How WOVN provides a flexible and friendly workplace
Kseniya, a backend developer, was attracted to WOVN because it was a place where she could be herself, and wouldn’t be judged by her coloured hair, piercing, or tattoos. She found that flexibility extended to how they work, and people strived to create an emotionally supportive workplace too.
After Kseniya saw her first anime, she was inspired to study Japanese. When a colleague asked her if she had ever visited the country, she said she hadn’t, and this question prompted her to think more about the possibility. She said, “Japan was kind of like a fantasy world to me. It existed in anime and not as a real country. Then I started thinking about it, and because I had already been studying Japanese for some time, I came to a language school, and hoped to find a job here.”
I was looking for a more flexible company, and WOVN is very flexible to everything. Like in my LinkedIn profile I had a picture of me with blue hair, a piercing, and tattoos, but they still hired me.
With a background in software development, she hoped to continue her career in Japan, so she was intrigued when a recruiter contacted her about a position at WOVN. Initially she was attracted to the company because of their product and the laid back atmosphere of the company. She said, “I’d heard so many bad things about Japanese companies, like you had to wear a suit, had to listen to your boss, and you can’t have tattoos, and so on, that they were very strict. I was looking for a more flexible company, and WOVN is very flexible to everything. Like in my LinkedIn profile I had a picture of me with blue hair, a piercing, and tattoos, but they still hired me.”
She joined WOVN as a backend developer, and is currently working on a project that helps with translating files such as Microsoft Word documents. This process is more challenging than just extracting and replacing a series of strings in a document. She said, “The text can be formatted, and you have to properly send it to the machine translation service and then set it back into the file. It brings a lot of problems because you have to figure out how to make the most sense of this text which is split into different segments, because the machine translation has to have more context to translate it correctly.”
Because parsing is a resource intensive task, they’ve chosen to use Go for it. Compared to some more mature languages like Ruby, she’s found that it lacks off the shelf libraries for a lot of things. She said, “I think there are libraries in Ruby to parse Microsoft Word files and then build them from scratch. So in Ruby, I imagine you have a data structure, and then tell the library to generate the file. But in Golang, we have to do all this XML generation by ourselves, and so you really have to understand how the XML is built. We even had to change the standard XML library because it was doing something wrong, and overwrite several functions, like actually parsing and creating XML, which is very low level for me.”
I’ve never worked overtime. We use the Scrum agile methodology, which is very flexible. We try to fit in as many stories in the sprint that we think we can finish, but if we will not finish them, we’ll re-estimate.
Kseniya appreciates that there’s no overtime at WOVN. She said, “I’ve never worked overtime. We use the Scrum agile methodology, which is very flexible. We try to fit in as many stories in the sprint that we think we can finish, but if we will not finish them, we’ll re-estimate. This is not seen as a bad thing, as maybe we didn’t know something when we were planning it.”
She also enjoys the company’s friendly atmosphere. She said, “Everyone is very friendly to each other and supportive here.” This can be shown through simple things like having small talk before meetings, saying “Good morning” to each other on Slack, and having code review guidelines that not only seek to address the technical aspects of reviewing the pull requests, but also seek to make them more enjoyable for everyone.
Basically, for all developers everything is in English: all the documentation, comments in code, the discussions, and all meetings.
Kseniya primarily uses English at work. She explained, “Basically, for all developers everything is in English: all the documentation, comments in code, the discussions, and all meetings. The business side of the company is mostly Japanese. Sometimes when we have them in our meetings, we have an interpreter who will interpret for us. Basically, other than meetings with business, we just talk in English.”
When she works with the two native Japanese developers on her team though, she uses Japanese in addition to English. She said, “At first, when we tried to only communicate in English, it was pretty hard for us. The Japanese developers sometimes struggle with expressing their thoughts in English. I decided we would have a meeting where we would only talk in Japanese, so that it would be easier for them to share, and I will also learn more Japanese of course. If you’re online, sometimes it is hard to suggest a call, but if we have a channel already, it’s easier to have that conversation.”
When Kseniya joined WOVN in April 2020, Japan had just declared its first state of emergency in response to COVID-19. Throughout the pandemic, she’s appreciated how the company has adapted to the changing circumstances. She said, “For example, we had compensation for travel expenses, but because nobody was going to the office any more, and was instead spending a lot of electricity at home, and buying stuff which they need to work at home, the company switched to compensating it instead.”
With working fully remotely, Kseniya found herself missing the casual interactions she’d have with other colleagues. To help address this, she started a “coffee break meeting”, where anyone can drop in and discuss non-work related stuff. Providing this sort of social connection is especially important for people who are living on their own, as they might not get any chance to casually talk with people otherwise.
We used to have a lot of events in the office, but because of the pandemic, we can’t do it in person. Instead we have been doing a lot of events in Zoom, and they have been improving every time.
The company also encourages casual communication between employees through company events. While these had some hiccups with being held remotely in the beginning, WOVN’s gotten better at organizing them. She said, “We used to have a lot of events in the office, but because of the pandemic, we can’t do it in person. Instead we have been doing a lot of events in Zoom, and they have been improving every time. Because online is completely different from in the office, when we tried the first events, it was hard to talk with 20 people in the room. Now we have some parts where everyone is in the room, and then to talk, everybody is split into smaller groups, where you can actually talk with other people. Everything is constantly improving.”
She also appreciates the little touches the company has put on their events. She said, “This week, we had a company anniversary party. The company had sent everyone anniversary t-shirts, which everyone was wearing, and packs of snacks, which members of the company had chosen. Several people recommended their favourite snacks, and have introduced them and described why they liked them. The company sent them to everyone so that they can enjoy them at home while being in the meeting.”
In WOVN, when we have to write the pronoun, people will think to use ‘their’ or ‘his/her’ and so on. Which actually I like myself, because they think about it. They don’t just say that’s not important. They really think about it.
While Japan as a whole still faces challenges with regards to gender equality in the workplace, she hasn’t found it to be a problem at WOVN. She said, “When I worked at Russian companies, most of the time, I was the only female developer there. Nobody really thought that there are women there. Russian is a pretty gendered language, and they would just use male pronouns all the time. In WOVN, when we have to write the pronoun, people will think to use ‘their’ or ‘his/her’ and so on. Which actually I like myself, because they think about it. They don’t just say that’s not important. They really think about it.”
She’s also appreciated recent discussions about gender and machine translation she’s had with colleagues. She said, “Recently, Google Translate was in the news for how they translate gendered words. Like if you write someone is a software developer, and you translate it into a gendered language, it would say that ‘he’ is a software developer. If you write someone is a teacher, it will say that ‘she’ is a teacher. So choosing pronouns matching some stereotypes. We had this discussion at work and everybody understands that it is a problem. When I was working in Russia, sexism was really a problem, but I don’t see it here at all. While Japan is considered to not be very progressive in that sense, WOVN is.”
The reason why she’d recommend working at WOVN the most is the flexibility it provides. She said, “Flexibility is a thing which a lot of Japanese companies lack the most. I have a lot of foreign friends, and mostly they are teaching English. A lot of them complain because of things like they have a piercing, and they have to take it off. It doesn’t influence their teaching skills, but they have to take it off. Or they want to colour their hair, but they can’t, because their job doesn’t allow them. In WOVN, it is totally fine, and even the COO has dyed his hair platinum blonde. Because this is a startup, flexibility is also in the way we write code and work. If somebody joins, and they know something that is beneficial for the company, they can suggest it and implement it. It is very easy to change things here.”