August 24, 2008

Changing Jobs

After two and a half years, last week was my last week at the National Institute of Informatics. As of this week, I am starting a new job working on Japanese search at Amazon.co.jp.

You might have noticed that I have been using a lot of Amazon.com affiliate links lately and this new job is one reason, but I have to admit that I have always been a book worm and have always been a heavy Amazon user. Working here is very exciting because I love the idea of working in applied search, I have the chance to stay in Japan and use Japanese as it applies to search, and there is the potential to work in interesting areas for cross-lingual search, using lots of interesting data and so on.

I also can use it as an excuse to buy more real books (I just bought about 6 or 7 the other day!) Since I work there now, I'm just making sure that our customer experience is up to standards. That's how I'm selling the sudden influx of new books to L. anyway.

It will probably take a while to learn the ropes, and I will be spending about a month in Palo Alto for training in September, which I am looking forward to.

It is really amazing how quickly time has passed. The two years at NII went by very quickly. I really enjoyed working there and think it is a great research environment. There are lots of people from all over the world working on many different, interesting problems. It would have been almost as beneficial for me to be able to speak German or French as Japanese!

I really enjoyed the opportunity I had to work on the Information Explosion World News Research Group since I was able to meet and interact with many professors in the NLP area. Sitting on the NTCIR organization committee also was an invaluable experience and I know that my Japanese improved greatly due to both.

My written Japanese got a work-out as well due to all the email, and the multiple times I applied for research funding. I even actually was awarded one of the young researcher grants, which is amazing. Of course, it was a bit depressing at how much "editing" the proposal required - although I will point out that I am positive an NSF grant written in English would need an equal amount of editing from a senior faculty member as to what I received from Professor Kando.

On my last day at NII Professor Kando organized an informal farewell party that friends and co-workers were kind enough to attend.

The turnover at NII for the foreigners seems fairly high: usually one and a half to two years seems to be the norm. Many foreigners are here on JSPS fellowships which are prestigious and pay well (but not as well as an average postdoc in CS in America) that last about two years. In the time that I was there at least three friends of mine on those programs went back to their own (or a different) country. I also made friends with Masters program students and interns, who are there usually only for a few months, and with some of the secretarial staff.

I am going to miss the very inter-cultural lunches that we often had: Japanese, American, French, and German were the common cultures in attendance. One of my long term lunch Buddies, Eric P., is particularly interesting: he has been at NII for 5 years! I hope we will the chance to get together once in a while in the future because he is also committed long-term to Japan, so it is nice to complain about the ex-pat annoyances with him.

I was very glad that Nakagawa-sensei and Taura-sensei from Tokyo university were able to attend the going-away party because it has been great to work with them in the Information Explosion World News Group. In true Japanese fashion, they started the party with beer. Eric P., Frenchman that he is, started with wine. Since I caught a cold last week, I was sticking with Orange Juice and other non-alcoholic drinks.

The trip back home was a bit tough as I was loaded down with some last minute things from the office, my work machine, and then flowers and a gift on top of that. I eventually made it though, and collapsed into bed. Looking back it really was a great two+ years.

Looking forward I'm very excited about the new job at Amazon, so don't expect to see the book links disappear anytime soon. If you have any issues about Amazon's search, let me know! (Note: I've been really busy with the new job, so this post didn't go up until the weekend. I've had a week's worth of experience at Amazon now, and I've really enjoyed myself, but I have tons to learn.)



Comments

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Re: Changing Jobs
Hi Fugu! ;)
thanks for the comment on my blog! Wow, we do have a lot in common...
my hometown is actually Palo Alto (why I got into programming in the first place). While you're there you have to get a burrito from a place called La Costen~a (actually in Mountain View), and have an In'N'Out burger.
I love reading too but don't have enough bookshelf space, so I found a public library that carries english books. Have fun at Amazon!
Kyra

Posted 14 years, 2 months ago by Kyra • • wwwReply
Re: Changing Jobs
I lived in LA for about 12 years, and also 5 years in Dallas. I haven't been able to find good Mexican food in Tokyo yet, so I'll definitely take you up on the burrito recommendation.

Out of curiosity, which library did you find that has a large selection of English books? The old library that I went to (in Oyamadai in Setagaya-ku) didn't have any English books at all. I haven't checked to see what libraries are around in Shinagawa-ku, but since it is a bit bigger, maybe they have more English books.

I also do not have any space for real books (it is a shame!) so I've been doing more with ebooks lately, but I don't have one of the dedicated DRM-capable readers, so the selection is a bit limited.
Posted 14 years, 2 months ago by Fugu • @wwwReply
Re: Changing Jobs
Hey Dave: we wish you the best in your move to Amazon. Best, from WING at National Univ. of S'pore. --Min
Posted 14 years, 2 months ago by Min • @wwwReply

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