Life in Japan and Macnica

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Hi! I’m Je, an AI Engineer from AI Research and Innovation Hub (ARIH) under Strategic Innovation Group (SIG) at Macnica. I’m from the Philippines, and I joined Macnica a little while after I graduated with my master’s degree in computer science almost three years ago. I hope this blog can be useful, especially for foreigners seeking employment here in Japan. よろしくお願いします。

■Life in Japan
I was first given an opportunity to visit Japan when I was still a student. I was lucky enough to get invited to an internship program at one of the Universities here in Japan, and I loved it. I liked the culture, food, and had so much fun with my Japanese laboratory mates. Everything’s efficient and clean; everyone’s kind and supportive. From there on, I considered working opportunities in Japan.

■Ease of living
For me, living in Japan is easy. Everything you need, someone else has most likely thought of it already. Case in point: 100-yen shops and vending machines. Another great point is Japan’s transportation system. All I can say is it’s truly top-notch. You can reach almost anywhere by just taking trains and buses.

Because of the great transportation system, it’s easy to go on short-term trips as well to rest and explore nature in Japan. The locals are often friendly and helpful, so it’s easy to get help when needed. One of my favorite trips so far is to Kamikochi in Nagano Prefecture.
One difficulty I’ve had is language since I came here with almost 0 Japanese skills. One time, I was buying ingredients for Gyudon and it took me a long time to find mirin みりん (sweet sake). Kanji is especially challenging, so I sure had a lot of mistakes buying sugar for salt, and the other way around. Well, on the bright side, I’m not going to run out of sugar and salt anytime soon. 😊

■Character development
As many people would know, Japan is a very culturally rich and naturally gifted country, so there’s no question that it’s very easy to like living here. The convenience is really a great point too!

Language is a challenge, but I sure learned a lot from it as well. Never have I thought that I could be as creative, resourceful, and persevering as I’m now today if I hadn’t decided to move here in Japan. Thankfully, I’ve learned basic Japanese enough for me to get through everyday conversation. 

■Working at Macnica
My main criteria when I did my job search was to find a company with a good culture and a team where I could grow my career as an AI engineer. I was lucky enough to find Macnica, which gave me a great opportunity and supported my transition to work in Japan. Not only that, but I also received an opportunity to get Japanese lessons sponsored by Macnica. This helped me jumpstart my language learning and meet my Japanese sensei who has become my friend as well. 😊

■At the beginning
Back in 2019, I joined a very small AI R&D team as an intern. At that time, we were only just three members and I was the only foreigner. I worked on understanding different topics in AI and AutoML tools, while developing some proof-of-concepts (POC) projects on anomaly detection, forecasting, and clustering. Thankfully, I got an employment offer after my internship program.

■Growing and diversifying
After two years, my team grew at a rate we didn’t imagine at first, and now I’m very happy that I’m working with very diverse, supportive, and friendly colleagues. 
My team is composed of members with varying backgrounds and roles; these are data scientists, IT architects, Sales, and UI/UX. I’m one of the data scientists in my team, so I mostly focus on technical work. We provide consultation, POC, and AI systemization services catering to specific customer needs. Due to the variety of tasks, we work closely within the team and as well as the customers.

You can say that we’re diverse, both in terms of the tasks that we handle and the members who handle them. As a result, there are never the same two days in our work, so every day’s work is exciting!

■As a technical leader
Each member’s tasks are different from one another. In my case, I wanted to take on a technical and leadership position. Upon expressing my interest, I was fortunate to be trusted one when I was assigned as the technical lead of our data science team.

As a technical lead, I wear different hats. Sometimes, I take the lead as the main data scientist on a project. Sometimes, I consult on other projects in terms of implementation plans and details. Among the roles I take on, one critical point encouraging and guiding my team’s overall career and technical growth. As such, I follow up on the projects’ status, research initiatives, and training in the team.

We value continuous and collective improvement in the team. As such, we regularly perform information sharing when we learn new information or techniques. In the process of doing so, we grow together with the help and support of one another.

■Team values
Apart from liking my role and the diversity of tasks and members I work with; I also like the values we uphold in the team. Among the many values we have, I would like to share my two top picks that help us work smoothly in the team:

1) being open to challenges with a positive mindset: Belonging to a data scientist team means we must manage a lot of uncertainties along the way. Sometimes, it’s inevitable that we will fail on some of our experiments. But we still consider failure as a result. We learn from it and make it a new starting point to move forward.

2) collaboration with mutual trust and respect: Working with team members with different backgrounds and skills is almost always advantageous because it gives us a wider perspective when developing a service or product. However, differences also arise. As such, it is a must that we maintain mutual trust and respect for each other’s opinions and processes while having our discourse.

■What’s next
I still have a long way to go, both in terms of my life here in Japan and my work at Macnica. I will continue my Japanese language and culture learning; and I will continue to advocate for growth in my team and the company.

Thank you for the patience for reaching the end of my blog. I hope that somehow, this has been of help / reference. Until next time!

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