Graduating senior Niko Olson spent his fall semester in Tokyo working as a software engineering intern at KPMG Ignition Tokyo (KIT), a software development branch of KPMG Japan. KIT creates software solutions for the problems KPMG Japan faces relating to tax, accounting, audits, and consulting. 

Olson describes his abroad co-op experience as essential to his job search. After graduation, Olson will begin working at CoStar Group’s Richmond office as a software engineer. To learn more about the importance of co-ops and education abroad, we spoke to Olson about his experience.

CS@VT: What were your responsibilities as an intern?

Olson: As an intern, I was placed in a handful of teams and moved around periodically. KIT management heavily emphasized the fact that aside from my 'Intern' title, I was a regular employee just like anyone else.

My first task was to assist in the creation of a survey platform for KPMG Japan. I was able to contribute to both front- and back-end development with some of my most notable contributions being designing and implementing a new user tutorial system for the front end, and fixing/maintaining the user login/security systems in the back end. I also worked on various audit/tax tools, and my last task was deploying and testing firewalls.

CS@VT: What prompted you to apply for a co-op in Tokyo? How was working abroad an important experience for you?

Olson: Before applying to work in Tokyo, I participated in the Japan-America Student Conference, a student-led diplomatic conference between the United States and Japan. Normally, the conference takes place in person; however, it was online the year I participated. KIT attended one of the discussion days and gave a presentation about their mission. It turned out they were recruiting, and as a computer science student, I thought I would give it a try. I had always wanted to study abroad, and I felt I needed more work experience under my belt, so a seven-month working experience in Japan was the best of both worlds. I wanted to experience what daily life was like in another country, and I was very excited to experience Japanese culture, food, and sightseeing.

Throughout my time in Japan, I learned a ton. For one, my skills in software engineering increased dramatically. Before working for KIT, I did not have much experience in software development outside of the projects I had to do for school. I learned the tasks and projects in a software engineering job differ pretty significantly from those in class. The biggest reason for that is that projects in school are very self-contained and meant to teach you a specific skill within a very finite amount of time. In contrast, work tasks exist over much longer timeframes, are more open-ended, and span a wider range of disciplines. Thankfully, I worked in a team where I could collaborate and receive mentorship for the tasks I didn't know how to complete.

Aside from work, I got to travel all over Japan and a few other countries in Asia. I became conversational in Japanese, though since returning, I feel my Japanese has gotten worse.

Niko Olson in a snowy Otaru, a City in Hokkaido, Japan

CS@VT: What was the application process like?

Olson: I signed an NDA about the interview process, so I cannot divulge too many details. That said, it started with filling out an online application. A few weeks later, I received an email and scheduled my interviews. I had a technical interview followed by a behavioral interview. A few weeks after that I received an offer letter, which I signed almost immediately. The application process was nowhere near as difficult as the Visa process. Since I am not a Japanese citizen, I had to apply for a work Visa in Japan. Japan is a very bureaucratic country, and that was reflected heavily in the Visa process. This was compounded by Japan's response to COVID-19, and my Visa was delayed several months after the discovery of the Omicron variant. Ironically, one of the hardest parts of the process was getting documents signed by Virginia Tech. Once I got my Visa, it was relatively easy to get to Japan, and KIT helped me find a place to live and in opening a bank account.

CS@VT: What advice would you give to students who would like to pursue a similar experience?

Olson: The best advice I can give is to apply. I was initially afraid to apply because I was afraid of getting rejected. A wise friend of mine told me not to reject myself on their behalf. The worst thing they can say is "no," so don't do that for them because they might just say "yes."

Companies like KIT are rare, but they are out there, and they aren't just in Japan. There is a high demand around the world for software engineers, and you'd be surprised how many opportunities are out there if you stick your head out and look. Specifically regarding Japan, there are job-hunting platforms called LevTech (レバテック) and DaiJob that sometimes offer jobs for foreigners.

CS@VT: How will this experience give you a “leg-up” when it comes to getting a job after graduation?

Olson: I believe having such a long internship experience on my resume as a college student is rare, and probably helped me through my job-hunting process.

To learn more about internships, co-ops, and other Experiential Learning opportunities in the Department of Computer Science, please reach out to Dr. Mohammed Seyam, Coordinator of Experiential Learning.

Interview and article by Tayler Butters, CS Communications Intern