Jul 17 2019 Dennis(Ecuador), R&D Engineer for Life Science Company

Mr. Dennis Romero is a Machine Learning Engineer who is very passionate with solving problems faced by society. Currently he is working for an Innovative Life Science Company as a R&D engineer.  


When did you come to Japan?

I came to Japan in October 2017.

What did you do before coming to Japan?

I was a professor and researcher at a university.My speciality is in the computer vision field.

Why did you want to work in Japan?

There are 2 big reasons. Firstly my wife is Japanese and we decided to come to Japan when my daughter was born.And another reason is for my own career. My interest in machine learning and computer vision has a lot of applications across different industries. I thought it is a good opportunity for me to learn and apply what I know in Japan.

When did you start job hunting after you decided to come to Japan?

It was around April, 2017 after my wife and I decided to come to Japan.

How was your job hunting?

At first, I started job hunting by myself for 3 months, and it was very difficult. because finding a job, considering my profile, my Japanese level, and what the companies in Japan need, was complicated until I found Active Connector.

How long did it take to get a job offer after you started to do your job hunting?

It took 6 months in total. I did job hunting by myself for 3 months and met Active Connector. Then, it took 3 months with Active Connector.

How many positions did you apply for?

I applied for about 11 positions by myself. But it didn’t work at all, I was not able to set up any interviews at that moment. It was difficult. There was not a clear way to find out what companies wanted and what they needed, so it was like blind trial for me.  However, after I found Active Connector my job hunting started going well. Active Connector recommended me jobs which I was interested in and where my skills matched.

What are the difficulties you experienced in an interview?

I didn’t have any particular difficulty with the positions introduced by Active Connector since all of them matched my profile. They expected what I knew. It was like a match between what they wanted and what I could offer. Though I had interviews with other companies introduced by Active connector, the start-up company  that I work for, was very interesting for me. When I was in my country, I have always been interested in startups. I was interested in how a startup moves forward or succeeds. Actually it was surprising for me when Active Connector introduced the company to me, since I thought this was the company I would like to work at.

How many recruitment agencies did you contact? or How many contacted you?

I contacted and registered with 2-3 agencies which have online services. They checked my profile and sent job recommendations, but I did not have any interviews with them.

How did you find this position/Active Connector?

I searched on the internet.

Firstly, I registered with other agencies that also do job matching, and I thought it was convenient. Then I kept searching for job matching services and found Active Connector.
It was a little surprising when Active Connector first contacted me and someone replied to me in Spanish. That was nice.

Why did you apply for this position?

Active Connector recommended me jobs according to my skills after I had an interview with their consultant. I applied to this position since this company is a life-science focused company that has artificial intelligence and image analysis applications. Both things matched my interests. I was working with shrimp disease identification using machine learning in my country and the other projects I was involved in were also related to life science. Not only did it match my technical profile but my personal interests in life science as well.  It’s a company where I would like to be.

Did you find any differences in Active Connector from other recruiting company?

There are 2 main differences. Firstly, personalization. I did not have any direct contact from other recruiting company that I registered with while I had an interview with Active Connector. People in Active Connector speak in English, in Spanish or in other languages. And also what surprised me was that I really felt that Active Connector was really interested in helping me, and that was very nice.

What is your current job?

I am an algorithm engineer. At first, I was working at lung CT scan for lung cancer detection. And now, I am working on endoscopy image analysis for stomach disease detection.

How do you like your current job?

I like it. I believe machine learning is one of the important tools for identifying and treating diseases and I’m glad to contribute to this innovation. Doing what you like doing and knowing that you are contributing to helping people is very fulfilling. This is also part of the company’s vision. When I was looking at the company’s website before joining, I read the CEO’s blog. He was talking about life science research, enjoying what you are doing, and helping people. That captured my interest.

Did you find any cultural gap from your background after you started to work in Japan?

Yes, I know there are cultural differences. Although I got used to it already, I felt a gap and a distance between people. Take greeting each other for an example. It is respectful, but a little bit cold for me. It feels a little bit cold and forced at the beginning.

About the language, even though everyone at the company can speak English, Japanese is the main language. People seem to prefer using Japanese even with foreign people. Of course it is part of the Japanese culture. It is a little different from my country. Even if Spanish is the main language in my country, we speak in English for communication purposes. I am not talking about my current company, but outside of the company I find that Japanese people seem to try to avoid using English. 

Some Japanese people are concerned that they don’t speak perfect English so they avoid using it, but I don’t think we need to use perfect English as long as we can have an effective communication. That’s enough, I think.

What are the challenges you encountered while working in Japan?

The main challenge is language. It is difficult to explain how hard it is. It was kind of a sudden decision that my wife and I decided to come to Japan, since my wife was pregnant and was considering to have a daughter here. Then I started job hunting when I continued working in my country. And when I found the job, I realized that I have to move and I have to leave everything behind and come here. I didn’t have time to learn Japanese. Maybe “Arigato” is the only word I knew before I came to Japan. At least, speaking enough is something that I have been trying in different ways. I took Active Connector’s Japanese class and have been studying by myself as well. However, it is still difficult for me to make oral presentations at work, for instance. 

I continue to study the language, but even though  I know I am improving, it takes a lot more effort than I expected. I know it is also hard for Japanese people. I feel guilty and grateful for my colleagues since they have to translate important information into English, which is double effort for them.

Now, I am making an effort to achieve at least N4, though I understand that is not enough for work. I will continue trying and learning.   

What do you think is the advantage of working in a start-up?

Obviously, my company is not just a startup company anymore, because my company has a lot of investments from big companies and we are producing very good products and services that are connected with big projects. The company is growing very fast. For me, to work at a startup is full of learning. I worked for a research center in my country and I promoted the creation of two technology-based startups, so I know that it takes a lot of effort and considerations in this field. Difficulties were overcome by communication, hard work and positive way of thinking. Also it is interesting to learn how people make this company successful all together.

What are the difficulties you have experienced working in a startup?(In terms of Communication with boss, working within a team, salary constraints, overwhelming responsibilities, or other practices)

I think every startup company has had changes and has had to re-think some ideas in order to adapt to the circumstances, especially when it is growing fast. New things have to be re-validated and certain ways of thinking should also be modified based on how much you are learning and how fast the business is growing. That is also hard for the people because you have to adapt to the changes. That is something everybody has to go through and it doesn’t mean that the process is going to be easyChanges are positive. Do changes because you want to adapt. Optimize your resources and procedures for the company to become bigger. 

I think communication with the boss is a big advantage in startups over traditional Japanese companies. In startups, especially in my company, we work in a very open environment. We are always able to speak with our CEO when we want. There is also no feeling of strict hierarchy. If I would like to communicate with someone, I can communicate with that person directly without any problem. Actually, our CEO promotes open communication with people by using many resources.

How is the mentorship in a startup environment? Most of the companies at startups have flat organizational structures so I wonder what is it like, especially with someone who has a very technical job but also have to discuss about realistic solutions.

When I joined the company, there were senior engineers but it was not exactly mentorship. Every engineer has his/her own skills. I have experience in certain things which other engineers do not have and other engineers do have experiences that I don’t have yet. So everybody collaborates with each other. We have engineers’ meeting called “gojokai”, which means ”mutual-aid society” in Japanese. This happens every week and all the engineers have to present something related with new technology to other engineers. We can exchange skills and knowledge through that kind of meetings.

What is your career goal?

We have an“OKR”approach in our company. In that sense I know what I want to achieve with the project that I am working on.

If I can contribute to the success of the company’s project, it means I am learning and gaining knowledge and experience. I always do my best so that my achievements hopefully contribute to my company’s success. This also contributes to the development of my career since I can learn more, apply my knowledge, and gain more experience. Contributing to the company’s success is good for me, both professionally and personally.  

When I was in my country, I had my own company. But I had to leave it because I decided to pursue a PhD and other circumstances, though I always had the idea of making the company bigger. So I reflect my desire at that time with how I currently work at my company Our CEO has the same dream as me at that time. I would like to make that dream a reality and would like to see my company become a bigger company.

That is why, I do my best here although sometimes it can be really challenging. 

Do you see your career flourishing in Japan?

Yes, especially in the technical aspect. I feel my career is improving in a way that I am learning more and gaining more experience.

Please give a message/advice to foreigners who are having difficulties in looking for jobs in Japan?

1.Contact Active Connector, so that you can optimize your time and effort.
2.Positive thinking
3.Start learning Japanese if you decide to work for a Japanese company. Although my work does not require so much Japanese, Japanese skills make your life easier as it becomes easier to communicate with people and to express your ideas better. It also helps you understand things better. One of my foreign colleagues who studied Japanese before joining the company told me that she found that she could get closer with Japanese people when she started speaking the language. I totally agree with that. Speaking Japanese is very important.

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