My return to Tokyo
I’ve just returned to Sydney after a three month secondment to Tigerspike’s Tokyo office. This isn’t the first time that Tigerspike have sent me to Japan for work, and I hope it’s not the last.
Tigerspike Tokyo is a highly coveted location for secondment. I’m lucky to have been there from February to April in 2017 for the project Ginza Six and then again from August to October 2018 for another project. I’ve therefore had the privilege of working with many Tigerspikers past and present.
Currently there are 20 people in the Tokyo office. It’s a warm friendly environment where everyone knows each other on a level that isn’t possible in a large office.
Stretches and Speeches
Tigerspike Tokyo has a unique morning routine: at 11am the office manager invites everyone to join a short physical activity session such as push-ups, yoga stretches or planking (the latter being common in many Tigerspike offices). After the exercise, the staff breaks up into small groups and a topic is chosen at random from a small box of sticky-notes. After a moment of thinking time, each member of the group must speak for one minute to the others in the group. Topics range from “what did you do yesterday?” through to “what’s your favorite book?” and “what’s a happy moment in your life recently?” all the way to “what’s something your parents always used to say?”. In this way everyone gets a light breather from work and learns and laughs with their colleagues.
A big part of any Tigerspike office is Friday Lunch. In Tokyo, every two weeks a few people are chosen to cook and they never disappoint! An unusual aspect of the lunch culture in the Tokyo office is twice a week two people (from an external company) arrive with a selection of bento boxes and lay them out on the table for anyone to choose from and purchase if they like. It’s cheap and delicious, of course!
“Lunch & Learn”
While most Tigerspike offices’ Lunch & Learn talks are related to work recently completed, Tokyo’s version may have been lost in translation somewhat… but for the better! Every second Friday two people are chosen to talk about something that interests them, be it music, past experiences or favorite Onsen to visit. It’s an easy way for everyone to practise public speaking!
There’s always interesting food on the table brought in by someone recently back from traveling. People in the Tokyo office often congregate at around 3pm for coffee and a snack. Again, this gives everyone a moment to refresh and clear their minds before getting back to their tasks.
Tokyo Tigerspikers like to hang around the office on a Friday evening for a drink and a laugh. Once a month the office hosts an open event for people from other companies to join in the fun and experience Tigerspike culture - to have a drink, chat and even watch TED talks together. Leftover food from lunch is reheated or transformed into new dishes and shared by all.
Working in another language/alphabet has its own special challenges. Japanese characters are encoded as “two-byte chars” in strings. When interacting with third-party APIs it’s important to ensure compatibility. This may be as simple as replacing two-byte white space characters with “normal” whitespace before sending a user-typed search string to an API, or conforming to the creature that is Shift JIS.
Another unusual challenge was changing the color of the “henkan” highlight — the highlight of text suggestions that are frequent when typing with a Japanese keyboard. Our project manager knew this feature was called “henkan”, but for someone like me who can’t filter through Japanese google results it’s near impossible to research how to change the color. Luckily my co-developer was Japanese so he quickly found a solution — we’ve documented it here for the next person searching Google in English.
Working in a foreign language
Of course, the biggest challenge was completing work when the text in the product being developed is not only in an entirely different language, but also in an entirely different alphabet. As all software engineers know, all text that appears on a screen has to be told to appear there via code. Its very difficult to decide what to name variables when the design is in a foreign alphabet/language! Initially I found myself constantly copying Japanese text from the design documents into Google Translate, however constantly looking for the browser tab is time consuming. Plus, often messages on Slack are in Japanese, which means yet another trip to the translate browser tab. So, in the true spirit of solving problems in remarkable ways, I spent a few weekends building a Mac app to help with day-to-day translations. You can download it from the AppStore!
Translate This is the easiest way to translate text from PDFs, images, Slack, websites - in fact, if you can see the text on your screen, you can translate it.
Outside of work
Being on secondment means staying in an apartment rented by Tigerspike within a reasonable distance of the foreign office. I was very happy to be able to walk along the Sumida river for 20 minutes each morning and evening to and from the office.
A secondment’s timeframe is typically in the magnitude of months. On weekends there’s plenty of time to explore Tokyo and beyond at your own pace.
And of course, the Japanese are extremely hospitable and weekend invitations to tourist destinations are frequent and enjoyable. Other Tigerspikers taking vacation in Tokyo from all over the world also like to stop by the office during the day to meet the team and see what all the fuss is about!
And much more
Given the opportunity, I would definitely put my hand up for another project in Tokyo!