How to Get Started as a Software Engineer (GIP)

Derrick Gee
Feb 17 · 7 min read
11F at Hennge

HENNGE is a company in Tokyo, Japan that is not your average Japanese company. It is more aligned with what it’s like working in Silicon Valley, as it is a very chill environment compared to the various other Japanese startups and companies I have experienced in the past. They advocate to voice out your opinions if you think something can be improved or changed, which is a very foreign concept to most typical Japanese company. Best of all, there is no need to know Japanese to work here, as HENNGE has standardized their main language to be fully English. The culture at HENNGE is truly diverse, as you have people from pretty much all walks of background working together. They also have an internship program that in one short sentence: In my opinion, a great opportunity to start a software engineering career.

A Day at Tokyo Skytree

Tokyo, Japan is a very busy but beautiful place. There are a lot of nice things that can only exist here, where it would be impossible elsewhere. From complex public structures to intricate electronic fixtures laying outside, things like these would be stolen or vandalized in an instant from where I’m from (San Francisco, California). Tokyo is massive, and there is always something to do every day. Even with a great and efficient public transportation system, you can explore Tokyo for a month and not even scratch the surface. What better way to experience life and work in Japan than to do an internship at HENNGE?

The Internship (GIP)

HENNGE’s internship, GIP (Global Internship Program), is an all-paid expense internship in Japan for 6 weeks. Meaning you won’t get a salary, but they will fly you to Japan and help you with food, transportation, phone, and a place to stay. I already have been living in Japan before doing the internship, so I’ve skipped the flying to Japan part.

I think the internship is great for junior-mid engineers, as it’s a great way to see how you like the work culture and people there without any real strings attached. HENNGE does a great job with onboarding their interns by separating virtual work and personal assets. Software engineer interns get 3 projects to work on during their 6 weeks, and they seem to represent a good amount of what they will actually do for their daily work. You can work with other interns and there will be mentors throughout each project. Along with work, they also set you up with a good amount of social activities. Such as free lunches with random HENNGE employees, board game night every Wednesday hosted by Sean the Third, and several slack channels dedicated to some kind of hobby. So you will definitely be kept busy in a good way throughout the entire internship.

My Background

Hello world, I am a software engineer student from San Francisco, California. I did not study the traditional route of going to a university and getting a CS degree. Instead, I went to a 2-year full-stack curriculum, Holberton School, in San Francisco. They do peer-to-peer learning while having mentors if dire help was needed, which is pretty unconventional. But I think it has taught me to be more collaborative compared to if I was taught the traditional teacher and classroom method. I came to Japan in 2019 to work and live here, since I think I fit pretty well here compared to back at home. My goal is to succeed without a traditional background so that I can show others that it’s okay to learn in a different way.

My Internship Experience as a SWE

Because of Covid-19, most of the internship was done remotely. I was their in-Japan intern along with another fully remote intern from China. HENNGE handles remote work really well, as they seem to have had experience with remote work deployment in the past. Along with a very active slack, remote work at HENNGE was a pretty pleasant experience. Only a few times there were hiccups during the internship when setting up things like accounts/permissions, but everyone that helps you throughout the process has taken note of the problems to improve the internship program. So given the time, things will just gradually improve.

Meetings

There were daily short video-call meetings to see what everyone did the day before and their plan for today, along with various other meetings. One of the most interesting meetings I participated in was their Inspire Matsuri meeting, which is a company-wide meeting for in short: presenting your business ideas so that HENNGE can help you make it. HENNGE is one of the rare companies in Japan that listens to their employee’s ideas with an open mind. The CEO, Ogura-san, has an amazing story about how he started the company and the journey to what it is today. I highly recommend listening throughout the whole thing when it comes up in the internship. The lunch meetings with 2 random people were a great opportunity to ask any questions about HENNGE or life in Japan. While yes, people will be biased since they do work at HENNGE; the people I’ve talked with have told me not only the pros but also the cons.

Code Environment and Technology

I was given a Mac during onboarding. While not a big issue, I would have preferred the option to Windows with WSL2. If you’re #vimcrew, I have good news for you: HENNGE has mostly vim users from what I have seen. Interns are able to dive into relevant tech like AWS, Python, and Vue. So whether you join HENNGE or not, you’ll benefit from getting the experience of industry-standard tech.

Projects

There were 3 projects in total over the 6 weeks that covered pretty much the full stack:

# A backend + frontend project
# A devops project using terraform
# Working with a team on some GitHub issues

Projects 1 and 2 were pretty challenging since the time given was just barely enough to complete the requirements. The style of these projects will be familiar to you if you’ve gone through any 1+ year reputable coding bootcamp. You will get different mentors throughout each project. They try to push you towards an answer rather than just give it to you directly, and the requirements were just vague enough to give some freedom to your structure. Project 3’s goal seemed to be a rare case at this time, as I was able to create a frontend feature pull request and merge it into production. Though I had a ton of help from the entire team to create the new feature, it was fun and challenging. Overall, I thought it was a pretty nice structure not only to evaluate the intern from their side but from your side to also see how your future coworkers interact with you while working.

Office

While Japan is generally safe, HENNGE’s office was pretty secured by all entries to work areas being locked by ID tag scanners. Compared to most other tech company offices I’ve been to here in Tokyo, this definitely gives a better sense of security. The offices are pretty well designed as well, as it is a very open plan with a good amount of greens and lighting. Best of all, there is a vending machine with free Dr Pepper. There are 3 floors total, so you have a wide selection range of where you want to work. Right next to Shibuya, HENNGE is located at a pretty nice spot. It is around a 10-minute walk from Shibuya Station (JR Yamanote), and around a 6 min walk from Shinsen Station (Inokashira).

¥0 (Free) Dr Pepper

MTS (Monthly Technical Session)

HENNGE has an event called MTS every month, and it’s a time where people are selected to present about anything technical. It doesn’t have to be about programming, the MTS I attended had Ogura-san talk about stocks. I thought that this was a pretty interesting event for people to share their ideas. HENNGE organized the event pretty well, despite everything being done remotely. Every intern gets to present in MTS, so it’s a good chance to show off what you’re passionate about.

Hanging Out

During my internship at HENNGE, I was invited to join some people to go to TeamLab during a Japanese holiday at the time. I would recommend anyone that comes to Japan to spend some time here, as I think it is a setup that could only exist in a few places in the world (one being Japan). This place is pretty much an interactive art museum where interact with your sense of touch and vision. It’s better to go in here without knowing anything, as that is the way to get the best experience in my opinion.

TeamLab Toyosu

Despite it being during a pandemic; My time at HENNGE has been a great experience. I think Ogura-san has a great vision for the company, and that really shows through doing this internship at HENNGE. The company is very transparent, and they really try to make you understand how the company works. I highly recommend applying to the HENNGE GIP for any new software engineers or even ones with a little work experience. Especially for those who have gone through a long-term coding boot camp, I think a well-designed project-based course trains you well enough to handle work-level tasks.

Derrick Dee interned at HENNGE Global Internship Program from September 7th — October 16th, 2020, and was one of GIP’s first remote interns.

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