An unexpected opportunity: David Rhie's Tokyo internship

Some incredible opportunities pop up in unexpected ways. This story starts with Fred, a long-time Web Development instructor, posting an article to our students about a beer-drinking, Ruby-centred weekend internship at a dev shop in Tokyo. David Rhie, formerly a Japanese translator who had just graduated, inquired to the company on a lark. What started as a casual interest in the opportunity led to a whirlwind adventure with Technomobile – including future work opportunities! We asked David to share the rest of this incredible story with us.

Q: What made you decide to contact Technomobile to see if you could join in on this internship opportunity?

David: Though I initially didn’t take the idea too seriously, I ended up wanting to see if the internship was viable, given that my circumstances aligned surprisingly well for it. I had just finished the Web Development course, I am proficient in Japanese, my girlfriend lives in Tokyo, and I was already planning to be visiting around the same time as the internship! When I asked Technomobile if they were up for accepting international participants and they were, I timed my visit to line up with the internship weekend. It was too perfect to not go for it.

How was the internship structured?

There were 5 interns - I was the only non-Japanese intern. We were each paired with a junior developer at the company and tasked with solving bugs from a test management software. They encouraged us to drink beer the whole time, but I’m a bit of a lightweight and the intensity of what we were working on required all my focus!

What were the major challenges along the way?

Even though I understand Japanese, there was still a language barrier. Collaborating with a developer in Japanese was really interesting as well as energy intensive – I’m still new to development concepts in English, so translating my thoughts while problem-solving certainly added to the difficulty of solving the challenge. Fortunately, the code was still written alpha-numerically and all of the error messages were presented in English. So the roadblocks were more about verbally communicating with my dev partner.

Development terminology had to be communicated in Katakana, which is like the Japanese way of pronouncing English. So I had to translate the English into Japanese-sounding syllables. It was an engaging process, but exhausting! The developer I was paired with was also pretty unfamiliar with the problem presented to us, which was positive in the sense that we were both content with working through things slowly.

I relied heavily on the transferable nature of what I’d learned in the course, always looking for commonalities through the fact that the code was based in Rails. The amount of time spent having to read thousands of lines of code, as opposed to sorting out problems writing one’s own, was really new to me. At Bitmaker, we learned to compose ideas through our own code. The only reference point I had was an exercise that Natalie lead, looking through the code base of Bitmaker’s student portal, Alexa.

Even though the format was completely different – the actual code – the framework was still the same. So there was a thread of understanding that I could still hold onto to decipher the content. If Natalie hadn’t given us a tour of the back-end of Alexa, I would have been a lot more overwhelmed.

Did you encounter anything that was entirely new to you?

There were definitely many things that I learned in the course that were the same, but they were also using implementations that Mina explicitly told us not to use! Primarily, they were using something called CoffeeScript. The language was totally foreign in some respects, but because it was still utilizing Rails, I still had some element of understanding.

My dev partner and I had a big monitor between us. We were able to solve a bug where JSON data was not being saved properly. I was really happy with that – my goal going in was to solve at least one thing before going home.

How did it come to be that you were offered a position at Technomobile?

At the end of the weekend, we were relaxing and having a beer with the staff. The supervisor we were with asked me if I’d ever consider working in Tokyo. It didn’t even hit me that they were actually interested in me working for them until he suggested I come in on the following Tuesday for an interview.

The interview was with the CEO and the head developer of one of their Agile teams. After discussing details about the company and my work experience, the CEO told me my experience was pretty light, as they were looking for someone with at least a year of experience. In Japan, coding bootcamps are not as popular as they are here.

In spite of that, though, he and the lead developer were impressed by my app projects, particularly my Trump Opinion Generator, which they found funny. The CEO felt like I was able to pick up the material quickly and also get along well with the team. I honestly didn’t think I would be getting the job because of the amount of experience I had, but to my surprise, I received an offer the next morning.

Did you take it?

I’m still working out logistical details, like my Visa approval, but even getting the opportunity to work in Tokyo is an amazing thing I didn’t expect to occur. The entire time was full of “pinch-me” moments that I am so glad I got to experience. We will see what ends up happening!

Best wishes to you from all of us, David!