Sayonara Tokyo – returning to the UK

After almost six years living in Japan, I have made my way back to the UK. I am now based in London, working for one of the Big 4 Management Consulting firms as a Lead Developer.

I occasionally get emails from readers asking what it is like to be a software developer in Tokyo, some flat out asking me if I know of any jobs going. I tell them all the same thing – Tokyo is a hard place to be a non-native Japanese speaker doing software. I was very lucky to have a pretty sweet job working for a branch of a US company, but ultimately the job market there is not healthy. I very much needed a more senior role but there was nowhere to grow within the Japan R&D office – my boss was not going anywhere. Whilst foreign companies can pay pretty decently by Japan standards (expect anything from 5M for Junior to 9M JPY for a Senior development role, but this is only 50k-90k USD, not even US graduate level), Japanese companies take a very traditional view of compensation setting (think tying job ranks to age, salary to “seniority” rather than skill or value). Don’t expect to make anything like US or even UK salaries unless you are in senior management.

My primary skillset is the whole .NET stack – but .NET is not popular in Japan. The .NET community is so small in that at the time of writing this blog post I was at the top of Google for “ASP.NET MVC Tokyo”:

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If that isn’t a reason to move on, I don’t know what is.

Before the move to the UK, I flew over for a week to interview. A bit of planning beforehand lined me up with eight job interviews which resulted in five job offers, with the worst offer being 20% more than I was making in Tokyo. This blew my mind, but apparently it is normal in London for skilled developers. It is nice to be wanted. I also now have a family – my son was born this January and he deserves a successful father. Back in my homeland there are far more opportunities and I am not at a disadvantage in any way – there are no handicaps to being as successful as I can be.

This isn’t to say I don’t still love Japan. It is a lovely place to live, but a pretty crap place to work unless you are very senior or running your own business. The job market illiquidity (especially as a foreigner) means you will be paid far less, have to commute further and have less chance to grow than in the same level software development jobs overseas. Without the ability to instantly get job interviews (something you can do anywhere in the western world if you are good), you end up feeling completely trapped and at the mercy of your employer all the while knowing at the back of your mind that you could actually be having a career elsewhere. Not a good recipe for happiness. If and when I move back it will not be as a salaryman.

Relocating to the UK has been quite an adventure and I plan to blog some more about what it is like to come back after half a decade. Just the level of customer service in retail stores has made me miss my old home but I am sure the reverse culture shock will wear off in time.

To the next six years!

Updated: Japan iPad 3G is NOT “not exactly” SIM-locked – Jobs says so

There is a massive hullabaloo about Softbank’s exclusive deal with Apple for the 3G iPads here. Currently, you cannot get a 3G iPad without going through Softbank and signing up for a data plan (either 2 years or some terrible 4,000 yen per 1GB “offer”). This is in stark contrast to the fantastic deal Americans get in the US with AT&T.

Softbank appears to be announcing to the press that there will be a “SIM Lock” (SIMロック).

http://plusd.itmedia.co.jp/mobile/articles/1005/10/news030.html

ところが、5月8日にソフトバンクモバイルが公表したiPad販売に関する情報では、日本国内のソフトバンクショップやソフトバンクケータイ取扱店で販売されるiPadのWi-Fi+3G版は、ソフトバンクモバイルの3Gネットワークでしか使えないように、SIMロックがかかっているというアナウンスがあった。

“According to information released by Softbank on May 8, iPad wi-fi+3G models sold from Softbank shops will be SIM locked so that they can only connect to Softbank Mobile’s network.

I think they are lying. I don’t believe that the devices are SIM locked in any way. The only “lock” is that you must sign up to Softbank to get one, and they won’t sell you a microSIM for an international model.

Mobileinjapan.com reported a response from Steve Jobs stating that

Actually, the version of iPad sold in Japan does accept international SIMs.

I decided to email him myself and I got a reply:

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An email reply from Jobs appears to be a rite of passage for bloggers now – I have replied asking for clarity but he doesn’t appear to get into conversations unless you are really interesting (which I’m not).

Based on the reply above, are we meant to believe that they have developed a new SIM-locking system that unlocks your device when you leave Japan? Of course they haven’t, that would be stupid. If the devices are SIM-locked, then international microSIMs simply would not work in them. Therefore, they are not SIM-locked.

What I believe Jobs is referring to by “locking” is that you can only buy a 3G iPad after “locking” yourself into Softbank. Docomo and E-mobile (both with networks that would support the iPad) are now unable to sell wireless plans. Not because of any technical reason, but because they cannot sell the iPads themselves, and all 3G iPad owners will be locked into 2 year contracts.

This is why I don’t think the iPads are SIM locked – simply because they don’t have to be. Normal Japanese phones have carrier specific settings built in (access points, MMS gateways etc) with no way of changing them so switching a SIM card would never work. Softbank must be very scared of the prospect of the market opening up like Europe.

Update: Well, he replied.

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Not exactly SIM-locked? What does that mean? Maybe they HAVE developed a new SIM locking system that uses the GPS to determine the country you are in, or iTunes unlocks the device when you insert a non-Japan microSIM.

Another update: The Softbank Sucks blog appears to think that there is a software lock on Japanese iPads (possibly all iPads?) that is only active when the SIM Mobile Country Code is Japan’s. Meaning, if the SIM is a Japanese SIM, it must be a Softbank SIM. Absolutely appalling if true. The only way Docomo would be able to get around it is if they lied about the country code on their SIMs.

Fullscreen flashcard program

image I’ve put together the first version of a simple program for displaying flashcards in fullscreen, mainly as an exercise in WPF but also because its damn useful for all sorts of teaching environments. Flash cards are simple text files that anyone can edit – just load them up and hit spacebar to cycle through them. “Big Flash Cards” is now at version 0.1 🙂

It supports Unicode so is perfect for Japanese lessons, for which I designed it. Example flash card files are included – they are very easy to edit and are simple text files. This is a very early version so there will be bugs.

bigflash

Download Big Flash Cards (117kb zip)

Vista and Windows 7 users: just unzip and run BigFlashCards.exe
Windows XP users: You need at least version 3.0 of the .NET Framework. Download it here.

For those that care, this was developed in Visual Studio C# 2008 solely on a tiny little Dell Mini9 laptop.