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Code Chrysalis Shares Secret to Software Engineer Success
Kumiko Haraguchi, a (female) engineer in Japan wanted to learn more and be more, knowing that career advancement was in reach. We’ll talk about the career resources that helped Kumiko land a position as front-end engineer at Paidy, a fast-growing online payment startup based in Tokyo. Kumiko’s inspiring success story is shared through three influential perspectives– that of–Yan Fan, Co-founder & CTO of Code Chrysalis, Ken Izumi, VP of Engineering at Paidy Inc. and Nonoka Kaneko, Wahl & Case Consultant. Last but not least, Kumiko herself will share about her journey and the events that led up to her placement.
The first perspective we will feature in this series is the voice of Yan Fan, Co-founder & CTO of Code Chrysalis. We’ll take a deeper look into how Kumiko gained lifelong (soft) skills at Code Chrysalis essential to landing her dream job at Paidy as a front-end engineer. The story is particularly interesting as it is set against a larger backdrop of challenging work and gender expectations in Japan.
–Yan, what were your very first impressions of Kumiko and how did she come to apply to Code Chrysalis’ full-time immersive course?
I actually met Kumiko at a women-only coding meet-up that I organized. I remember her really well because she was a great communicator and she [I definitely noticed] had a knack for coding. She already had some experience and I thought, “Wow, you’re really really good at what you do.” I found out that she wasn’t exactly being challenged at her job at the time.
She had these pretty tangible dreams of wanting to learn more, wanting to do more.
So, I convinced her to do our program.
–Do you know what Kumiko was looking for?
I think she wanted to do more than what she was doing. Kumiko was a front-end developer and doing a lot of front-end work that is not quite as interesting, like creating websites for customers using HTML, CSS, and jQuery.
Front-end has gotten a lot more complex now and the field has moved very far from the old days of when you just had jQuery. She knew that there was more to her job and she wasn’t getting the chance to learn more.
–So, she wanted to be updated with newer tech?
Yes. She also wanted to be seen as more technical. I remember one of the things that she disliked was whenever she told people that she was a developer, they always assume[d] that she was a designer because she’s a woman. So, that was something that always irked her and she really wanted to prove that she could do it all and have a really solid understanding of everything.
–“C.A.T.E.” is a mnemonic taught at Code Chrysalis. What does it mean?
Communication, Autonomy, Technical and Empathy are four characteristics that we are pushing as vital to being a strong software engineer. You need to be technical, of course, but you also need to be a great communicator, because engineering is a team sport, and you need to have autonomy, because technology moves so fast. You also need empathy, because you’re creating products for customers that you need to understand.
–When I interviewed Ken and Nonoka about what made Kumiko such an attractive candidate– it was specifically those C.A.T.E. traits–especially “Communication”. I guess engineers have that reputation that they aren’t very good with communicating with people.
There’s always that stereotypical story of the relationship between engineers and product: The product manager requests something from the engineers and the engineers do something completely different from what the product manager told them. It’s all a communications issue. And it’s because engineers often times don’t know how to talk to people who are not technical and vice versa. So, there needs to be a lot more focus and training on just how to communicate better.
–How do you go about teaching that skill, technical people talking to non-technical people and vice versa?
We do a lot of exercises in the course that helps with developing these communication skills. One of them is with pair programming. Almost every assignment is pair programmed. There are several different flavors of pair programming, but we do the driver-navigator one (where only one person is allowed to type and control the computer while the other person is the one that tells the typer what to do). We think this is particularly effective because usually when you’re on your own, you don’t think through your ideas as much and don’t need to explain your thoughts to someone else. We require students to do lightning talks once a week. We also do something called “Code Chrysalis Caraoke”, where the students get a slide deck that they don’t get to prepare for in advance and have to present in front of the class. Our students also have to organize and lead a technical meet-up. Those are just some of the things we do.
— Ken mentioned that one of Kumiko’s shining points during her interview was that she was so confident. I think this observed skill goes to show how successful you’ve been with training your students as well as demonstrating that Code Chrysalis’ method in teaching students to be “comfortable with being uncomfortable” is quite effective.
Kumiko used to be super quiet. We had to keep inching her out of her comfort zone. All of our students are required to lead tech meetups and when Kumiko led hers, it was incredible. She was just a different person. She was on stage. She commanded the room. She was super loud and it was just amazing. I think she lacked a sense of confidence in the very beginning.
— Do you have any other female students?
Since Kumiko, we’ve only had two other women. What’s unfortunate is that there are so many women with potential in Japan. Women tend to speak better English, they tend to be the type to go abroad more often. But what we are seeing is that it’s not getting translated into economic power. According to World Economic Forum (WEF), Japan is ranked 114th in gender equality rankings. They’re just slightly above the Middle Eastern countries. Japan is such a wealthy country, I can’t imagine what would happen if Japan actually utilized the remaining talent that are currently not being utilized.
–What were your reasons for starting up Code Chrysalis in Japan, specifically?
So, a lot of reasons.
One, Japan used to be a tech powerhouse. In the 80s and 90s, everyone thought that Japan was going to take over the world for tech….and then they didn’t. Technology now is quite different. It’s more software driven. In the past, it was hardware driven–and that was where Japan was really strong. Because of the foundations that Japan had built, they’re still known globally as a technologically advanced country.
Now that [I] live here though, it’s really not in many ways, but it’s changing. There weren’t very many tech startups five years ago. The scene wasn’t as lively as it is now. And so I wanted to get in before it gets really hot. It’s a good time to be here.
Secondly, there’s such a dearth of software engineers here. For every student that’s graduated, we get at least 10 companies asking to hire them. A problem is that software engineering here has traditionally not been a very attractive occupation. Whenever you’re at a really large traditional company, being a software engineer at those places is not very fun. The work embodies the Japanese 3 Ks. I know a lot of fantastic Japanese software engineers in the Valley. So, there is a bit of a brain drain.
We are also very opinionated about the way we teach. A big issue that a lot of software engineers struggle with is, because the industry moves really fast, you can’t always be relying on someone to give you instructions. We want our students to get used to the fact that we’re not here to give them the solutions. Some Japanese people think “that’s not teaching,” but we don’t think lectures are teaching either. In our class, you are expected to form an opinion, to analyze critically, and you’re expected to participate in the conversation. That’s something Japanese people who’ve gone through the school system are not used to doing.
Our teaching method is similar to the Harkness Method or Socratic Method. Instead of us lecturing all the time, we’re asking questions and pushing our students to discuss based on what they have researched and seen and that’s something not as common in Japan. I think some people have criticized us for this, but just looking at the numbers and also the understanding afterwards, this is a superior way of doing it.
Kumiko enrolled in Code Chrysalis’ full-time immersive course in July last year and was placed at Paidy, Inc. in March this year. Are you ready to re-engineer yourself?