Engineering Across Languages and Cultures

I had great fun earlier today participating on the cross-cultural engineering panel at the Pasona Tech conference in Tokyo (here, here). We addressed cultural, language, and career issues facing Japanese engineers as they engage employers and developers around the world. This is not only an interesting subject for me, but it's also an important issue since economies are globalizing and software development is moving to open source community development. Dealing with people from around the world every day is now normal. It's not an occasional interaction. So, having a sense of language and cultural issues is critical since these things pervade our jobs -- even if you work in the country in which you were born and even if you work in your native language.

Since I have an interest in China, I talked a bit about the changes occurring in Chinese technology universities, and especially how students, professors, and administrators are now assertively engaging westerners in English. That was not necessarily true a few years ago in China, and it's not especially true in Japan today so it will be interesting to see where those trends lead in the future. A side note: when I'm in China I talk a lot about what the Japanese are doing to build community here and how they contribute to communities in Japan and around the world (their contributions are substantial but many times difficult to find at first). So the learning can go both ways since both sides have a great deal to offer.

At the event, we also talked about different communication styles (face-to-face vs online) among Japanese and American developers. Again, both sides could do a bit more reaching out to each other in these areas. Americans tend to be direct and Japanese tend to be indirect, and this very obvious difference can lead to some rather interesting situations. Balance is critical. If you have too many Japanese in a given situation, it's too far skewed to the Japanese language and thought processes. The opposite is true, too. When you have too many Americans in the room there is too much English and American thinking going on. You need both to balance things. You should try to offer enough communication channels for everyone to participate at some level, while encouraging the bilingual people to serve as conversation facilitators reaching out to both sides simultaneously. I think Tokyo2Point0 and the Tokyo Linux User Group are good examples of communities who recognize this issue and address it very well. I'm sure there area others, too. This is how I'd like to work with the OpenSolaris community in Japan. If the community is built with an international focus as its foundation, then it has a good shot at growing large and connecting globally.

Many opinions were shared on the panel and at the nomikai afterwards and they all had validity. No single person has all the answers covering such subtle issues like these, and there is lots of room for humility and opportunity to rule the day. I look forward to the next cross-cultural engineering event in Tokyo. We should meet quarterly to continue these conversations. All posts on cross-cultural engineering will be here

Thanks to Toshiharu Harada, Edward Middleton, Gosuke Miyashita, Iwasa Takuma, Hiroumi Mitani, and Tomoyuki Sakurai for their participation at the event. And thanks to Shoji Haraguchi for snapping this image.

Comments:

Post a Comment:
Comments are closed for this entry.
About


Search

Archives
« April 2014
SunMonTueWedThuFriSat
  
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
   
       
Today
Bookmarks

No bookmarks in folder