Before I moved to Tokyo in 2003 I was presented with a choice.
“Should I prepare by learning Japanese or would I get by with English?”
I decided I would prepare by spending 6 months before I arrived ramping up on Japanese. Whilst I was there I continued my language education by spending 4hrs every Saturday in language classes.
The greatest joy of living in Japan was exploring the japanese way of lift through learning the language in class and on the streets.
The food tastes better when you order it in Japanese.
In my last few weeks in Japan I visited Hiroshima. I found the city to be both vibrant and solemn. It felt as though it had been reborn in a sense. As I walked around I stumbled upon a group of expats who had been living there for many years. In passing they mentioned they had no interest in learning the language. Something about that felt disrespectful and unfortunate.
Ghettos (or rifts)
India has two formal languages. Hindi and English.
On the news and in the parliament they speak English. On the street in many regions people speak Hindi. There are many other languages that are spoken throughout India.
As I travelled around India in 2008 I began to realize that these languages created boundaries, rifts and ghettos. Neighbouring communities would visit shops that spoke only their language. Street signs were created to highlight cultural landmarks to certain groups of people. Families would tell stories and defend various aspects of history inline with their language.
I began to realize that people identify with their language because it affects the way they think.
Even though I appreciated this beautiful diversity of history I was also concerned with how these community lines created silos. A noticed a shared wisdom and collaborative spirit was lost.
What would it take to establish a shared working language?
One side would have to compromise on their story for the greater good.
Ghetto: Part of a city occupied by a minority group.
Working in Tech
When I join a company I embrace it’s legacy, history and the places through its code base.
I’m very cautious about introducing new languages.
Over the 20 years I’ve noticed a deep and consistent challenge.
“How do we build a unified engineering organization?”
A key part of this is language selection.
While it may require an upfront lift, I believe that working towards consistency with language encourages fewer borders across the team.
One way to achieve this is to select one language for each client application, one language for data science or data processing, and one language for business logic.
Becoming a language agnostic engineer was a goal of mine early on in my career. Now, I realize that the diversity is not in the language. Diversity is in the domain and the broadest possible team work.