Winning a Coding Contest Got Me a Free Trip to Japan

Photo of Dmitrii Novikov

Dmitrii Novikov

Contributor to TokyoDev

I’m a 23 year old software engineer with four years of experience, and have been working in Poland for the last two years. Half a year ago I visited Japan where I really fell in love with the people, culture, and food; it felt like a different planet. After I returned to Poland, I thought it would be nice to try to relocate to Japan, just to try it out and learn the language.

I started to look into how I can find a job that offered relocation and didn’t require Japanese language ability, searching through LinkedIn, TokyoDev, and many similar sites. I applied to pretty much every company I thought would be a nice fit, but no one replied to me. That might be because I do not hold a bachelor’s degree, and recruiters often ignore resumes from abroad if they don’t have a bachelor or better degree because it’s not obvious if I would be able to obtain a work visa.

So I planned to enroll in a Polish university to get my bachelor’s degree. During that time, I would study Japanese, so I would be ready to relocate. I figured it would take me three or four years.

But then one of my friends sent me a link to the Polish-Japanese Tech Job Fair & Forum held in Krakow. It was a forum where Japanese companies like Fujitsu, Yokogawa, and JTP Co would present what they are doing, looking for freshly graduated engineers who would be interested in working for them, potentially even relocating to Japan (some companies had offices in Europe, so both options were available).

At the forum they were going to hold a coding contest, with the 1st place prize being free flight tickets to Japan. I thought it might be a very interesting opportunity so I jumped on the train and went to Krakow. The forum was interesting, and I was able to talk with every company representative. Some were looking just for engineers, while others were looking just for freshly graduated students because they couldn’t offer a high salary.

This forum happens once a year and is held in a few countries across Europe. This time it was held in Poland, Romania, and Bulgaria, with the same companies attending. In each country, they held this coding contest, so three people won a free ticket to Tokyo. Since the contest was held at the end of the event, many company representatives were interested in who was going to win it.,

The contest itself was organized by Challenge Rocket, a platform similar to leetcode, but focused on hiring engineers for companies. It was a medium difficulty algorithms and data structures problem with a 10 minute time limit. I won it by coming up with a solution that passed nine of the ten test cases faster than the other participants. The organizers called me on stage and congratulated me. After that, company representatives started to approach me and exchange contacts. The companies which I liked agreed that I’d schedule an on-site interview or meeting with them while I was in Tokyo, so I could see if there was any open position for me.

Fast forward to two months later when I arrived in Tokyo, I already had six appointments scheduled with different companies and METI. I really expected that every company would be interested in hiring me or at least discussing any work opportunities, but after attending the meetings, they were mostly interested in just presenting their company, telling what they do and wishing me a pleasant stay. I wasn’t talking with technical people, nor HR or recruitment, just managers. I only had 1 proper interview (behavioral and technical on separate days) out of all six appointments I had.

The company I interviewed with was not very international. I passed both rounds of interviews and we started to discuss the salary, when I will be able to start work, my visa situation, and things like that. But their base salary, even for middle/senior positions, was really low – around 3.5 million yen. This was really surprising to me, and I personally was not ready to take such a big pay cut to move to another country.

With it being my second visit in the last seven months, the burden of traveling between Europe and Japan also weighed on me. I started to think that even though I liked Japan, it wasn’t my dream country. That meant the downsides like it being very inconvenient to travel anywhere else, and all my friends are living in the EU timezone, made it not worth relocating Maybe for a year or two on a high paying contract I’d do it, but I think that’s only possible if you are a very qualified engineer or manage to get hired by an international company.

Every other appointment I had, managers just asked me questions like how do I like Japan, what I’m doing on my job, and taking pictures of me. I guess just to finalize the whole forum thing, and show that they met me and talked with me.

To wrap things up - Japan is a good country if you are willing to sacrifice your flexibility in frequently traveling internationally because it gets very pricey, long, and inconvenient. If that’s not a problem for you, I think Japan can offer a lot in exchange, especially if you are able to land a job in an international company. I plan to visit Japan occasionally, but my goal of finding a job and relocating there is no longer relevant.

For people who are living in Europe, I think forums like this are a really great opportunity to at least see what companies can offer, and they are really open to talk with anyone who attended since it’s the main reason why they are participating. From what I know, due to limited budget, next year they do not plan to hold the forum. But the year after I think they will hold it again. It’s usually held during the autumn season, so follow METI’s LinkedIn page, and some other companies which are organizing the whole thing so you won’t miss it.

If you do win the coding contest, chances are really high that you’ll get at least one company interested in you and helping you to relocate to Japan.

Overall, it was a great experience. Even though I didn’t end up relocating because of it, it did help me understand that perhaps the country wasn’t for me, and ended up saving a great amount of time compared to my original plan of completing a degree and studying Japanese for several years.

More about the author

Photo of Dmitrii Novikov

Dmitrii Novikov

Contributor to TokyoDev

Dmitrii is a software engineer, originally from Russia, with a focus on the front-end. He likes solving algorithm problems (leetcode and similar), playing volleyball, and eating good food. In his free time, he visits friends across Europe, many of whom he met while playing online games before he started to work as a software engineer.

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