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English-Only Coding Program Seeks Change in Japan


Students attend Code Chrysalis, a software-coding boot camp, at a basement room in Tokyo, Japan, May 23 2018. (REUTERS/Toru Hanai)
English-Only Coding Program Seeks Change in Japan
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Code Chrysalis offers a computer coding training program in Tokyo.

Kani Munidasa is the company’s chief. He used to be based in Silicon Valley in California – a place where many of the world’s biggest technology companies have headquarters. Now, he wants to persuade Japanese business leaders to do more to support the development of software engineers.

Japan has long been known for “monozukuri”: strong manufacturing.

But Japan is in danger of being left behind in such fields as artificial intelligence, robotics and machine learning. These fields are influencing everything from carmakers to the banking industry.

Some experts say Japan’s approach to software is part of the problem. They say Japanese business leaders consider software as mainly a way to cut the costs of manufacturing, for example.

For this reason, code-writers for software earn less in Japan. The Reuters news agency reports that entry-level software engineers in Japan make an average of $40,000 a year. That salary is about half of what they make in the United States.

But Code Chrysalis chief Munidasa and others say software can also be seen as a way to add value to a product.

In February, Munidasa spoke to some Japanese business leaders. He told them that not having a strong software industry was threatening their futures.

He noted that the former chief of Sony Corporation, Nobuyuki Idei, had invited him to speak. Munidasa quoted Idei as saying, “Tell it as it is; don’t sugar-coat anything. They need to hear that change has to happen.”

Idei now has a business advice company, Quantum Leaps. He told Reuters that Japan has centered its attention too much on “physical goods” in the age of the internet. He said even a small program can have a big impact.

“The United States has Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon…China’s got Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent. Japan doesn’t have a single platform company. That’s the Number 1 difference,” he said.

SoftBank's humanoid robots 'Pepper' is seen as students attend Code Chrysalis, a software-coding boot camp, at a basement room in Tokyo, Japan, May 23 2018.
SoftBank's humanoid robots 'Pepper' is seen as students attend Code Chrysalis, a software-coding boot camp, at a basement room in Tokyo, Japan, May 23 2018.

Skilled developers needed

In answer to the situation in Japan, Code Chrysalis is trying to introduce training methods from Silicon Valley. Munidasa and his co-founder, Yan Fan, designed the course to be project-based. Its program mixes “hard skills,” like coding, with “soft skills” like public speaking and even physical fitness. Instruction is only in English.

The program, they say, trains engineers to be able to do everything needed to code, create apps and run computer servers. The cost is $9,390.

Code Chrysalis opened in July 2017. Since then, about 12 students have graduated from the 12-week course. Six more are expected to take the course. The camp currently accepts up to eight trainees each term.

Code Chrysalis says trainees see their pay increase an average of nearly 80 percent after graduation.

One reason for this dramatic rise is because Japanese companies are seeking skilled developers. Reports say businesses have more job openings than applicants this year. Most positions are being filled by foreigners.

Educators and industry leaders hope programs like Code Chrysalis will help transform Japan. But right now, it is one of only two such software development programs in Japan.

The other is the French company Le Wagon, which started in 2016. That program, which is less costly and shorter than Code Chrysalis, targets beginners who are looking for a job in software development.

Code Chrysalis aims to train higher-level programmers. So far, it has accepted only 20 percent of people seeking a spot. Many others did not meet the language requirement.

The need for English

Some industry experts say that is another problem in Japan’s software industry – a lack of English. They say programmers need a good understanding of the language to learn to use the latest tools and methods.

Toyota, for example, is making English the common language of 1,000 software engineers it plans to employ for its automated driving group to start next month.

James Kuffner is the chief executive officer of the group Toyota Research Institute-Advanced Development (TRI-AD). He said Japan’s computer science education is based too much on learning from textbooks.

He says coding camps are a step in the right direction.

I’m Mario Ritter.

Reuters reported this story. Mario Ritter adapted it for VOA Learning English. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor.

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Words in This Story

artificial intelligence –n. the ability of computers to copy human behavior such as making recommendations or decisions

platform –n. a service that permits a large number of people to get or learn about ideas, products and services

automated –adj. something that operates without human assistance

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