Over the course of the last ten or twelve years, jobs in IT have been steadily replacing those in English language teaching as a major employer of foreign nationals in Japan. Indeed, many former English language instructors, particularly those with a long term commitment to life in Japan, have been able to transition into the field quite successfully. And, of course, Japan has become something of a Mecca for existing IT professionals seeking to advance their careers in the short term.
In this article, I will look at the kinds of certification that might help when seeking an IT job in Japan. The list is by no means exhaustive, but the certifications I have mentioned were chosen for their relevance to IT jobs listed on daijob.com at the time of writing. However, there is one caveat to IT work in Japan that I would like to touch upon before I go any further.
Whereas even fairly basic IT jobs in the UK and North America are well-paid, this is not typically the case in Japan. Transitioning from a job in English teaching, for example, might not actually provide one with any tangible improvement in earnings at all, even if one has prior IT experience and relevant qualifications (although escaping from classes of rowdy Japanese toddlers or apathetic high school students could be motivation enough for making the move)!
Of course, there are well-paid IT jobs in Japan, and a few very well-paid ones, but many of these will be with major foreign companies, particularly financial institutions, who are seeking a specific skill set and can afford to recruit IT professionals from overseas or transfer existing staff accordingly.
However, there are certainly plenty of IT job listings in Japan, so if you can be patient, and have an attractive mix of qualifications and experience, landing a good job at an appropriate rate of pay is quite achievable.
There are a few IT jobs that do not require any Japanese ability, but this number is constantly dwindling. Most major corporations, both foreign and domestic, operate bi-lingually now, whilst wholly Japanese company offices are usually exclusively Japanese.
Whatever the work scenario, foreign IT staff will be expected to have achieved at least JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) level N2 before they are considered for a position, and some companies may require N3 or higher. Furthermore, looking at today’s IT jobs on daijob.com, I can see that easily two thirds of the listings are in Japanese only.
2. University Degrees
Irrespective of any additional certification or work experience you may have, a degree in Computer Science, Computer Engineering, Information Systems, Information Technology, or Software Engineering, etc., is the surest way into IT work anywhere. Obviously, the higher level of degree you have, the better.
The Microsoft Certified Professional (MCP) certification is often the first step people take to a career in IT and an entry-level job in some aspect of the Windows network. MCPs can often be found working on corporate help desks, in caller centres, or as first-tier and end-user support technicians.
It is an inexpensive and not too taxing qualification for the computer savvy to take, and a good way to get one’s foot in the IT door, but don’t expect anything like the kind of starting salary in Japan that MCPs enjoy in the West.
Some people are content with the opportunities MCP certification provides, but for those aiming to take a career in IT further, Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) could be the next logical step. For those looking to move out of the trenches and into administrative type jobs, MSCA credentials can offer better paid and more interesting jobs such as system administration in both desktop and server contexts, and more specialized roles, including SQL Server and Office 365.
Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE) credentials are highly regarded by just about everyone working with Microsoft-based systems and the latest technologies for servers, clouds, business intelligence, communications, SharePoint, enterprise devices and applications, and SQL server platforms. Upgraded in 2016, MCSE now has four new credentials: MCSE cloud platform and infrastructure; MCSE mobility; MCSE data management and analytics; and MCSE productivity.
Microsoft has recently restructured its Certified Solutions Developer (MCSD) certifications for programmers and application developers, replacing the former MCSD: Azure Solutions Architect credential with the MCSE cloud platform and infrastructure credential (see 5 above).
All other MCSD credentials have now been folded into one MCSD: App Builder credential, which focuses on application development and technical skills in building web services, web applications and mobile apps.
7. C and C++
As programming languages, C and C++ seem to have been around forever, and there are certainly regular IT job listings for C++ programmers and developers in Japan. Colleges and universities worldwide offer C and C++ programming course, but the world’s first international certifications were initiated by the C++ Institute and Pearson VUE.
These certifications could offer a useful way of progressing to various platform-specific and vendor-specific credentials, such as the MCSD.
Candidates choose either the C, or the C++ path, moving from associate, to professional, to senior. Currently, there are four certification courses available: CLA (C Programming Language Certified Associate); CLP (C Certified Professional Programmer); CPA (C++ Certified Associate Programmer); and CPP (C++ Certified Professional Programmer). At the time of writing, the Senior Programmer certifications are yet to be announced.
8. JAVA – Sun Microsystems
There are of 5 levels of certification offered by Sun Microsystems, from Associate to Professional, Master to Expert, and finally Specialist.
The most useful exams for programmers are the basic level Oracle Certified Associate Java SE Programmer (7 and 8), and the more advanced Oracle Certified Professional Java SE Programmer (OCPJP).
Linux might not be any more than a bit player in desktop computing, but it enjoys a market share of around 50% in web server computing. Thus, IT professionals may often find themselves working with Linux operating systems, often alongside Windows and UNIX operating systems.
Probably the most widely known and respected Linux certifications are those from Red Hat, a major provider of Linux platforms and technologies. Their self-explanatory certifications are: Red Hat Certified Systems Administrator (RHCSA); Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE); and Red Hat Certified Architect (RHCA).
For an altogether easier and less expensive entry level Linux certification, the CompTIA Linux+ Powered by LPI credential is highly regarded.
10. AWS Cloud Computing
IT professionals with cloud computing skills are increasingly in demand as more and more even smaller companies adopt cloud technologies. Amazon Web Services has established itself as the leading light of the cloud computing services market, and launched its AWS certification program in May 2013. The program offers three associate, and two professional-level certifications.
The AWS Certified Solutions Architect: Professional credential is aimed at networking professionals already familiar with topics such as business continuity, costing, deployment management, network design, data storage, security, scalability and elasticity, cloud migration, and hybrid architecture.
A Final Thought
If you are an existing IT professional and thinking of looking for work in Japan, or perhaps hoping to transition into IT from some other profession, I hope the above suggestions have given you food for thought at least. Good luck!
By Bill Ambler
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