Code Chrysalis made me love what I do again, which is something that I really dreaded when I was at my previous companies.
Bilingual consultant Melanie Taylor sat down with Bill Feng, a graduate of Code Chrysalis’ first cohort, to ask him about his impressions of the inaugural program and to see what he’s up to now. This is a follow-up to when we last checked on him while he was a student
Editors Note: As of July 2019, Bill Feng now works as a software engineer at Google! Take a look at his thoughts on Code Chrysalis at our site.
About RGA & First Day on the Job
Melanie: Tell me about what happened after Code Chrysalis.
Bill: After the course, I started applying to different companies for full stack positions, and was fortunate enough to find RGA, an agency. They were looking for developers that can do full stack, really quick prototyping, modern software development, and knew web development technologies.
For me that sounded really exciting; [it uses] what I learned at Code Chrysalis and also, it’s up-to-date and involves a lot of new projects. They switch between projects really quickly, because they’re an agency.
I thought I’d be able to learn a lot working here.
I got to present them with some of the projects that I’d worked on during Code Chrysalis and they really liked it. So, I got hired here, and now I’m in my second week working at RGA.
Melanie: Oh, wow. So, that’s a really new transition. What was your first day like?
Bill: I got assigned to a project on my first day at R/GA. Arrived at 9am, spent an hour setting up my computer and another in a quick introduction meeting.
After lunch, I was already working on my first task: creating a full-stack web application for one of our clients. I immediately put into use all the things I learned at Code Chrysalis: react-redux for frontend, Node and Express for backend, and Heroku for continuous deployment. The presentation for that very project took place four days later and by then we had a fully live and running prototype for the client to see and touch.
Melanie: Wow, so when you say that RGA is an agency, what kind of agency is it exactly?
Bill: Well, officially they are recognized as an advertisement agency. Although I feel like that’s not really entirely accurate.
What they really do is whatever the client asks them to build, so they try to come up with a creative design solution that’s driven by technology for the client.
Sometimes it can be a website, sometimes it can be more hardware, like actual physical installations. And yes, a lot of times, they are public facing and serve a PR purpose. But sometimes they’re also internally facing and not really related to advertising at all.
So, yeah, if you look at their website or look them up, most places would describe them as an advertising agency. But it’s not entirely about advertising, I guess. They facilitate whatever a particular client needs.
Melanie: That’s cool. It sounds like a lot of variety for you.
Bill: Yeah, which is really awesome.
Melanie: When you were already thinking of leaving your company, did you feel that there were any risks involved with you signing up for Code Chrysalis?
Bill: Yeah. Definitely. I guess the two biggest risks that I had in mind was first I need to have a job to stay in Japan. And in between jobs, I can only have a certain period of time.
The second thing is the money, I guess. The Code Chrysalis program itself is pretty expensive. Up until that point, all I had was my savings from working for one year in Japan, which wasn’t a lot.
I did some calculations and I realized that if I didn’t find a job pretty quickly after I graduated, I would run out of money. So, there was that aspect. Also, it was their first cohort, so who knew what was going to happen?
Bill: But I think looking at the description that they offered and from my interactions with Yan and Kani, I thought with all things considered, it seemed like a worthwhile decision. And just the excitement of learning some new technology was what really got me to think that it would be a valuable experience, so I thought I’d do it.
Melanie: That’s good. And I can assume that you’re happy that you went along with it?
Bill: Yeah. Certainly. Very happy.
Unexpected Lessons & Skills
Melanie: That’s good to hear. So, can you tell me, did you gain any skills at Code Chrysalis that were unexpected going in? For instance, you knew a lot about the course to sign up, but did you gain any skills other than programming skills, perhaps, that were a bonus or that surprised you?
Bill: Yeah. For sure. Well, I guess from the very start, Yan and Kani emphasized that Code Chrysalis isn’t entirely about coding. There are parts where they focus on the sort of the skills that surround coding skills that developers will also need to have to be effective.
Things like communication, giving presentations, and so on. So, we certainly did end up learning and practicing those skills, which was great.
But I think something I learned from Code Chrysalis that is not coding, and also not even mentioned on their curriculum, is entrepreneurship skills.
For example, just watching Yan and Kani running a startup and going through all the things that I think you need to do to gather resources and make things happen. I felt that that was actually probably the most valuable experience. And because you know, like the CTO and CEO themselves are with you every day, you can ask them questions and talk with them.
It’s kind of like an opportunity that you don’t really get unless it’s with a small startup like that, and also being some of the very first couple of cohorts, that you would be able to have that kind of intimate relationship. I definitely learned a lot from those two, personally.
And I would also say that the practice of working under pressure, the practice of working very closely with people for extended period of times. And also, learning new things at a very rapid speed. These are all things that I feel like I was able to learn from Code Chrysalis.
Staying Active in the Community
Bill: I also think another important one is the attitude to stay active in the community, which is something that I wasn’t doing at all before joining Code Chrysalis. I was just working at a company and hanging out with my colleagues after work, or friends. I saw the amount of effort that Yan and Kani put into going to meetups, meeting with people, and talking and getting connected with people from the tech scene in Tokyo.
They bring students together to do the same and they show that it’s very important to be part of the community, because that’s the only way really to stay in touch with what the latest things are out there and everybody else is doing doing, without getting lost on your own. So, that was definitely great.
The Job Hunt
Melanie: After Code Chrysalis, you mentioned that you needed to get a new job quite quickly. How did the job hunt go for you? Was easy to find a job? Also, what do you think you gained at Code Chrysalis that employers in the current job market are looking for?
Bill: First of all, it took two months for me to find the job that I am in right now.
I did get a bunch of offers, and so I would say actually there are loads of jobs for programmers out there in Tokyo. As a matter of which one to choose, I guess it depends on what kind of job you want and whether the ones you find matches what you’re looking for.
I say generally there are two kinds of companies in Japan right now, and maybe some that fit somewhere in between.
One is the more traditionally Japanese company where they hire more developers, but each of them for a smaller responsibility.
Then there are the more Silicon-Valley-like companies, that are more modern companies, where they hire fewer developers, but have greater expectations of them.
Generally, the latter (Silicon-Valley-like companies) have higher salaries and I was looking for [modern companies]. To find them, you really end up looking towards companies that are mostly foreign companies operating in Japan. They usually end up being startups, as opposed to enterprise companies.
I was really looking for jobs in a niche, a very select group of foreign companies that have established a Japanese office. They’re generally smaller and looking to hire English speaking developers who do full stack development.
There are lots of jobs out there, but if you’re picky like me, then it’s a little bit harder to find. I would say that if you have the patience and time to look around, you will find something in Japan, but it will certainly not be as easy as, for instance, it would be to find a job in Silicon Valley.
Melanie: So, the jobs that you were looking at, were they advertised or did you hear about them through word of mouth? Or did you approach companies? I’m just wondering how you came across the job that you have and the other jobs that you looked at?
Bill: Right. Well, some of them came from recruiters. They contacted me on LinkedIn and they do more specific searches for you.
But definitely from word of mouth as well, because a lot of startups that are hiring don’t use recruiters. Websites like AngelList or Justa, which is a startup website for Japan (editor’s node: Justa is a partner of Code Chrysalis); there are good opportunities on there.
I heard about RGA through Yan. Their office is so new that they haven’t really started hiring a lot yet.
Also, if you go to meetups, for example, there’s one called Dev Japan where it’s just for developers who are in Japan. You can meet different people and ask them, “Do you know any positions that are open in your company?” And you even meet entrepreneurs who have run their own startup companies and can just straight up ask them, “Hey, are you looking for a developer? I have these skills, if you need these skills. Maybe we can work something out together?”
Melanie: Yeah. That sounds like you’ve turned over a lot of different stones to find what you got.
Bill: Yeah. I think you sort of have to, because well, I guess for me, I’m looking for very specific things. Also because I speak English and I am looking for a job that allows me to speak in English, my pool is smaller than someone happy to speak Japanese.
Advice for Joining Code Chrysalis
Melanie: Yeah. That makes sense. So, now I’d like to ask if you have any advice for people who are currently considering leaving their job to attend Code Chrysalis?
Bill: Sure. I think Code Chrysalis is an intense program, as you can easily tell by looking at their curriculum, and the level of commitment that you have to make to join.
As cliché as it might sound, I honestly think you need to just follow your passion and do what you feel you enjoy the most. If that happens to be tech, and right now you’re stuck in a position where you want to get up to speed on the latest technology, and you’re in Japan, and you’re looking for a change, you’re looking for a challenge for yourself, and you’re a developer who really loves what you do and want to get better at it, then by all means, take the course.
Bill: And of course, make sure that you are ready for this kind of commitment. I guess most people wouldn’t be like me, as in they probably have a bit more money saved up. I kind of did it in a risky way. But it is a big commitment, regardless.
If you think it’s for you, if you absolutely love coding and you want to get up to speed, and you have that money and time to spare, then I think this is probably the fastest, easiest, and most rewarding way to do exactly that.
Code Chrysalis in Five Words
Melanie: Yeah. That makes perfect sense. So, now I have a more difficult question. I’d like to ask you; can you describe Code Chrysalis using five words?
Bill: Five words. Okay. One is definitely “intense.” Another would be personalized.
They really follow the idea of agile software development to the core. And even the course itself is very agile. They would change it based on the students’ responses. I mean, in some parts of the course, we even learnt stuff that wasn’t part of the curriculum, but because we said we wanted to learn it, they made it happen. So, that was pretty cool.
Melanie: That’s great.
Bill: Yeah. Intense. Personalized. I’d say it’s “challenging,” for sure. It’s challenging. It’s very “rewarding.” And I would say it’s definitely “passionate,” like it requires you to be passionate. And even if you’re not really passionate, once you’re there, you kind of get motivated by the environment. And it’s hard to not become passionate, if you’re really, again, taking the course for the right reasons.
The job I have right now is so amazing that I really enjoy every second of it. I don’t even feel like it’s work, which is something I said to Kani and Yan at the very beginning of doing the course; I said that I don’t think work should feel like work. It should be something you enjoy. But in my previous company, it sometimes would feel like a drag. So, being able to go from that to here is amazing.
Find What You Believe In
Melanie: Great! So, is there anything else that you wanted to add that you haven’t said already?
Bill: Well, let me think. I guess I really just want to emphasize that I think it’s important to find what you really believe in. There’s so many cliché ways to say this, I can’t think of one that’s not cliché, but you know, I’m talking about the meaning of your life, and what makes you happy, and so on. I think just once you find that thing, and if it happens to be coding, then when you come to this course where they try to take it to the extreme, as in make it as passionate as possible and make it as motivating as possible, then you really feel like that part of you sort of comes alive. I have all these cliché ways of saying things.
Code Chrysalis made me love what I do again, which is something that I really dreaded when I was at my previous companies.
I’ve been coding since I was 14, and it started out being just, making small hobby projects to show to my friends and say, “Hey, this is kind of cool, isn’t it?” And then after going into high school and university, I started doing more serious stuff, that was still fun but serious.
But when I started working, I was like, “This really sucks. It’s not fun anymore. It’s a job. It’s just kind of routine.” And I started doubting myself. I felt like, “Should I really be doing this? I’m good at it and I like it and all, but this is not fun anymore.” So, being able to go back to this feeling of being involved in something you love to do and to enjoy it, sort of like when you first started doing it for fun and to show your friends, well that’s what I’m sort of doing right now.
The course was entirely about simply making whatever you want to make in whatever way you want to and learning the latest technology and tools and using them. There’s so many tools out there that are like toys for developers, but if all you get to do at your work is use old things that are not very interesting, it kind of makes you lose the passion. But to come back to that and to do it again, it’s just been great. It’s been awesome.
Melanie: Yeah. Sounds like you’ve had a very good year.
Bill: Yeah. It’s been great. Thank you.
About Melanie Taylor
A language lover and traveller who loves to connect people, Melanie is a freelance Japanese-English translator, interpreter, and language service provider who uses her skills, experience, and enthusiasm to bridge language gaps and facilitate communication. She taught English in Japan from preschool to tertiary level for six years before she was headhunted by renowned taiko drumming troupe Kodo to travel the world as their tour manager and handle their translation and English PR needs.
After thirteen years in Japan, Melanie decided to add T & I training and credentials to her resume by gaining her Master of Interpreting and Translation studies degree in Australia and NAATI Certification as a Professional Translator of Japanese to English. She is now based in Auckland, New Zealand, and frequently travels for project work. To contact Melanie, visit South Paw Translation.
Code Chrysalis is a 12-week advanced software engineering bootcamp in Tokyo for entrepreneurs, advanced beginners, current developers, and dreamers.
Interested in joining? Apply here.