments, then a startup is an ideal fit for them.

Communities for Software Engineers

As a foreigner in bustling Tokyo, I always aspire to network with like-minded people to learn, share my experiences, and help others to grow. Tokyo’s wide international network of engineering professionals is full of interesting, talented folks open to supporting each other and sharing various volunteer opportunities. For example, check out these tech meetups in Tokyo.

Additionally, Mongolian working professionals in Japan have established a community to support knowledge-sharing events and workshops. We have a Facebook group to share IT, and software engineering trends, upcoming events and discuss job-related topics. I had the incredible opportunity to speak at an event organized by Start Japan, where I shared my personal experience of building a remote team to tackle education reform and its challenges in Mongolia. It’s inspiring to connect with fellow Mongolian professionals and witness how they thrive in culturally diverse societies, each striving to do their best.

Companies like GerTech and Start Japan recruit volunteers, organize events, and conduct interviews with successful professionals. You can stay updated by following them on Linkedin or Facebook. Additionally, the Onigiris in Tokyo podcast offers insights into lifestyle, career growth, and experience living in Japan as a Mongolian.

As remote work became the norm, it was essential for me to have ways to connect with others and stay informed about the latest tech trends, and these communities provided many meaningful connections for further collaboration.

Final Thoughts

Japan is a great place to learn and experience the power of team collaboration and its impact on a national level. I’ve also been able to appreciate some of life’s simple pleasures here, like sipping matcha, admiring sakura, and embracing gatherings in the park.

Many companies here are welcoming talented professionals from abroad. Language is less of a barrier now, especially in tech positions, which opens doors to many opportunities.

Also, Japan is an amazing country for families to relocate to, as there are options for some visa types to get dependent visas for spouses and children. Settling in quiet suburbs around Tokyo allows one to both advance their career and also explore the country’s beauty.

More about the author

Photo of Azjargal Gankhuyag

Azjargal Gankhuyag

Contributor to TokyoDev

Originally from Mongolia and having lived in five countries, I deeply value diversity. While I am a software engineer by profession, I am equally passionate about creativity and empowering others. This blend inspired me to build a remote digital marketing agency, aiming to create opportunities for businesses and professionals in the digital world.

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