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Heads in Clouds – Freelance Finance and Being Your Own Boss with Hiroko Nishimura

AWS Community Hero, Founder of AWS Newbies, and author of Freelance Finance Hiroko Nisimura talks to Relicans host Pachi Carlson about being a “professional beginner,” focusing on teaching people with non-traditional backgrounds, and writing the book to help people start out correctly in setting up freelance finances – because learning the hard way can kind (legally) of suck.

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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 We're so glad you're here. Enjoy the show.

Pachi Carlson: Hello and welcome to Launchies. I’m Pachi Carlson, and I’m going to be your host today. So today, I have Hiroko Nishimura with me. She’s a technical writer, she’s an AWS Community Hero, and she’s also the founder of AWS Newbies. And she helps people with non-traditional backgrounds to begin their exploration in AWS Cloud. And you also just released a book about Freelance Finance, right?

Hiroko Nishimura: Yeah, it’s in pre-order.

Pachi: I wish I actually had that last year when I was freelancing because of the taxes bit.

Hiroko: Yeah, it’s a mess.

Pachi: It is. And nobody tells you how to do it.

Hiroko: Exactly.

Pachi: So I was watching your YouTube video, and I know that this question may be a bit long, but can you just give us a bit of your background? Like, when did you first get in tech? I know you went to college for a Special Education degree, right?

Hiroko: Yeah. So I have a bachelor's and masters in Special Education.

Pachi: Cool. And where in that journey did you decide to work with tech?

Hiroko: So, I didn't. When I graduated college, I decided that I wanted to try my hand in something that's not teaching directly. So I moved to New York looking for a job in a non-profit working in disability advocacy. It turns out no one's really hiring. And if they are, the salary is very low. So I spent half a year looking for a job and not being able to find any that would take me because New York is definitely a place to go if you want the job because there's a lot of jobs, but it's not a place to go to look for a job when you have no experience in a completely unrelated degree. So I couldn't find a job. And I just happened to put in my resume to become a recruiter at a recruiting firm because I was like, you know what? What the heck, whatever's going to pay my bills is going to pay my bills. And when I went in for an interview, they said, “Oh, actually, we just filled this position, but would you be interested in working as an IT help desk engineer at one of our clients? And I was like, “Well, I have absolutely no experience in IT or tech.” And they were like, “Yeah, yeah.” But their client was a Japanese company, and they needed a bilingual help desk engineer. And they said they can teach me engineering skills if I wanted to learn, but they can't teach language skills, so they want to buy my language skills. So I'm bilingual in Japanese and English. And I was like, oh wow, that's very strange. But I guess that’s New York for you. I figured I had absolutely no idea if it's going to work out or not. But I figured I don't have a job, and if it worked out, great, if it doesn't, then we'll just part ways when my three-month trial period ended. It worked out. And I’ve been in tech ever since, that was five or six years ago, I think.

Pachi: Oh, that’s nice. So you had no interest until you got the job.

Hiroko: Yeah.

Pachi: And you were like, “Okay, it’s not as bad.” Japanese is not easy to learn. I have been trying, so I can tell you. [laughs]

Hiroko: Yeah, it's very difficult, especially the written language is very difficult.

Pachi: Yes. I speak Portuguese. From Portuguese to taking Japanese is not as hard, but writing is just a whole different level. So you go into tech, and I know that you're very passionate about the cloud. Where did you get interest for the cloud? How did that start?

Hiroko: So that was also another accident.

Pachi: [laughs]

Hiroko: I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my career because I was in a support role. And I did a little bit in IT, support analyst, for about a year and then I came back to support role. And then I was looking into what next step I wanted to take, where I wanted to take my career. And I wasn't really sure where I wanted to go. There's networking, sysadmin, DevOps. There are all these different ways that I could have gone. And there's just so many options but not as much information as I would've liked. So when I was looking for my next step, I was talking to one of my friends, and he was saying how he got this certification and got a super awesome job with super awesome benefits and salary with no actual hands-on experience because of this certification. And that was the AWS Solutions Architect Associate Certification. And I was like, “Whoa, what? That sounds cool.” And then I was like, “Okay, so what is AWS?” And so I started from there. I was like, “Oh, that sounds really cool. I want to check this out.” And as hard as I tried to check it out, I couldn't understand anything that was being written or said about AWS. I could tell that you do a lot of things, and it helps you do a lot of things, and it's a big deal. And everyone's like, “Ah, this is awesome.” But I was like, so what exactly is it? And it was hard for someone with no background to grasp what it does and why it's important. And I started studying for the Cloud Practitioner exam, which was new at the time. But all the resources I was using weren't able to explain it to me in a way that I could understand. And it took me a while to figure out why this was the case because all these exam prep resources were marketed towards people who wanted to take the cloud practitioner exam. But for some reason, I was like, I don't understand it. Even if it says it's meant for people -- they explain it like you're five, I'm not five, but I definitely had no idea what they were talking about.

Pachi: I can relate. [laughter]

Hiroko: And after a while, I realized it's because they didn't realize that the audience for the Cloud Practitioner exam is different from what every other certification exams audiences were because the other exams were for people who worked in IT and had infrastructure experience. And even if you were a beginner in cloud, you were not a beginner in IT. So they took for granted that you had a certain understanding about infrastructure, a certain vocabulary, and certain mind maps that allows you to map on certain cloud concepts and AWS services. And if you said, “Oh, this is like this,” people are like, “Oh okay, gotcha.” But that certification was actually marketed for people who aren't working in tech. It was marketed for people who might need to learn the AWS because they're graphic designers and their company is using it or the finance people, legal people who need to understand if AWS is okay compliance-wise, stuff like that. So whatever resources that they had to help people prepare for the exam needed to take into account that these people don't have IT infrastructure knowledge. And that was when I started creating for my own study prep because I just could not understand at all what was going on, and I have to pass my certification exam. And I asked myself how do I learn best? And I think, especially because of my background in education, I was like, well, I learn best by regurgitating information in my own words. So was just my own study sheet for my certification exam. And I figured once I pass the exam, I'll just leave it up for a year until the AWS Free Tier expires, and then I'll take it down. But within the first couple of months, it was getting 10,000 hits from Google.

Pachi: Wow.

Hiroko: And that's when I realized that wait, this might actually be a need that is not being fulfilled, and a lot of people are searching for this.

Pachi: Yes. I know that I still don't fully understand what AWS is and what the cloud does.

Hiroko: My whole career has kind of been like an accident, so I just roll with it. I think that's what the big part was is that I just roll with it when opportunities present themselves.

Pachi: And that makes a big difference in the long run if you just accept what’s going on. And you seem to have done a really great job with it. You started working in tech. You also have a LinkedIn AWS course. I want to do that because I work in programming, but I am also from a non-traditional background. So I never went to college. I do mostly front-end things. So still, all the jargon and the algorithms and all those things are very scary to me to this day. But I see AWS everywhere, and I don't really know what it is.

Hiroko: I think most people don't know what it is. That's why jargon exists so people can cover up that they don't exactly know what they're talking about. [chuckles]

Pachi: Yes. I always joke that I'm really good at pretending I know what I'm talking about, but I don't really know what I'm talking about. [chuckles] So your focus is to teach people with non-traditional backgrounds, right?

Hiroko: Mm-hmm.

Pachi: Why did you decide to focus on that?

Hiroko: So I didn't really focus on that either. It was just who I was. And when I was creating resources for myself, that just became, I guess, they call it the avatar or the profile. Because I was creating resources for people like me, that in turn meant that I was creating resources for people with non-traditional technical backgrounds. And a few months after I created, a content manager from LinkedIn Learning reached out to me asking if I'd be interested in creating introductory AWS courses for people with non-traditional technical backgrounds. And that's where it started to stick.

Pachi: That is really awesome. And when you have this non-technical background, and you step into tech, and this may be a silly question, but did you feel imposter syndrome? How bad was that?

Hiroko: I think imposter syndrome is just there, no matter where you are and what you're doing. People who have decades of experience in tech and are industry leaders talk about their imposter syndrome. So I think as a career transplant, there's obviously going to be a lot of that. But in my case, for a while, I really was trying to figure out how to become that person, that techie engineer person, and trying to become the model of a sysadmin or that guy who's wearing sweaters and hacking. Because people are like, “Oh, that's what you should be. That's what you need to be like.” But then I realized after a while that there's plenty of people who will do that. But my unique background and skill sets are what's going to set me apart, and trying to become like someone isn't going to set me apart. It's not going to let me do my best work. So I actually call myself a professional beginner. My job is to be a professional beginner with my technical writing and my technical courses. I just released a course with Egghead that's teaching people an introduction to CSS Grid. But I'm a professional beginner. My job is to go in there and be like, “I don't get this. I don't understand this. Let's explain this better.” And then to create resources and documentation that will help other people also start from scratch and learn. And my job, I get paid to say, “I don't understand, and I don't get this. This needs to be explained better, “and then take part in doing that explanation. So it's like my imposter syndrome has done a whole 360, and now this is my career, being an imposter, and people pay me for it. So, sometimes it's not a bad thing.

Pachi: That’s really awesome. [chuckles] I really love it, especially ‘professional beginner.’ You are an example of you don't follow the path that everybody else is doing. Because sometimes we are afraid of asking those questions. We understand half of what they're telling us, but you don't want to ask those questions. If I say, “I don’t understand,” the blame is going to be on me. And you just keep going without understanding those concepts, whatever they are.

Hiroko: Yeah. In the beginning, I felt like that. I guess for the most part, when I was working in corporate, I felt like that. And then I realized there's this whole world online when you work as a freelancer where your ability to voice your questions and put it into words will help people create better documentation for other people who also don't understand. And having that beginner's mind is something you can't get back once you stop being a beginner, so it's a very valuable asset when you still have it. And yeah, being able to think like that has really helped with not having to feel like I shouldn't be doing what I'm doing.

Pachi: That's really awesome for people that are listening and for me too because I think I'm going to be a newbie forever, and that's fine. I always try to, when I'm doing any kind of content, to just say, “Hey, do I really understand?” You said that the way you learn is you record everything that you're learning; I do the same thing. I just read the stuff, and I just say everything with my words, and the things click. So you mentioned that now you're working as a freelancer. And where did the idea of the book come from?

Hiroko: So I just finished writing Freelance Finance 101, which is, I guess, exactly what the title says, but it will help you start out setting up your freelance finances. And it really came from the fact that -- so I started freelancing in June 2019, so almost two years ago. And I had a lot of people who I look up to who are also self-employed, and they're doing crazy work, and it's awesome, and it's very inspiring. And I get a lot of motivation out of seeing what they do. But one thing that I wasn't able to get as much information on was how to manage my finances as a freelancer and how things work like creating bank accounts, thinking about retirement accounts as a freelancer, creating LLCs. Should I even have an LLC?. There's a lot of things that, aside from taxes, which is an obvious problem on its own, that just took so much time, effort, and anxiety to work out. And honestly, I don't think I even have it worked out even after two years. But this year, I hired an accountant for the first time. So I’m hoping that will help alleviate some of the issues and stress. But I felt the same thing with AWS Newbies where I was like, there's no need for people to have to recreate the wheel and try to understand things from scratch if I can help them along the way. And I felt like freelance finances and setting up your freelance financials for success is also one of those things. So I shoved in two years of lessons I learned and resources I've collected into the book, and hopefully, it'll help other to-be freelancers and people who are new to this whole process not have to waste hundreds or thousands of hours like I did trying to figure it out.

Pachi: Yeah. That is a scary process. Even if you’re just doing a little freelancing, you still have to do all this; just the taxes portion of it is a lot of work.

Hiroko: Yeah. It's just a very different way of having to think about things than when you're an employee, and no one prepares you for that. [chuckles]

Pachi: Even when I was doing freelance last year, I was trying to find out how much I should put aside for taxes, and there was no place that told me exactly a percentage. I’m like, how much do I set aside? I don’t know. I just want to pay taxes.

Hiroko: And I also always think it's so ludicrous the government knows exactly how much it wants from you, but they won't tell you and then gets mad when you don't get it right. I’m like, this is like school except worse because you actually get in legal trouble.

Pachi: Right? It's so bad. I don't even like math. Just tell me how much you want. I'm going to give them money to you.

Hiroko: [chuckles] Yeah, exactly. That's why I got an accountant this year. I couldn't afford one, which is also another huge problem is when you're starting out with freelancing, you can't afford all these expensive services. So then you have to make do, but then you get in trouble with the IRS because you're not filing your taxes properly. Hopefully, the book can help people navigate some of that.

Pachi: I'm sure it will. Even when you have a little bit of money, finding the right people is hard too.

Hiroko: Yeah, exactly. I had so much trouble finding an accountant because when I asked for advice, everyone's like, “Oh yeah, my first five were horrible, but the one I have now is great.” And other people are like, “Oh yeah, my first ten were horrible, and they really, really screwed us up. But this one I have now is great.” I was just like, dude, I cannot try ten people. [laughs]

Pachi: Who can afford that?

Hiroko: I can't. My emotions can't afford that.

Pachi: Right? It's not even financially; there’s also the stress that comes with that.

Hiroko: Yeah, exactly.

Pachi: You just want to lay down in a fetal position and cry.

Hiroko: Yeah, exactly.

Pachi: That was me last year.

Hiroko: [laughs]

Pachi: I’m going to stay here and cry and hope that all my problems are going to solve themselves and somebody's going to pay my taxes.

Hiroko: Which it won't happen because now you're now your own employer and no one's going to help you ever again.

Pachi: Nobody cares. It’s so sad.

Hiroko: No one cares anymore because you're not an employee.

Pachi: Right. My grandma always says that “You are the only person that really, really likes you.” So you have to do it yourself because no one is going to do that for you. It’s sad, but it's true.

Hiroko: Yeah, you're the only person that cares about you.

Pachi: Sorry, people. But that is the sad, cold truth of the universe. [laughter]

Hiroko: I think actually, though, that makes it easier for you to do what you really want to do though. Because when I was trying to quit my job, I was like, oh, I can't just quit my job without another job lined up. I can't do that. That's not acceptable. And then I was thinking like, why is it not acceptable? Why can't I quit my job without another job lined up? And I was like, oh, it's because I'm afraid of what people will say. It's like, “Oh, look, she's just quit her job, what a bum.” But then I'm just like, wait a second. I don't care who quits their job. No one cares. And once I realized no one actually cares, it just opened up all these windows for me because I was like, wait, no one cares if I quit my job. No one cares if I'm doing this or that. And once you realize no one actually cares what you're doing that much, I think you become a lot more freer to pursue the kind of life you want because, yeah, they're not really watching. [laughs]

Pachi: Yeah, that's very true. And the people that do care are not you. They're not going to pay your bills.

Hiroko: Yeah, exactly. They're not going to take responsibility for me being unhappy. So yeah, exactly.

Pachi: So being miserable in your work is not worth it.

Hiroko: Exactly

Pachi: Do you feel like you're happy with where you are right now, with all the ‘accidents’ that have happened? [chuckles]

Hiroko: I love it. It's great. I get to do what I love, and I mostly get to pick and choose what job I want to do, which means I can see if I want to align with my values or something I find is exciting or interesting. I feel like there's just a little more respect for my work here in the freelance world. I think how I felt about anyone can do the job I'm doing at corporate was kind of right in that they also felt like there's plenty of replacements for me. It doesn't have to be me doing this job. So the way that I was treated was like a commodity. But when you're working freelance, you're selling your skills. So when clients are buying your skills, they value your skills, and that's why they're paying you for them. So I tend to feel that there's a lot more respect for my work and a lot more artistic freedom to do what I think works. And so it creates a much better working condition for me.

Pachi: That is magic. That's so nice, especially nowadays like; everybody is saying you should believe in different things.

Hiroko: Yeah. [chuckles] There's no point in them hiring you for a lot of money if they don't think you do a good job. So inherently, if people are willing to pay your hourly rate or project rate, then they think they want what you can offer, which means they respect your work, which wasn't the feeling I got at my corporate jobs. So it's been a pretty cool transition.

Pachi: And you tell them your price and if they want it, great, if they don't want it, it'll be just like that’s how much I’m worth.

Hiroko: Yeah, if they don't want to take that price, then that's fine. We just don't do work together, and you just move on. And you can't really do that with a corporate job. You can't just be like, “Oh, you don't want to pay me? Too bad.” They're just going to be like, “No, we're just not going to pay you this much.”

Pachi: Yeah, we’re just going to hire somebody else.

Hiroko: Yeah, exactly. So that's been cool.

Pachi: So you don't miss the corporate world at all?

Hiroko: I think I missed that taxes were easier. But other than that, no, I don't miss it at all.

Pachi: That’s the best part.

Hiroko: Mm-hmm. I can sleep in. I can set my own schedule. I can hang out with my family, and I'm completely location-independent. So if this whole pandemic thing wasn't happening, I can work from anywhere or not work at all. The flexibility you can't compare. [laughs]

Pachi: Yeah, it's really great. And I know that you had brain surgery, right?

Hiroko: Yeah.

Pachi: I guess flexibility is very important for you. I'm guessing that you cannot work for five days a week, eight hours a day, like in a schedule. How did that affect your work?

Hiroko: I could work, but especially after I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis a couple of years back, I was like, I need to figure out a way to work that's a lot more flexible because I can't take for granted that I'll be able to move for the rest of my life. I can't take for granted that I'll have the energy, or I'll be in a good place mentally to be able to work a 40-hour workweek commuting one hour, two hours a day. And that's when I really started to evaluate other ways of working. And so far, it's worked out pretty well.

Pachi: That’s great. It’s not the same thing, but I have ADHD. So my job has to be stimulating, and I cannot get bored because if I get bored, I'm not working. And because I have this burst of energy, I need to take a break every couple of hours because I exhaust myself, so the flexibility is really, really important.

Hiroko: I have executive function disorder from my brain surgery, so it's like ADHD on crack.

Pachi: Oh.

Hiroko: And I just had to learn how to deal with it and also use its benefits for finishing projects and stuff. So I hyperfocus sometimes, but I just have to be able to figure out how to trigger that so that I can get something done. But when it is triggered, I finish a whole entire book in a day. I can write a book in a day or create a whole entire course in a day.

Pachi: That’s awesome. I wish I could turn on my hyperfocus. My hyperfocus just works for fiction books.

Hiroko: [laughs] To read it?

Pachi: Yes. I can read one fiction book every four hours if I don't have work to do. But once I get a coding book, a technical book, or even a self-help book, I have to force myself, and I’m going to finish that in a month or two.

Hiroko: I've moved on to audiobooks, and that's really helped because paper books and I just don't get along anymore.

Pachi: Yeah, I think you have to find what your brain likes better, especially if you're learning things because each brain works differently. Like, I cannot read a physical book, but I can read little pieces of the freeCodeCamp forum that you read a little bit, and you do a little exercise. I read a little, and I practice it, so things connect magically in my brain. I don't know how my brain works. But if I’m just sitting there reading or watching something on YouTube, my brain just goes places, and I remember that I really have to buy cat food.

Hiroko: [chuckles] It took me a while to accept that it doesn't matter how I get something done or what I use to get something done. It could be that I need to give myself stickers or something every time I do something. The important thing is that it gets done. And when I realized that if I have to bribe myself to do it, that's fine because I got it done, it made my life a lot easier because I was like, yeah, the important thing is I got it done. [chuckles] So I'll bribe myself if I have to in order to get things done because then it's done.

Pachi: I'm going to try bribing myself with chocolates. I’m sure it will work. [chuckles]

Hiroko: Someone said, “You don't get brownie points for suffering,” and I think that's very true. No one cares how much you suffer to make this thing a reality. They just want that thing to be a reality.

Pachi: Right. Nobody asks you, “How did you feel building this project for me?” [laughs]

Hiroko: Yeah. “How much did you suffer when you created this project?”

Pachi: “Did you sleep eight hours a night doing that?” Nobody is going to ask you that. That's so very true. They don’t even think about that.

Hiroko: So then why do we force ourselves to do it the right way that neurotypical people do? It's like, no, no one cares how much you suffered to do it. They just want you to give it to them. And we give it to them. We just have to bribe ourselves to get it there. [chuckles]

Pachi: If it works, it works. Yes. I feel like it's just, especially with special education, you have to find out what is the thing that makes your brain accept information. But once you do, things work a bit nicer. Like, I used to have bad days that I don't do anything. There was no focus on anything. But it’s not as often.

Hiroko: When that happens, I just give up these days. And I'm like, okay, today I'm going to just cook or something. [chuckles]

Pachi: I used to fight myself, and I’d just be sitting at my computer miserable for eight hours and getting nothing done. And now I just have a management team that is really supportive. So I’m just like, okay, I'm going to take the afternoon off because my brain really needs an afternoon off, but that's fine. That is really precious. I was going to ask you about tips for freelancing, but then I started talking about education, so I had to go back. [chuckles] I want to ask you if somebody wants you to start freelancing today, what is the most important advice you'd give them?

Hiroko: I think the most important advice is that you have to figure out what it is that you can offer people and be able to differentiate yourself from other people. And it might be in a way that you don't expect. Like for myself, you would think people want to buy expertise. But in my case, as I mentioned earlier, I'm selling the fact that I'm a beginner. Freelancing gives you the freedom to market yourself and create your own narrative. And that really helps, but it also takes some time before you can probably create that narrative. And unless you're secure financially, I would recommend that you don't quit your full-time job if you have a full-time job until you can make sure you have some recurring revenue. And make sure you get your money stuff done from the beginning. [laughs]

Pachi: Just pre-order her book. Yay. [chuckles]

Hiroko: Yeah, you can read my book. But really, it just makes it so much easier when you set yourself up properly from the beginning instead of hodgepodging and then going like, “Tax time ahh,” because that will happen, I promise you.

Pachi: As I can tell you, because my taxes this year are not ready and it’s because of six months of freelancing I did last year, and I didn't take care of things I should. I’m literally paying for it. [laughter]

Hiroko: Just make sure you're not ignoring the money stuff. You're probably doing freelancing because you want to make money. So make sure you're going to keep that money and try not to ignore that part of it, and pay your quarterly taxes.

Pachi: Pay your taxes, people. You don’t want the IRS.

Hiroko: Yeah, the IRS is not people you want to talk to.

Pachi: And they don't really care about you either.

Hiroko: No, they really don't care about you. They're like those bad teachers who give -- do you know those questions on exams that are meant to trip you up?

Pachi: Yes.

Hiroko: They're like them. [laughs] They’re not your friends.

Pachi: They don't even want your money. They just want to trip you.

Hiroko: Exactly. Exactly. They just want to make your life miserable. Because they know exactly what they want from you, they just won't tell you.

Pachi: Why don’t they just tell you, like, seriously?

Hiroko: I know.

Pachi: Please, people, be nice. [laughter] We're already struggling to get the freelancing thing out of the ground, and then we have to worry about that.

Hiroko: Yeah. It's like you think it's not hard enough that we're trying to make money out of nothing, which is kind of what freelancing is: you try to materialize money out of something that doesn't exist. And then they're like, “Oh, the joke’s on you.” All of these things you didn't know about because we don't teach these things in school.

Pachi: Nope. “Financial education, why didn’t you know that?”

Hiroko: Yeah, exactly.

Pachi: “Just get a credit card and a college loan and own us like $50,000 when you’re like 20.”

Hiroko: You’re 21, you’re life’s all blooming, and then you have all this debt.

Pachi: Seriously. I didn't go to college, and when I look at my husband's loans, I don't regret not going to college. [chuckles]

Hiroko: Yeah, it’s a mess this whole business.

Pachi: Yeah, I just wish they would care a little more about the people. But let me not get political. [chuckles] You have a master's in special education. Are you somehow using it on what you're teaching right now? How is that applicable, if it is applicable, to what you do today?

Hiroko: So I think it's exactly what I'm doing. What special education is it teaches you how to modify and accommodate every student's different needs and education styles. And by catering my content for specific audiences, usually people with non-traditional technical backgrounds, that's literally what I'm doing with everything I create. So, yeah, it seems like I was a professional in that without really knowing that I am.

Pachi: That’s great.

Hiroko: It's just a different audience set. Instead of kids with disabilities, it's adults who are trying to understand technical jargon.

Pachi: [chuckles] That's no joke. It really isn’t a joke. And I feel like adults are a little more work because sometimes they need your help; they just don't want to ask you for help. [chuckles] We’re a bit more proud than kids.

Hiroko: Yeah. And kids are cute.

Pachi: Yes, kids are cute.

Hiroko: Adults sometimes not so much. Also, they complain.

Pachi: Seriously. [laughter] Kids complain about things that make more sense sometimes. Like, “Hey, he pulled my hair.” Okay, that makes sense.

Hiroko: Yeah. “I don't want to do homework.”

Pachi: Right? Who wants to do homework?

Hiroko: Yeah, no one wants to do homework. I completely agree.

Pachi: Yeah, why do they do homework anyways? [laughter] And grownups complain about “Oh, I just don't want to work,” or “It’s raining today. Why is it raining today?” I don't know why it’s raining today. It’s the weather. So you have a CSS class. How did you get into CSS? I love CSS. I feel like CSS is like a forever thing. You can always learn something new in CSS.

Hiroko: Yeah, it's like never-ending. [laughter]

Pachi: Never. How did you stumble into CSS in your kind of accidental journey?

Hiroko: So, CSS, I’ve been coding since I was 10 or 11, in middle school. So in the 2000s, with the dial-up, I was making websites with Lissa Explains it All,, and stuff. I don't know if you know that website. It's still up, by the way. So it was a bunch of nerds, my friends and I, and we liked anime, so we were making anime websites and stuff in middle school. And that's how I started working with CSS. But no one really told me that this was a career. So even though by the time I started college, I had six, seven years of experience coding technically, no one was like, “Oh, Hiro, you know, that's a career, that's a job. So I was like, oh yeah, it's a hobby. I need to stop this because school is busy. So I quit when I entered college.

Pachi: I feel like it’s so common, especially with the women that I talk with. Like, they all did that in high school, but nobody told them that they could do that for a living.

Hiroko: Yeah. I think if I were a boy who had been coding since he was in middle school, someone would have been like, “Oh yeah, you should be a developer. You should take computer science.” But no one ever said anything like that to me. So I had no idea that this was a thing. And so I rediscovered coding when I was in my last company, which was a tech startup. And until then, I thought that we moved on, that we've moved on from HTML and CSS and that we were using something else to create websites. I was looking at what one of my co-workers who was on the dev team was doing. And he was like, “Oh, look at all these cool designs I'm making for our kiosk with CSS.” And I was like, “What? Wait, you're doing stuff with CSS?” And he's like, “Yeah,” And I was like, “Wait, we still use CSS?” And he's like, “Yeah.” I was like, “What?”

Pachi: [chuckles]

Hiroko: So I legitimately thought we had moved on, and none of what I knew was relevant anymore. It turns out it's still very much relevant. The syntax has changed a lot since I was a kid. But the basics are the same, and you just have to update your language in your brain to update it. I started with CSS a very long time ago, but I got back into it recently, like a couple of years ago. And even now, coding for me is a tool to launch my projects, not really something where I'm going to be developing in the future as a job. So teaching CSS is something that I started doing last summer because it's something that I can teach and something I like. And I really like the fact that, like me, it's something that people are like, “Oh, CSS? Psssh, that's barely coding,” But it's like, “No, this is beautiful. This is what makes the web experience what it is.” Yeah, all the cool stuff are cool, like JavaScript and React. And all those things definitely are cool. But this, this is the core. This makes the web experience what it is.

Pachi: Yeah. I say that. And I always say that people that tell you that CSS is nothing cannot centralize a div [laughs] because centralizing it in CSS is hard.

Hiroko: Yeah. And also, I'm like, “I would like for you to enjoy your web experience without CSS.” You're not going to enjoy it very much. It's not going to be very pretty.

Pachi: I love HTML and CSS. Like, I always get in fights because of it. I’m like, “Hey, it’s awesome. You cannot do web without that. And nowadays, everything is on the web, so just do it.

Hiroko: I’m team CSS. I'll stay here for a long time.

Pachi: Like you said, you came back after years, and CSS is still here.

Hiroko: Yeah, it was still here. [laughter]

Pachi: So CSS is awesome, people. Go learn CSS.

Hiroko: Yep. Exactly.

Pachi: Okay. So my last question for you, and that's just a question that I like to ask people, but for you, I’m going to ask it a little bit differently because you are an AWS Instructor. If somebody is listening and they have no tech experience at all, do you think that AWS is a good place for them to just learn something and get into a new career? And if yes, what is the first tip that would give them?

Hiroko: I definitely think it is. So developing in AWS obviously is going to take a little bit of work, DevOps, and whatnot. It isn't something you just start and do. But using a lot of the services in the cloud is like using social media, using Facebook. Google Drive is cloud computing. A lot of things that you might not even realize is cloud computing are in AWS as services. I definitely think that there's a lot to learn, and there's a lot to learn for beginners too. And it's a great place to start because I mean, it's not even the future; it’s here. The future is here. It's already in use. And I like to think that cloud computing is slightly an equalizer because it's so new that if you started today as a beginner, in 10 years, you would have grown with the industry, and you would be an industry expert because cloud computing is still new and has a lot of development to do. And it's been developing so rapidly.

So I started with AWS, and I will admit, I don't know that much about AWS. But I can teach people about AWS, and I can get people excited and interested. And I help bring people into AWS. And I think it's important to realize tech and DevOps and cloud; it’s not just about being a solutions architect or a DevOps engineer or a software engineer. There are a lot of industries and a lot of places that are surrounding it. And my role as a technical instructor in the AWS hype train is useful and valuable, but that doesn't require me to be a DevOps engineer. And so I kind of found this career by accident. But if you have teaching skills or if you have technical writing skills, cloud is a very good place to start learning and writing documentations because there's just so much that still needs to be explained to everyone. And everything's changing so rapidly that we can always use a lot of help. So yeah, if you want to learn AWS from scratch, you can check out.

Pachi: I am definitely doing that. Thank you so much, Hiro, for chatting with me today. That was great. I learned a lot.

Hiroko: Thanks for having me on.

Pachi: So, where can people find you online?

Hiroko: So I'm on Twitter @hirokonishimura. You can find me on my blog at I'm on YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn. And I teach on LinkedIn Learning which you can find at And if you are looking to start learning about AWS from scratch, you can go to, and it will help you get started.

Pachi: That’s Awesome. I'm excited to actually learn that. Thanks again for being here.

Hiroko: Thank you.

Pachi: Thank you all for listening. This was Launchies for you. Thanks so much. I hope you all have a great day.

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 In fact, most anything The Relicans get up to online will be on that site. You'll also find news there of FutureStack, our upcoming conference here at New Relic. We would love to have you join us. We'll see you next week. Take care.

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