Member interview Vol. 3 “Over 30 Years as a Challenger and an Engineer, the Destination He’s arrived is SpaceTech Field.”

With our third entry of member interviews, we will continue with Takehiko Sonoda, an engineer.

He jumped into this space venture with a non-space background and is actually an outsourcing-agreement member at WARPSPACE. You’ll find his background and story behind the development of WARP-01/Nichirin in this article.

1.Could you share your background up to date?

I joined an electronics manufacturer in 1989 as an engineer and was in charge of developing image processing software. I’d had about 32 years of real-world experience after graduation. After that, in the fall of 1995, I decided to work for a different company, a semiconductor manufacturer. I was in charge of the development of image testing software for manufacturing equipment. I worked there for a full 6 years but in 2001, that department was closed due to the semiconductor recession and thus I left the company at that time. Then, I started working for a third company in 2002 and was in charge of contract development of embedded software. I was involved in the product development of those now-called “flip phones” and “FOMA” when they first came on the scene.

(He loves marathons. His total distance run in 2020 was 800 km.)

- FOMA, sounds nostalgic.
Other things from the scope of my experience …

Software for multi-function phones connecting through LAN, which are used in offices, RF devices for voice and data communication … in short, most of my experience lies in software development related to communication. I worked for that company for 17 years.

- You have such a variety of development experiences.

- How did you get to know WARPSPACE?
Since 2018, I’ve been involved with the Ryman Sat Project and I met a member of WARPSPACE there.

At the time, they were working on the development of WARP-01 but a member was concerned about the delay of software development. Then in May 2019, I asked, “Is there anything I can do to help?”, but they said, “It seems fine for now.” But then in June, they said, “We won’t be able to develop on schedule, so we need your help.” That was the beginning.

- At the interview with Kimura-san, I remember that he said, “Sonoda-san was the person who picked up the pieces.”

I had to work quickly towards the development for the handover scheduled in November. So I developed the base myself, keeping parts for each function that had already been created.

- WARP-01 literally works based on your development.

That’s true regarding the software. With the exception of communication software, I make most of the software so I’m the most familiar with what’s going on with it. But that means there is a lot of responsibility on me and if the satellite doesn’t work correctly, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself …

- Let’s keep our fingers crossed!!

(With WARP-01 @office)

2.He dared to choose the way of a subcontractor.

- I’d like to hear about your unique position. You are not a regular company employee, are you?

No, I work as a subcontractor.

- But it seems that you work more closely in the team compared to general subcontractor.

Well, I’d say that I’m a subcontractor who works full-time. I quit the last company at the age of 55. But if the retirement age is 60, I thought that I’d lose my way if I focused entirely on development and then suddenly reached retirement.

If I were pushed into the local society, what I used to do in the company wouldn’t be useful. So my idea was to retire ahead of 60 and start working locally. Therefore, I think of it as “voluntary early retirement.”

- “Voluntary” is key.

Right. However, this time, I got an offer from a startup and thought it seemed more interesting than working locally in society. So, I ended up keeping on working as an engineer. Working for a startup not as a manager, but as a player, is really unusual at my age. I decided to run with it until 60 and not to think too much after that.

- You chose the way to enjoy working till 60.
Yes, but the reason is that I still feel like doing something locally so I’ll put everything on it when the time comes. If I were a full-time employee at WARPSPACE, I’d hang on too long and when I’m not necessary for the team, I’d be a burden. So, in the end, I found the current status is best.

- Didn’t you get concerns regarding employee benefits or social support?
I’d already made up my mind regarding those points when I quit working as a regular company employee, so I’m not worried about it.

- Jumping into the startup field at your age as a player, rather than a manager, is quite rare. What inspired you to make that decision?

The biggest factor behind that decision was that I’m done raising my kid. In short, I don’t spend so much money on my kid anymore and it enabled me to do something adventurous. I think it was a good time to take the plunge with this path.

- Do you enjoy your work as an engineer?
Working as an engineer at my age makes me happy, but it’s true that keeping up with the latest technology can be a challenge. When we do technology-related work, we have to learn new things in order to create innovative things. It seems to me that even if I repeat the same thing over and over again, there is a technical novelty and that makes it fun. I think I’m cut out for it.

3.What I want to do, look forward to in the future

I don’t really think about it and maybe that’s the difference between my role and that of a company employee. I can’t even think about it as a subcontractor. However, when new members, especially software engineers, join our team, I’m eager to share my knowledge and know-how with them. That’s what I’m looking forward to.

WARPSPACE is a new company and things will keep changing rapidly, but we have to learn to incorporate the positive aspects of the traditional way of development. “Not just develop one thing, but manufacture it as professionals.” In this sense, I think we should learn the developmental processes or procedures that general manufacturing companies do. Since I used to work for a manufacturing company, I have experience in that area, though if someone without such experience joins the team, I’d like to bridge the gap.

Besides that, our first satellite, WARP-01/Nichirin has been deployed from the ISS, so I would like to focus on sharing what WARP-01 is.

Finally, let’s hear about “Compass of Behavior”.

Our Compass of Behavior
01. Leap
02. Goal oriented
03. Decide with fact
04. Chase one chance
05. Resilient spirit
06. Respect your crew
07. Love family
08. Adventure
09. Be attractive

4.What is the important item in our Compass?

For me, “Be attractive” is the most important. I would like WARPSPACE to be a team that is loved by a lot of people.

For example, I would like as many people as possible to know about WARP-01 and be part of our project. I want to present WARP-01 in an attractive way; rather than just claim “I did this or that part,” I want to focus on the value of the team and satellite itself, and so on. It is also likely to bring in new members.

- We are really excited to operate the WARP-01 and develop the next satellite.
Yes, indeed.

Writer / Photographer
Ryotaro Kawahara

We are startup company started as a project in University of Tsukuba, 2011. We will provide the optical telecommunication service with LEO Sat operator by 2023.