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Skill and Knowledge Sharing – Creating Community with Arisa Fukuzaki

Relicans host Pachi Parra talks with DevRel Engineer at Storyblok, Arisa Fukuzaki, about opportunities and resources to learn programming for Japanese folx, starting and keeping a coding school alive, and to find a mentor who you aim to be because if you have someone who is like a role model, you really can motivate yourself effectively.

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Jonan Scheffler: Hello and welcome to Launchies, proudly brought to you by New Relic's Developer Relations team, The Relicans. The Launchies podcast is about supporting new developers and telling their stories and helping you make the next step in what we certainly hope is a very long and healthy career in software. You can find the show notes for this episode along with all of The Relicans podcasts on developer.newrelic.com/podcasts. We're so glad you're here. Enjoy the show.

Pachi Parra: Hello and welcome to Launchies Podcast. We are a podcast for newbies, developers with non-traditional backgrounds, and career-switchers. I am Pachi, and I'm a DevRel Engineer at New Relic. And I will be your host for today. And today's guest I have here with me Arisa. She's a DevRel engineer at Storyblok where she works demonstrating how Storyblok can minimize the gap between devs and non-devs to better work.

She learned front end on her own. And after resigning from her previous job as a cabin crew on an airline, she had a chance to teach front end in an online school. And with her newfound skills and experience, she built her own school. That's awesome. In her free time, Arisa is a podcaster too. She's a GirlCode Ambassador and a front-end school mentor. So welcome, Arisa.

Arisa Fukuzaki: Hey, Pachi. Thanks for having me.

Pachi: Thanks for accepting. How are you doing today?

Arisa: Well, I'm doing great. I'm located in Germany. So right now here in Germany it's like 8:00 p.m., kind of dinner time, [laughs] but it's okay; I will have my dinner later. But yeah, today I was also doing great. And I'm really excited for this podcast.

Pachi: That's what I love about this entire DevRel thing and how online we are. You can talk to people from all over.

Arisa: [laughs] Yeah, it's crazy that everything can be done online, and you can even work in different time zones.

Pachi: Yes. It's awesome. And you are Japanese, right? So, how long have you been in Germany?

Arisa: Oh, I've been living in Germany since 2017. So it's going to be four to five years. Yeah, time flies really fast. [laughs]

Pachi: So I'm not going to ask you how you got there. I'm going to get to that later. So I'd like to ask you how you got started in tech. I feel like lots of people that I talk with didn't think that programming was for them until later in life, especially women. So I saw you used to work in airplanes before. So, how did you get started in tech, and when did you realize that that was a career path for you?

Arisa: Well, the timing when I realized that programming is something for me is when I was working in an airline, which was Emirates. And there I felt like okay, for me, in my personal opinion, this job was quite hard, you know, getting up in the middle of the night and working at 2:00 a.m. 3:00 a.m., going back home around 10:00 a.m. or something like this with different time zones. So I was like, okay, I need to make up my mind to find something like a job which is technical or something like a highly demanded job. So that's what I started to search.

And there were programmers or developers then I was like erm...Of course, in the beginning, I had some stereotypes because I didn't come from a background of computer science. And also, I don't have a computer science degree back in my home. So I was like, maybe it's not for me, but you never know until you try. So I'm the kind of person that likes to try it first, and if it doesn't work, then that's okay, and if it works, then that's hooray. [chuckles] So I tested it out and more than I expected, like really, really, more than I expected, I really loved it.

So the first thing I started was learning from HTML and CSS. That's a super fun part for beginners. I realized that maybe front end is something for me that I can continue. And I continued to study JavaScript. And yeah, so that's the moment I decided like, okay, if I'm going to change the job, then I'm going to be a developer. So I got the confidence that if I keep continuing to study, I think I can really continue that for several years or even longer than ten years or so. So that's why I was like, okay, I will quit the job, and I will fully commit to this. So yeah, that's how I got into tech. That's the moment I realized that programming is something for me.

And eventually, I got the job as a freelancer then started to be involved in one programming school, and some other schools were also attractive to work for me. So that's how I got to work as a mentor at the Front-End Foxes School and one other school.

Pachi: That's awesome. Have you ever heard or done something with programming before that? I know that here in the U.S., not for me because I'm from Brazil, but in the U.S., lots of people have some programming in high school, even if it's not great because it's not fun. But have you seen any programming when you were younger?

Arisa: Well, of course, I knew about programming. But the thing is, I didn't hear people talking about hey, there's programming, and it's super fun. And there are also some opportunities that you can learn and test it out. So actually, I didn't have a chance or someone asking me to have some lectures together, or there are some teachers who can teach us. So I think I was lacking the opportunities. But of course, there's always some environment at some point that you know how programming is or stuff like that.

Pachi: And how did you get into teaching? Because you have your own school.

Arisa: Yeah, [laughs] I have my own school. I need to say I had because as I started to work at Storyblok, I was the only person who was running the school because that was my own school. So it's going to be quite hard to manage working for both with the full 100% effort. So I'm not this talented, so I had to keep my focus on either one of them. But instead of just closing the school and saying bye-bye to all my students, I turned my own school into a free community.

Pachi: Oh, awesome.

Arisa: Yeah. So that's what I'm actually running right now. It's a tech community for Japanese developers regardless of any level. So we also have some who are really senior and also have some work experience in several companies or someone who just started to be interested in studying programming too. And in this community, instead of just learning from the teacher, you will learn the experience as well as the knowledge you need from the community members, not just from me. So it will be more varied experience that you can prepare in order to be able to work in any environment.

Pachi: That's really cool.

Arisa: Yeah. [laughs]

Pachi: And I'm curious, I'm from Brazil, and you're from Japan. We have lots of content in English on learning how to code. In Portuguese, we're getting there, but we don't have as much. So lots of people if they learn English, they have more resources. How is Japan for programming learning?

Arisa: That's a really interesting question. So the thing is, if you're Japanese and looking for some opportunities to learn programming, there are actually quite a lot of resources translated into Japanese. So I'm a front-end developer, or I came from the background of the front end. So if you're a front-end developer and, for example, know Japanese as your first language, the MDN documentation on there is also written in Japanese.

And I don't know why but somehow, most of the famous libraries and frameworks have translations for Japanese people. So if you're lucky, for example, if you're familiar with Vue.js, you have an almost full translation for the documentation, or they even have some of the technical books that you can buy at the store and also test it out in your environment. So I think even if you don't speak English or even if you cannot understand fully in English, you still have a lot of opportunities to learn and read the contents for programming in Japanese.

But of course, there's always the limitation. For example, if you want to learn something really new, features or tools, libraries, frameworks coming out...of course, all the newest information is first coming out in English. And you need to wait for a couple of months or, worst case, years for it to be translated. [chuckles] So, of course, if you understand English, there would be higher possibilities that you can have some opportunities to test these new tools.

Pachi: Yeah, learning English in programming is helpful.

Arisa: Yeah. [laughs]

Pachi: So before getting started as a DevRel engineer, you were working on front end. So you mentioned you did some freelancing. Do you care to tell us a little bit about how your experience was to get your first job as a front end, and how was that first job?

Arisa: So, my first job was actually a freelance front-end developer job. So I started as a freelancer eventually. And I found the job opportunity or project online. In Japan, we call it crowdsourcing. So through online, you will find a match with a client who is looking for someone who can develop the projects for them. So the developers also can find those kinds of clients. I found one of them. So I've developed one very simple landing page.

At the same time, I also was working for my friend who lived in Hiroshima because I'm from Hiroshima. So I developed, I would say web application. Because from her request, she wanted to have a web project as well as this web project to have the real-time chat feature. So I was integrating Firebase as BaaS, Backend-as-a-Service. And the front-end side was...at the time; I couldn't do React [laughs] because that was my first project, and I had just started to study. So I used the simple Vanilla JavaScript. So those two were working at the same time, so I would count these two as my first project.

Pachi: But that is a very challenging project for a first project. I'm impressed.

Arisa: [laughs] Yeah, at the time, I really wanted to make an impressive portfolio for future job opportunities. [laughs] So I was doing...I also was asking my clients to let me learn some of the new technologies which I wanted to study. [laughs] But it turned out really good results in the end.

Pachi: That's great. That's really cool. And after that first job...can you tell us some of the challenges that you had in your first job, like learning things, how to figure them out? Because as a freelancer, how did you get help when you needed it?

Arisa: So to get the help, in the beginning, that was the biggest challenge I've ever had at the time. The way I figured it out was, first of all, know the right place to ask the questions or know the right resources to find the answers. And the thing is, in my opinion, I didn't have to ask too often at Stack Overflow, in my opinion. [chuckles] There were already enough answers laying down in there. So when I got some error logs or some stuff like that, I just googled the keywords, which had to be really precise to narrow down the problems which I had, and also taking a look at the documentation first.

Basically, what I had in my mind or what I knew from what I studied before always going back to the documentation. And if there are no answers, then find them in Stack Overflow because, most likely, there must be some answers already that have been answered. So, in the beginning, it took some time to get used to, but I think I didn't have to take too much time because, in my case, I understand English. So it will be really faster to search in two languages, in Japanese and in English. I think that was an advantage I had.

Pachi: That's a good point, you know two languages. [chuckles] Somebody had the same question at some point.

Arisa: Yeah. And the interesting thing is at Stack Overflow if you want to ask, you also can ask in two languages, although you cannot ask at the same time. You need to somehow wait for, I think, 45 minutes up to an hour to post in a different language, but I knew that it works. [chuckles]

Pachi: That's great.

Arisa: And I was asking in both languages, and I knew that in Japanese, once they read my question, the answer may be late, but the answer is quite accurate. And in English, if I want to have really quick answers, then they're really fast. So yeah, that's the trick I used too.

Pachi: I had no idea that you could ask in two languages, but that is smart. That is great.

Arisa: [laughs]

Pachi: Can I ask how long you have been programming?

Arisa: Yeah, sure. Of course. I've been coding for more than four years. I think it's going to be almost five years. I lost my track, but I started in 2017. So yeah, it's almost five years, I would say.

Pachi: I feel like everybody is a bit lost sometimes. [laughter]

Arisa: What about you, Pachi? How long have you been coding?

Pachi: Three years.

Arisa: Oh, okay.

Pachi: I'm also not sure. Something like that.

Arisa: Wow. But then you do live streaming on Twitch. That's really impressive.

Pachi: But I do live streaming learning. I don't create things from zero. Usually, I'm learning. I like to use the live stream as a learning platform because if I have questions, the people there who are watching me can help me. [laughter] They are very helpful if you have the right people watching you. But what I want to ask you is, how did you have the idea of starting your own school, and why?

Arisa: That's also an interesting question. So the reason why I started the school is...maybe it's not a good reason as some of the listeners would imagine. [laughs] But one of the reasons was because I used to work in one Japanese online school, and I was working very closely with the CEO. So we had over 50 students in the most successful time, but eventually, there started to be less numbers of students. And one day, the CEO suddenly told me, "Arisa, sorry, we need to shut down the school. So you're on your own from today." [laughs] So I'm like, what?

Pachi: Oh.

Arisa: And then, at the time, on my own, I had already over ten students who were learning with me. So I was like, you cannot just abandon them. I need to teach them, or they must have someone who can teach them because the time they committed, the amount of money they spent, that's not something that you can just say, "Sorry, we finished and bye-bye." No, that's not nice. I'm a programming education enthusiast, so I believe in education. So I wanted to keep them to finish their studies. So that's how I came up with the idea that okay, if there is no school, then I can continue on my own.

So I told my students like, "Hey, the school is going to close the business, but I'm going to teach you guys if you're interested, and you can keep studying with me. What do you think?" And all of them stayed. So that's how I continued to reorganize the platform as my own school. And that's how it continued.

Pachi: That's nice. You already had the students, so you just kept going.

Arisa: Yeah, I already had a couple of students, more than 10 of them. That's not the number you can easily say, "No," and then say, "Goodbye." And I also had several people constantly coming over and asking me like, "Hey, I want to learn programming. Can you teach me?" So I knew that there are stable numbers of students who are coming. That's why.

Pachi: That's really nice that you told them that the school was closing, and everybody wanted to stay.

Arisa: Yeah. If you want to study something, there should always be a stable place where you can study once you start it. And nobody should be getting lost on where to study or where to continue studying. So I wanted to keep the place for them.

Pachi: And that was very nice of you.

Arisa: [laughs] In fact, I really like teaching. So yeah, I was also looking for some opportunities to keep teaching it. And yeah, they needed a place for that.

Pachi: What are some of your favorite things about teaching?

Arisa: That's another interesting question. Well, I love teaching because I myself also can learn a lot of things as well as I also will have some opportunities to read the documentation. So the thing is, I realized that if you have your hands full with some working projects and don't have time at all for studying by yourself, then you tend to take a look at the same contents or only work-related content and the documentation.

But if you teach, you need to be an expert of everything in, let's say, my case was front end. So you cannot say, "Oh, I don't know this, so you need to find it by yourself," no, instead, I need to guide the students to like, "Okay, so if you have questions about let's say an array and specific array methods, here's the MDN where you can take a look at it, or there is also good documentation which is called javascript.info, if I'm correct, so you can see the sources. And if you still have questions, you can ask me where exactly you have the questions." So it's going to be good for students to practice reading the documentation as well as for me to prepare to answer more in-depth questions. And yeah, with this, I also learned quite a lot of things. And yeah, it was really good practice for myself too.

And also time to time, when I see my students were gaining their skills and being able to build some of the projects which are not just web projects, they were also building Web apps by themselves, it really gave me some moment to feel like, wow, they gained so much skills compared to when they just started to study. And yeah, simply it gives me joy. So those are the reasons I really love teaching.

Pachi: That's super nice. And with all that, did that help you? How did you get into DevRel? Was it because of your passion for teaching? How did that happen?

Arisa: Actually, the opportunity came from one of my colleagues, Samuel, Samuel Snopko from Storyblok. So he's the head of the DevRel in Storyblok. And he approached me by watching one of the talks I gave at the GatsbyConf this year in March. So that was really unexpected because I was thinking...of course, I knew DevRel. But in my mind, it was like, in Japan, we have DevRels, but all of them are so...I don't know how to call them, but they're like superstar developers. [chuckles] So I was like, I'm not the one. I'm not as influential as they are. So I was thinking in my stereotype it's not the job for me.

But then I got an offer that said, "Hey, there's a DevRel opportunity, if you're interested," and I'm like, okay, why not try? If it's not going to fit, I still can count that I took the opportunity to take the job interview to be a DevRel. And there will be something that I can tell my students to as an experience. So I gave it a try, and surprisingly, it worked.

And I realized that actually the work I've done before, for example, giving some talks at a conference or organizing communities, teaching, programming, et cetera, also writing blogs, everything related with the DevRel job. So I learned through the job interview process that I was doing the DevRel content creation.

Pachi: I feel like that's what happened to most people in DevRel. It's not a career that when you get out of high school, you say, "I want to work in DevRel." That's not something that happens. You find out later.

Arisa: Yeah, in fact, I think still we have quite less numbers of DevRels around us. So maybe that's why some people...I even sometimes got questions from my ex-colleagues who used to work with me, like, "So you told me you're going to work as a DevRel engineer. What's DevRel?" So it's quite a new term, I guess, for some of the people too.

Pachi: Yeah, the term is really new. We talked about this before, but you have been working in DevRel for four months now.

Arisa: Yeah, four months, since this June.

Pachi: Oh, this year has gone so fast. [laughter] What are you liking the most about it? How exciting is that?

Arisa: I can tell my favorite part or the most exciting part to be a DevRel, especially at Storyblok. I would say that you will have a lot of opportunities to give talks in many conferences. And also, if you have the brand name from the company where you work, sometimes it's going to be...I don't want to say easier because I feel like I'm using the name of the brand, but then you have more trust from the conference side or conference organizers that okay, so this person could give us a talk about, let's say, related with Jamstack and the most ideal approach of the Jamstack et cetera.

Because I felt sometimes to apply to conferences as a private...I mean, the freelance developer sometimes it's quite hard to win the trust. And I find more opportunities after I started to work as a DevRel engineer. So that's one of the things I really appreciated. And also, you will have a lot of chances to get to know the other developers more than what I used to be able to do.

As a freelancer, solo, you need to be extremely talented or extremely good at marketing yourself. And if you're lucky, you will have some chance; if you're not lucky, then you don't. But if you belong in an organization or in an organization which has quite a huge trust among other services, software, et cetera, then you might have more or higher chances to get to know the other developers through the community that the company you belong to already has.

Pachi: Yes. The developer community is really nice; especially it helps you grow and to get to know people. And being in DevRel makes that your job. So that's awesome.

Arisa: [laughs] Yeah, and also, I really like to communicate with the users or customers because before I started to work as a DevRel, for me, there were quite limited opportunities to talk to the customers. Because, of course, I only have my own one body, so I have the limitations to deal with the customers who I can be responsible to develop their projects. So I had limited numbers of customers to communicate with.

But right now, I have quite a lot of demo calls to show how Storyblok works and how they can integrate in their cases. So if they're just considering taking a look at how it works in their project, I still get the chance to communicate with them what's their concerns, what's their requests, what they're considering. So it's quite good to learn from listening to the voices of the customers or potential customers or users we have.

Pachi: And I know that when you work with a company that you speak English, it's hard for you to connect to your native community. That's why on the side, I try to do a lot of Brazilian interactions. So do you have time to connect with the Japanese community?

Arisa: Let's say I still have because, like we talked in the beginning, I have my own tech community, which is for Japanese developers, regardless of any level, so I have that. Nowadays, I have been busy with the conference season because autumn is conference season for us. So I need to get back to talk to them. But I think I do.

And also, I started to have some offers from the Japanese conferences. And I guess it was last week I had a Japanese conference which was doing the live panel discussion with the other headless CMSs or monolithic CMSs. And I had the opportunity to do the live panel discussion in Japanese, which was quite new for me. [chuckles] So sometimes I had to study to find out okay, how do I say this in Japanese? I think you understand.

Pachi: Yeah, yeah.

Arisa: Because mostly, I speak at conferences in English and sometimes I don't know what to say in Japanese, so that's the funny part. [laughs]

Pachi: Yeah, at least in Portuguese, we accept...for technical words, we accept lots of them in English, so usually, it's fine. But I always try to find Portuguese terms. [laughter]

Arisa: In Japanese, we also adopt quite a lot of technical words just using English translation, but that's not all the cases. Sometimes we need to use Japanese. So yeah, [laughs] we struggle a bit.

Pachi: And you live in Germany, so do you interact with your German community? Are you fluent in German? How is it? [laughs]

Arisa: Let me be honest, I'm not fluent in German. [laughs] I guess my German level is really baby level. [laughs] So I'm not able to communicate in terms of work. In fact, I don't have some of the duties, I would say, or tasks that I need to demonstrate in German. I had some opportunities to listen or join the meetings in German, but I do not have to do that. So I would say I'm not good at demonstrating in German, but yeah. [laughs]

Pachi: Oh, that is good. I was going to say that Japanese and English are more than enough. [laughter]

Arisa: Yeah, but I really can use a lot of advantages that I can speak Japanese as my native language because now I started to be able to connect to a lot of Japanese developers who didn't know about our product Storyblok, but now they started to recognize us. So that's really something very interesting now.

Pachi: That's really nice. You can share your product with people that didn't know about it because of your native language. That's really nice. So my last question for you...it’s not really a question, but I always like to ask, what is your best advice for people that are very beginners or people that are thinking about starting to code but they're not sure if they should? What's your best advice?

Arisa: Okay. My best advice for people who are going to start to study programming is that find someone like a mentor who can teach you as well that you really can, not respect, but someone that you can aim to be. Because if you have someone who is like a role model for you, you really can motivate yourself. For example, I had a role model when I started to study programming who was actually my mentor at a school where I was very quickly in for two months and a half. And he was already doing freelance front-end developer jobs. So I was like, okay, there is also an option to work as a freelancer. And that's what I was actually interested in doing. So this gave me the motivation to be a freelance developer, too, and also the way to work. So find someone who you can look up as a role model.

And the second advice I have is that always when you get stuck, go back to the documentation. Even if the documentation is really difficult to read if you have a role model who you can ask the questions, then it will be a little bit easier, and the way to achieve your goals wouldn't be too hard. So those two advice I would recommend them. Find a mentor who you can look up to as a role model. Go back to the documentation when you get stuck.

Pachi: Those are some really great tips. Thank you so much.

Arisa: I hope so, yeah. [laughs]

Pachi: Even if you have different people, they always have some different advice, and that's great because people that are starting really need it. They don't know what's going on. So it's always great to hear from people that are like mentors, especially with different backgrounds.

Arisa: Yeah, I also saw some of the students who were struggling to continue to study just because they couldn't see something around them. Like, in my point of view, they were doing really great. But from their point of view, they can't see others around them, so they believe that, oh God, I'm the worst. I'm not doing great, what I'm doing.

Pachi: That is very true.

Arisa: But you just need to have someone to confirm that no, you're doing a great job from my perspective and just keep continuing. Don't get disturbed by the information on Twitter or on the internet. So that's what they need.

Pachi: That's a really good point, especially because if you're not in college, you want to learn so fast. But if you think about it, people that are in college learn that for four years. So you just rush yourself, and you don't really have to. So thank you so much for coming to talk with me. That was so much fun.

Arisa: Yeah, I really enjoyed it too. And it's been a really long time since we talked in my podcast, right? [laughs] It's been a couple of months. So I really had fun.

Pachi: Yes, it was fun. Before you go, can you just tell people where they can find you online?

Arisa: Oh yeah, sure. That's an important thing. You can find me on Twitter, so my Twitter username is @arisa_dev. My DMs are open. So if you have questions related with Storyblok, I'm very happy to answer, of course. You also can find me on LinkedIn. Also, if there's some chance, then I will pass over the link to Pachi so she can maybe post it. And I also have my own website too so you can check out the talks I talked at the conferences, et cetera.

Pachi: The links are going to be in the description. And thanks again for chatting with me. That was super fun, especially because I know that it's pretty late there.

Arisa: Oh no. Don't worry about it. It's fine. [laughs]

Pachi: And thanks, everybody, for listening. This was the Launchies Show for you. And thanks again. Have a great week and see you or hear you later.

Jonan: Thank you so much for joining us. We really appreciate it. You can find the show notes for this episode along with all of the rest of The Relicans podcasts on therelicans.com. In fact, most anything The Relicans get up to online will be on that site. We'll see you next week. Take care.

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