Faces of Gengo: Toshi
Toshi is one of our experienced software engineers who joined the Gengo engineering team in early 2013. He has contributed greatly to the company by helping develop innovative translator-facing engineering projects. When he’s not coding or building apps, you’ll find him sipping specialty coffee in a hip downtown cafe.
Hometown: Hyogo, Japan
Languages: Japanese and English
Education: Computer Science and Systems Engineering, Okayama Prefectural University
Where have you lived before, and what were your previous roles?
After graduating from university nine years ago, I moved to Tokyo and started my career as a software engineer. My first job was working for an enterprise application integration company for three years. Here, I worked on several projects to help build enterprise applications for large companies. It was difficult to gain any user feedback from these projects as they didn’t believe in a continuous improvement system, like we do at Gengo.
Afterward, I moved to Navitime, a GPS subscription service, because I wanted to learn more about user feedback and ongoing system improvements that help make users feel satisfied.
How would you describe living and working in Tokyo?
Tokyo is a great place to experience new things and meet interesting people. As a software engineer, I like that there are so many startups here and lots of meet-ups are held most nights of the week. It’s so exciting to learn new things about technology and meet people who share the same interests. I can also join different communities to learn about programming languages and improve my skills.
How long have you worked at Gengo?
I joined the company three years ago when it was based in a small apartment in Sendagaya. It’s been a great experience so far and I’ve learned how to continuously improve systems and determine actual user needs from data analysis.
What drew you to the company?
Gengo CEO Matt Romaine got in touch with me after finding my profile and portfolio on Github. When I visited the office, most of the employees were foreigners and my first impression was that it was like a startup from San Francisco’s Bay Area but in Japan. I remember being so excited to work with the team!
I really wanted to work for a small startup and had been longing to work for an English-speaking company to challenge myself as a software engineer. I also felt that a smaller company could provide more opportunities to improve and implement new technologies. For example, it’s harder to propose a tool like ChatWork in a bigger company. At Gengo, teams are more open to trying new things and it’s easier to implement new ideas.
What do you most enjoy about your role?
I love learning about new technologies and using new tools. Our engineering team doesn’t hesitate to incorporate new tools to improve our system and increase efficiency. I truly appreciate this core value, known as kaizen (continuous improvement) in Japanese.
Working with engineers from different countries is also interesting for me. I’m glad our team can be of service to over 18,000 translators worldwide who use the systems we have built when they work on translations. I enjoy helping them with their jobs and enhancing their productivity.
What have been some of your challenges, and how have you overcome them?
When I joined the company, I didn’t speak English at all. I spoke with my team members through an interpreter and had conversations via messaging systems, but the company encouraged me to take English classes. I’ve since studied English and my communication skills are improving. My biggest challenge used to be attending meetings—I started at Gengo as a front-end engineer and it was tough discussing with designers about the user interface.
There are also other bigger yet exciting challenges in the translation industry that have great potential to improve using technologies like application programming interface (API) and translation memory. With the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, there could be greater opportunities to collaborate with other businesses and industries.
What have been some of your favorite projects you’ve worked on at Gengo, and why?
My favorite project was the translator workbench. It took nine months to build and we had a lot of challenges before launching it in November 2014, but it was a big achievement for us. We totally refactored our database and built the workbench from scratch using completely new technologies. I worked mainly for the front-end side and our internal translator API system to connect these layers.
How has Gengo changed since you started working here?
One of the major changes has been testing. After I joined the company, we started writing tests for our code of systems and implemented a cycle to run unit tests automatically and continuously when we push the code to the repository. This has since helped improve quality and efficiency.
I’m also glad we now have a QA team based in the Philippines. They make great test scenarios for web apps and API systems so we can now catch most bugs and fix them before delivering the system to customers and translators.
What do you think makes Gengo a great place to work?
Gengo is a technology-driven translation company. We develop new tools for translations, such as the workbench, translation memory, glossaries and automated validation, and will continue to improve the translation environment to help our clients and translators.
The company is also quite global. Our engineering team is not too big but we are made up of over 10 nationalities! I love discovering cultures and working with a diverse team because each one has specialized skills and expertise.
In addition, working at Gengo provides a good work-life balance and gives me time to enjoy my hobbies. I used to have a 12-hour workday, so working at Gengo is definitely much better than at a traditional Japanese company.
What do you do in your spare time?
I love drinking coffee. I usually look for great coffee shops in Tokyo and visit them on weekends. I particularly love specialty coffee. It’s interesting to learn where cafés source or grow their beans, how they roast them and brew their coffee. It’s amazing to know how the taste differs when certain processes are changed. My favorite coffee shops in Tokyo are The Coffee Hangar and Onibus Coffee.
I also love creating apps. I helped build Japan Coffee Map, which helps me to discover new cafés. I highly recommend it if you’re a coffee aficionado living in Japan.
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