IT engineering is a field in which there are a lot of opportunities for non-Japanese who possess sufficient skills to work in Japan. There are 28,000 non-Japanese IT engineers working in Japan currently, comprising about 3 percent of all IT engineers in Japan, according to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. The ministry projects that Japan will face a deficit of 789,000 software engineers by 2030, a gap that non-Japanese engineers are well-positioned to help fill.
The reason behind the need for engineers is in part the same as in other fields: the aging population here means there are fewer working-age people. Also, Japanese universities can’t produce enough software engineers to keep up with the demand, especially in fields such as databases and AI development. Couple this with rising demand for skilled software developers, due to increase of software-based technologies such as AI, web-based services and the internet of things.
Many Japanese firms are so much in need of non-Japanese talent that they have relaxed their normal Japanese-language requirements. One prominent example is Rakuten, which began to hire non-Japanese engineers in large numbers since making English its official language. In addition, many Japanese startups have decided to make their workplaces multicultural from the get-go, both in order to leverage non-Japanese talent and to prepare themselves for future global expansion.
Even if the workplace is an English-friendly one, it’s still the case that the more Japanese skills you have the easier your life will be at work and also in your everyday life. And for those who have the prized combination of both programming skills and good Japanese, potential opportunities increase significantly.
Working as a software engineer in Japan can be exciting, with the opportunity to get involved in the core of a company’s business in a way that is sometimes difficult for non-Japanese in other fields. The diversity can be exhilarating, as many workplaces have non-Japanese staff from a variety of countries, turning them into mini-United Nations of a sort.
On the other hand, there are some challenges for engineers that are specific to Japan. One is that the adoption of Agile software programming is much lower in Japan than in many countries, with a higher proportion of work done in the more rigid Waterfall mode. Japanese company issues of bureaucracy and slow decision-making can feel particularly frustrating in a field that is supposed to be fast-moving. Compensation levels for programmers in Japan tend to be much lower than in other countries, and particularly low in comparison with Silicon Valley standards. However many software engineers have told me they were happy to trade lower compensation for the chance to live and work here in Japan.