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"We're the first global team in Fukuoka": English Evolution at Money Forward

Kostas Mavrikis left the Netherlands to join Money Forward in October 2023. As the first non-Japanese speaker in the Fukuoka office, he's been taking the initiative on Money Forward's Englishnization program, as well as introducing Kotlin, Scrumban, and European-style coffee meetings to his team.

Photo of Kostas Mavrikis
Kostas Mavrikis

Though happily employed in e-commerce in the Netherlands, Kostas Mavrikis had the urge to experience Japan firsthand. “I was already into Japanese culture,” he said. “Art, nature, food … I really wanted to experience the culture in person.”

Kostas was attracted to the description of Money Forward’s work culture on TokyoDev. The Japanese company’s flat organization, Englishnization initiative, and flexible work culture, surprised Kostas.

“I hope I’m not being rude,” he explained, “but in general I had low expectations for the work culture when I decided to move to a Japanese company. So those things intrigued me for sure.”

But the final reason why I joined the company was that the technologies they offered were really interesting.

“I’m working with Kotlin programming language for server side. And some other teams use Golang, which is something I’m very interested in.”

The move to Japan did result in a slight career shift for Kostas. “My previous company was e-commerce, so similar to, but not exactly fintech. … It’s not like I always wanted to work in a fintech company, but it’s definitely an interesting place to be. There is a lot of responsibility, of course, because you’re dealing with money. There’s a lot of user focus.”

Still, until he entered the Fukuoka office in October 2023, Kostas remained uncertain. Could he trust Money Forward to fulfill its ambitious work culture policies?

After six months at Money Forward, Kostas now says: absolutely.

I was promised a lot of things, and they definitely delivered.

“There are also a lot of things that I was not as positively surprised [about],” he added, “but it’s more about Japanese regulations and laws … As a company, I was definitely positively surprised by many things.”

Things such as Money Forward’s flat organization and relaxed work culture. “There are no forced things in general, like overtime or drinks,” Kostas said. “Everything is very flexible.”

Some people work early in the morning. Some people work a bit later in the afternoon.  So it’s up to everyone to decide their hourly and daily schedules.

But the flexibility at Money Forward extends beyond scheduling. “The biggest thing I enjoy about Money Forward, as an engineer, is the freedom that we get in general, technical freedom specifically.

“I see a lot of teams are experimenting with new technologies, but my team specifically is a very experimental team with a [new] language and a migration project. So we have a lot of freedom on our plate.”

We can completely pave our own path. We can completely decide what technologies to use.

Kostas offered an example. “From what I see, most teams around me are doing Scrum. A few teams are doing Kanban, and only my team in the whole company is doing Scrumban. … It brings the structure and the rhythm of Scrum, but also the flexibility of Kanban.

“You make your own way of working. You decide if you want interactions, if you want daily meetings, if you want backlog refinements. So with my teammate, we decided to have a Scrumban with two-week iterations.”

The results of this freedom, though, are often put to the test—literally. “It’s very different from my previous company,” Kostas said.

The Fukuoka office, they take testing very seriously.

“There’s a QA team. They help us a lot with discussing the test architecture,” he explained, “including the types of testing and the product specifications.”

Money Forward also offers less technical forms of guidance for their foreign employees, including Japanese lessons and mentorship. Kostas currently participates in a special language exchange program called TERAKOYA, which pairs a Japanese-speaking employee with an international one.

“They match us together,” Kostas said. “Every week we have a 30 minute session, and the topics of conversation are very open. … We might talk about our hobbies. We might talk about traveling. We might talk about living in Japan. We might talk about anything. And a good thing about this is that we can also choose the language.”

I chose to do these [TERAKOYA] conversations in 50% Japanese, 50% English. And in this way, I’m learning a lot of useful vocabulary, useful expressions, daily expressions, not only textbook Japanese.

Kostas has, in turn, devoted considerable time and attention to the company’s Englishnization initiative, which he’s detailed in the Money Forward Developers Blog. Money Forward’s stated goal is to transition to a fully English working environment by the end of 2024.

“We’re the first global team in Fukuoka,” Kostas said. “There are a lot of international teams in other offices—most of them in Tokyo, of course. In Fukuoka, there are a few people that come from outside of Japan, but they all speak fluent Japanese.”

My team is the first [Fukuoka] team that has fully English communication: written, spoken, everything. The whole company is going through an English transition at the moment … And I’m here to accelerate that transition for the Fukuoka office.

To support this process, Kostas has imported some of his European work habits: “I call them coffee meetings. This is something that we did in my previous company all the time, so I just copied the idea.

“A ‘coffee meeting’ is what it sounds like! Personally, I don’t drink coffee. I drink tea. So it’s more of a tea meeting. We talk about random topics, sometimes about work, sometimes about life or about hobbies or whatever—it’s a nice opportunity to practice English, get more confident, learn new expressions, but also to connect.”

Kostas is also involved in organizing English events and games for the office. “They are games that make you think in English, come up with English vocabulary. For example, the first game that we had was a bingo game.”

But how does Englishnization affect their work on a more daily basis? It starts with written communication, Kostas explained. “Slack communication is easier.”

People are already writing most things in English.

“Some people use machine translation. Some people are more confident, they use their own words. I enjoy seeing personal translations. Even if there is a mistake or something, I really appreciate the effort.

“There are some struggles in spoken communication, especially face-to-face,” Kostas added. “There are a lot of people that can have deep conversations in English. But I understand there are people who are not as confident.

“For online communication, we have interpreters join our meetings … Some of the interpreters are bilingual, so things like jokes are also translated.”

English isn’t the only language Kostas supports, though. His team is currently migrating the server side of a mobile application from Ruby to Kotlin.

“There are other Kotlin developers in Fukuoka,” Kostas said, “but for the server side, I’m the first one. I’m trying to teach Kotlin to other people in Fukuoka, because it is the best language, of course.”

I asked people if they’re interested and some of them were very, very interested: ‘Yes! I want to learn Kotlin.’ So I’m holding monthly study sessions with some people in our Fukuoka office and we’re coding together.

When asked if he believes he’s having a big impact on the Fukuoka office: “I hope so. I hope I’m not stressing people out. But yes, I am here as an experiment, to bring new knowledge, new ways of thinking.

“I always feel like the larger a company is, the less freedom and autonomy individual developers can have. So it’s really interesting that Money Forward is able to still maintain this sort of environment.”

I think it still has that startup culture, that they’re constantly evolving.

This culture of continual growth leaves room for career advancement, Kostas believes. “Some people are changing their roles from engineers to more leading roles,” he said. “I don’t know if I am personally able or skilled enough to do this, but there is a possibility. … I could grow my career the way I want to here.”

Kostas said he’d certainly recommend Money Forward to other foreign developers. “The reason I’m enjoying Money Forward is the people I’m working with. They’re nice people, they have a lot of knowledge, but also they’re fun to talk to.

“There are some things that are a bit shocking about the Japanese work culture,” he added, “about the Japanese way of communication, the indirectness, those kinds of things. So it takes some persistence, it takes some effort, but I think that Money Forward made my integration as smooth as possible.”

I believe if somebody joins from another country, it’s worth it. …  If their goal is to experience something new, just do it.

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