From English Teacher to Backend Developer at WealthPark
David Robertson talks about how he taught himself programming to pivot his career from teaching to programming, and what it's like to work as a Backend Developer at WealthPark.
David first came to Japan as a university exchange student, but his stay was cut short due to the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake. After graduating though, he decided to come back, finding a job teaching English in Nagano. While he enjoyed living in Japan, he wanted to do something more as the next step in his career.
While exploring his options, a friend who was working as a programmer suggested David try it out. He said, “I’d always loved computers, but programming was nothing I’d ever tried before. I tried it, and I fell in love with it from my first hello world program.”
After studying coding on his own, he began to look for a job. By this point he was fluent in Japanese, and so he got in contact with a Japanese recruiter who introduced him to a small company that was willing to take on an inexperienced programmer like himself. Perhaps being an international applicant applying to a place only recruiting in Japanese helped him stand out, and he got the job.
If there’s an issue, everybody jumps in to solve it. There’s never any blame. We just try to work towards a goal. That’s something that I really like.
Joining the company, David found there was more to being a developer than he anticipated. He said, “It required a lot of study after I joined the company. There was a mountain of things I never realised you needed to know. It took a lot of work, but it definitely paid off.”
After a couple of years of working at that company, he was ready to try something new. He said, “I got the opportunity to do an interview with WealthPark, and I really liked the vibe that the interviewers gave off. The discussions were good. Everyone was easy to talk to.”
Joining WealthPark as a Backend Developer, he found that the friendly and open atmosphere extended to day-to-day work. He said, “We don’t have people micromanaging developers or a top down system. Everyone is on a level field. We work together to get things done. If there’s an issue, everybody jumps in to solve it. There’s never any blame. We just try to work towards a goal. That’s something that I really like.”
Since he first joined, the company has grown tremendously. He said, “When I joined, I think we had, not counting remote developers, eight people in the engineering team in our office. Now, everyones working remotely, but if they weren’t, we’d probably have around twenty, maybe a little more, and our total counting the fully remote workers is probably thirty or so. So it’s grown a lot in the past two years.”
There’s a lot of responsibility, but at the same time there’s a lot of reward, because you’re involved in all aspects of the application.
As WealthPark has grown, they moved from a monolith to a microservices architecture, and one major component of David’s job is extracting these microservices. While doing this he keeps in mind how the microservice will be used in the future, and is on the lookout for things like performance improvements. He said, “We have a pretty big say in what we do. There’s a lot of responsibility, but at the same time there’s a lot of reward, because you’re involved in all aspects of the application.”
WealthPark’s growth has also brought lots of new and interesting work. David said, “We get to work on a lot of new applications, which is pretty exciting. The kind of things we have to tackle are pretty diverse, because we’re a B2B2C company. We make products for companies, and products for those companies’ customers. There’s a lot of different things to think about.”
While developers at WealthPark often work independently, they also turn to each other to discuss ideas and approaches, something David enjoys. He said, “Everybody has worked at different kinds of companies doing different things. So maybe you can only think of A and B solutions for something, but because you have so many people from different experiences, you can get maybe C and D as well, and find something that works for what you’re trying to solve, and then you’ve learned something new. Something that you never knew existed, and it opens your horizons and gives you more options in the future”
It’s perfectly normal for people to take care of family issues, and then come back to work. You don’t have to work consecutive hours
With COVID-19, WealthPark has been working completely remotely since February 2020. That’s allowed employees to work even more flexibly. David said, “It’s perfectly normal for people to take care of family issues, and then come back to work. You don’t have to work consecutive hours. You can take care of things and do the rest of the work later. The general idea is you want to hit your required hours, but everything is very flexible.”
WealthPark’s business as a whole is focused on the Japanese market, but most of the engineers are not Japanese, and so the team uses English as their primary language. Because of this, David thinks WealthPark is a great place for people who don’t speak Japanese. He said, “We have people with all different language skills. Some people are pretty much fluent in Japanese. Some people just got here and don’t know any Japanese. Everyone is welcome regardless of their ability.”
The company culture is also very international. He said, “We don’t have an environment where if someone’s working, you have to stay. If you put in your time, you’re free to go. Compared to a traditional Japanese workplace, that’s a big difference that I see. You don’t have that obligation to stay.”