Hiroko Nishimura: Technical Writing, Teaching Tech & Cloud to Beginners, and Navigating Life as a Freelancer
Hiroko joins Adam to discuss her experiences as a technical writer, her passion for teaching technology to those with non-traditional backgrounds, and what she's learned since she left her full-time job to chart her own path as a freelancer.
Hiroko Nishimura (Hiro) is the founder of AWS Newbies and Cloud Newbies, which help people with non-traditional technical backgrounds begin their explorations into the AWS Cloud. As a “career switcher” herself, she has been community building since 2018 to help others deconstruct Cloud Computing jargon so they, too, can begin a career in the Cloud.
In 2019, Hiro founded 24 Villages, LLC, a Content Strategy and Technical Writing consulting company, which strives to make technology accessible to people from all different backgrounds. Previously, she worked as a SysAdmin at a tech startup in NYC.
Adam Elmore: Hey, everyone. Welcome to AWS FM, a live audio show with guests from around the AWS community. I'm your host, Adam Elmore. And today, I'm joined by Hiroko Nishimura. Hi, Hiroko.
Hiroko Nishimura: Hi, thanks for having me.
Adam Elmore: Yeah, thanks for joining. So, I start all the episodes the same way, and that is getting into your story a bit. Just want to give everyone listening the context, just how you got into tech. You've got a very unique story, nontraditional background getting into tech. So, just share with the people listening who you are and where you come from.
Hiroko Nishimura: Yeah. So, hi, everyone. My name is Hiroko, and I'm a technical writer and technical instructor. My background is in special education, so I'm a special education teacher by education and training. And I started my career in tech just about seven years ago by accident. I had finished my bachelor's and then my master's in special ed and then realized I don't want to be a special ed teacher. And I moved to New York because that's where everyone said the jobs are, but apparently, that's not where the jobs are if you have zero experience working and have a master's degree in special education but don't want to be a special ed teacher. So, that did not work out very well.
Hiroko Nishimura: And so, I think I put in 400 applications over a course of half a year, trying to find any job. I was like, "I don't care. Whatever's going to give me benefits and a salary, I'm going to take." And the feeling was not mutual. And half year in, I was like, "Oh, okay, this is not working out. I have to either go back home and try to find a job in Maryland or find a job in the next couple of weeks."
Hiroko Nishimura: And that's when I realized that there's things called recruitment agencies that do a lot of the hard work for you of connecting you to the business, which seems to be the hardest part in getting a job, especially as a newly grad or someone who's transitioning into an industry. It's like getting someone to see your resume is like the biggest hurdle.
Hiroko Nishimura: So, I actually applied to this one recruitment agency as a recruiter being like, "Hey, I'll be a recruiter." And they called me in and they're like, "Hey, Hey, you, thanks for applying." This is the interview already. Right? And I'm in the office doing the interview and they're like, "Yeah. So, we filled that position that you applied for." And I'm like, "Why am I here?"
Adam Elmore: Why did even you come in?
Hiroko Nishimura: Yeah. I don't have any money. And you just made me pay 2.75 to get on a train to come here. But they're like, "Actually, there's this IT help desk engineer position that one of clients has opened that we were wondering if you'd be interested in because you speak Japanese and English." And I'm like, "I don't know anything about this IT or engineering or help desk." But I have a feeling you need to know something about, I don't know, IT. And are you sure knowing two languages is what you want to hang your laurel on? This person's great. This person's going to be great because she can speak two languages.
Hiroko Nishimura: But turns out, they were like, "Actually, we can teach IT skills, but we can't teach language skills. And this client is specifically looking for a bilingual help desk engineer. And if you're willing to learn, we're willing to teach you. We just want your language skills." And I was like, "You know what? I don't have a job. This is the most mutual our feelings have been." And they have that three-month trial period.
Hiroko Nishimura: So, I figured if this doesn't work out mutually, say we didn't work out. It wasn't you, it was me. We break up and I go home. Otherwise, why not give it a try? And this was, I hadn't expected or ever thought about working in tech before then. I was going to be a special ed teacher, so obviously not. But tech to me was this huge black box of like, I have absolutely no idea what it is. It just seems scary and hard. So, I decided to give it a try and yeah, that was seven years ago. So, that was my accidental entry into tech.
Hiroko Nishimura: And from there, I spent 10 months there doing help desk and then I moved on to a IT support analyst role at MSP, like outsourced IT consultancy where I did mostly proactive maintenance of infrastructure like making sure the servers are up and running, network is fine. Backups are running, like stuff like that. And then, after a little over a year there, I moved on to a startup in New York City in Hudson Yards.
Hiroko Nishimura: And I was there for two and a half years and that's where I encountered the cloud computing, like SaaS products, because they were really into all the new shiny SaaS products. And before then, it was mostly the legacy stuff like windows servers, like the server is going to be in the server room. We're not using SaaS products. One of our clients at the MSP was running, I think Windows 2000 because that's where their accounting software was. And that always. Oh no, sorry, not Windows 2000, Windows XP.
Hiroko Nishimura: And I was like, "I have a feeling I used this when I was in middle school or something." So, going completely 180 from there to everything in the cloud, everything. But obviously, I didn't know what the cloud was back then. I just knew this is super cool that I can do my job. And it's like playing on Facebook. And I was like, "I can get behind this. This is great. Like G Suite is Google Workspace now, but G Suite was great. Because it's like, I'm using Gmail for work. That's awesome.
Hiroko Nishimura: And I'm administrating Gmail for all my coworkers, but it feels like I'm on Twitter or Facebook and clicking on the settings. And as someone without traditional technical background, this was something that I'd grown up using. So, I was like, "Oh, this SaaS thing is great. I don't know what it means, but it's great. And I get paid to do this. This is great." So, yeah, that's my 30-minute spiel into how I started my career in tech.
Hiroko Nishimura: And two and a half years into my tenure there, I went from technical services engineer. So, I went back to IT help desk. And it was actually useful for me to go back because everything was so new again because it was all SAS and cloud computing-based. And that's where I obviously discovered cloud computing.
Hiroko Nishimura: And then, I moved on after two years, I think to a sysadmin role where I was doing similar things just on a higher level. And then, I quit corporate in summer 2019. And since then, I've been working as a freelance technical writer and technical instructor. And I clearly skipped the big reason why I switched.
Adam Elmore: Well, why did you switch? Yeah, don't skip it.
Hiroko Nishimura: Yeah. I guess that's why you have me on the show is for me to not skip that important part of how I'm related to AWS. So, in I think my second year at the startup, I promised my manager that I'll get the AWS cloud practitioner certification. Actually, I was going to do the solutions architect associate. And then, I told that to my manager. My manager was like, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, let's calm down and slow down." So, this new certification came out called the cloud practitioner exam. And let's not start ourselves with a failure and let's try this first.
Hiroko Nishimura: And I was like, "I love your stamp of approval." But fine, whatever. Because that company was into collecting certifications for their employees. And they really like certification. He's like, "Let's get you one W here and then we'll move on." And then, you can get the solutions architect. The joke is, I never moved on. I never got the solutions architect associate certification because I've been stuck in the cloud practitioner for the past three years.
Hiroko Nishimura: But I was like, "I'm going to get this certification. This is great." And they're marketing it as a beginner certification. Something that people who aren't even in IT, they can take this certification exam. And I was like, "Oh, that sounds perfect. I've been in IT for three years or something." This is a breeze. My manager's awesome.
Hiroko Nishimura: And then, it was two weeks before the certification exam. I'm like, "I don't know what I'm doing wrong, but I have absolutely no idea what's going on." And why are all these letters and numbers, and EC2 and S3.
Adam Elmore: There's all new stuff. Yeah.
Hiroko Nishimura: Yeah. And I was watching video courses and reading blogs and taking anything I can find. And they're like, "Oh, yeah, we're explaining it like you're five." And I'm like, "I'm apparently not even a five-year-old because I still have no idea what's going on." And it makes you feel bad after a while because I'm like, "I've been working in this space for a couple of years. I'm not exactly a beginner and I have no idea what's going on."
Hiroko Nishimura: So, because I promised my manager I'm going to pass the certification exam and he's already done the deed of being like, Let's take this baby exam first and not start out with a failure, I was like, "Well, I can't fail this. This is way to do this." So, I was like, "Okay, I have two weeks left. What am I going to do?" And obviously, the courses that I was taking and the blogs I was reading and all the stuff wasn't helping, the way that I needed them to.
Hiroko Nishimura: So, I sat back. I was like, "How do I learn best?" And putting into consideration the fact that I'm a teacher by training, I was like, "I learn best by explaining things in my own words to people." And I was like, "Okay, how do I do that? How do I explain what I'm learning in my own words in a way that's going to be motivating to me?" Because I was writing notes down, but writing notes down and knowing what you just wrote down are two completely different things.
Adam Elmore: Yeah. Oh, absolutely.
Hiroko Nishimura: And I felt like there's a huge valley between me understanding versus the fact that I just filled out a whole entire notebook with notes. And I was like, "Well, I've been making blogs forever. Blogs sound like a good idea." So, I was like, "Okay, let me buy a domain." And I bought awsnewies.com and I felt really cool, but I looked at some tutorials and spun up a WordPress instance in EC2. And I was like, "Oh, this is it." I've reached the pinnacle of my AWSness. And that was as far as I got in AWS.
Adam Elmore: We'll get into that too.
Hiroko Nishimura: We'll get into that later. So, I spun that up and I was like, "Okay, I'm going to make this into a study blog." And so, I basically regurgitated all the content that I need to pass the cloud practitioner exam into this blog as articles. And I made sure to explain what I was learning and what I needed to know in ways that I, as a beginner can understand. Because since it's a study guide for myself, if I can't understand, it's useless.
Hiroko Nishimura: So, I spent the next week creating this website from scratch with all the content and then studied it for a couple days, took the certification exam, passed. And I was like, "Okay, great. And now I don't need this anymore." But maybe one or two people in the next year that this AWS free tier is running for might find it useful. I'll take it down after a year. I'll leave it up for the next year." And apparently everyone, not everyone, but everyone was having the same problems I was having. Because within a couple of months, I was getting 10,000 organic hits from Google a month for that website. And that was the first inkling.
Hiroko Nishimura: I was like, "Oh, if I don't understand, a lot of other people don't understand." And around that time, I started getting emails from recruiters asking if I'd be interested in becoming a technical writer and working as a technical writer for their startups and companies. And that's when I first encountered this job of technical writing. I was like, "Wait, you can get paid to need to do what I do as a hobby" That was like a huge revelation.
Hiroko Nishimura: And the salary wasn't bad. It was much higher than what I was earning, working in IT. And I was like, "Wait." And so, that was like the step one of this revelation process, going like, "Wait, this is an actual job? You can get paid to do this. And it's fun." But they all wanted me to work there full time. And I felt like I wasn't ready to make that transition from working in IT to talking about it yet because I felt like I didn't know enough about IT and I didn't have enough experience.
Hiroko Nishimura: So, I was like, "Well, I'm not ready to make a full-time move into this technical writing space because I want a little more hands-on experience." And that's around when LinkedIn Learning reached out, asking if I'd be interested in creating courses with them like introductory AWS courses. And I was like, "Well, I think you're asking the wrong person." First of all, the reason why I made this website is because I have absolutely no idea what I'm talking about. And I'm probably not the person that should be teaching people this.
Hiroko Nishimura: And what the content manager said to me then actually I think shaped my whole entire career from there. And it was that they have a lot of great, like fabulous instructors who teach really good intermediate to advanced level courses. Because these people have been doing cloud computing, AWS, or whatever engineering topic that they're teaching about for a decade, two decades. They are like the top-tier people.
Hiroko Nishimura: And so, they have great courses for intermediate to advance level, but the introductory content is missing because they have not been a beginner in so long that they don't know what people don't know when they come into something. And she was like, "You have this very unique mishmash of experience where you came into tech without a background. So, you taught yourself, you know what questions people have, and then you just did this for AWS.
Hiroko Nishimura: So, you know what questions people have for AWS and cloud computing in general who have no technical background and conveniently, you're a teacher. And so, you can actually explain these things to people." And until then, I was trying to be that engineer, that IT person and trying to mold myself into the tech bro and be like, "Oh, all my past experiences and all my education, they're all useless.. I'm going to be a sysadmin. I'm going to be a system engineer and going to be a DevOps engineer in the future." That's why I was working towards.
Hiroko Nishimura: And I was like, "All this sparkless stuff around me, like this is no longer part of me. I'm Hiro 2.0. I'm going to be an engineer." And this was the first time that there was this realization that, actually, I don't have to cut away parts of myself. I can actually use it as a multiplication, like multiplying factor to create a niche that no one else can exist in. Just because I have such all these different parts. And I was like, "Wait, every part of this journey was important in coming to this point."
Hiroko Nishimura: I couldn't have missed any of the experiences I had coming up to this point to get this opportunity." So, I was like, "Well, if you think it's going to help people, maybe I'll give it a try." And it was like when I started working in IT. I was like, "If it doesn't work out, it's not a big loss. I'm not quitting my full-time job for this." This is on the side. And so, that was fall of 2019.
Hiroko Nishimura: And just recently, we hit 170,000 students for my introduction to AWS for non-engineers courses that were published in... Oh no, 2020? 2021? 2021. So, yeah, last spring.
Adam Elmore: Wow. Yeah. So, just this year.
Hiroko Nishimura: 2020. All these numbers. Yeah.
Adam Elmore: Spring of 2020.
Hiroko Nishimura: We had a first batch that were published in 2000, I think... oh no, 2019. I published all four my courses, but then we did a whole renewal right before COVID, like that February. So, I was in LA recording, and in the next week, everything started shutting down.
Adam Elmore: Yeah, Yeah, yeah. That was March. I remember clearly last year. Yeah.
Hiroko Nishimura: Was that last year? Okay.
Adam Elmore: Yeah, yeah. 2020. Yeah.
Hiroko Nishimura: This whole year thing is like missing. So, I guess in the past year and a half, we had 170,000 students take introduction to AWS for non-engineers.
Adam Elmore: That's incredible. And I wasn't even aware of LinkedIn Learning prior to researching ahead of this show.
Hiroko Nishimura: Yeah, me neither.
Adam Elmore: It's like super-highly produced. So, it looks like the courses you went on location somewhere and record those, you said in LA.
Hiroko Nishimura: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So, they fly you out to soak out, and the location is one or two hours west of LA. So, they used to be Lynda.com. A lot more people might have heard of Lynda.com and then LinkedIn bought it and turned it into LinkedIn Learning. So, I also had never heard of LinkedIn Learning until they reached out. But I had heard of Lynda.com because it's offered through the library for free a lot of times. And now, I think a lot of libraries offer LinkedIn Learning for free through the library systems. Now, because of COVID, they send you kits to record at home back in the days,
Adam Elmore: Yeah. Back in the days when travel and seeing people in person was, yeah. It's not like Udemy. Right? So, LinkedIn Learning, it's more like Egghead where it's a selective group of instructors. You also are an Egghead instructor.
Hiroko Nishimura: I am.
Adam Elmore: I guess the content you put out on Egghead, it's not cloud specific. Is that accurate? Is it more just engineering?
Hiroko Nishimura: So, Egghead, I teach CSS lessons and courses. Yeah. So, I don't teach about AWS on Egghead.
Adam Elmore: Yeah. So, I want to go back to AWS land. So, you made AWS Newbies, and then you made it less AWS specific and you did Cloud Newbies. That's accurate, right?
Hiroko Nishimura: Uh-huh.
Adam Elmore: So, that's like ignoring AWS-specific things. I guess my question is, in teaching, do you find it's harder to teach AWS-specific stuff versus cloud, just general cloud principles? Does AWS make it harder? I know like there's this perception within the AWS community. I think it's merited. There's a lot of friction to get into AWS and to start learning. Do you see that's difficult to teach, I guess, compared to teaching other concepts?
Hiroko Nishimura: I think cloud computing, especially if someone is coming from a nontechnical background. Before cloud computing, I guess you learned about IT infrastructure stuff separately, and you got into IT from different places, but you cumulate into learning about the infrastructure stuff. But you can start at help desk. You can start in different places.
Hiroko Nishimura: I think the hard stuff about AWS and cloud computing and probably all the other cloud computing platforms is you have to understand infrastructure first before you grasp what this all means in context of AWS, which is I think the huge wall that I was hitting when I was trying to understand the very, very fundamental concepts for AWS for the certification exam is suddenly I was facing all this infrastructure stuff that I hadn't encountered in my job.
Hiroko Nishimura: Because my job was mostly tier one, tier two, some tier three, but not the hardcore infrastructure things. It was more troubleshooting, not architecting an IT infrastructure. And a lot of the content that was available two, three years ago centered on this idea that, "Hey, we are creating content for Cloud Newbies, people who are encountering cloud computing and AWS and Azure for the first time."
Hiroko Nishimura: But you probably have five years of infrastructure experience. You would probably an IT, doing engineering and IT for five years. And that's where I think the mismatch was occurring. And I felt that personally a lot because I'm that, the latter, the person who haven't had that infrastructure experience. And that's why I put a lot of work and time into being like, Hey, Hey, this is the cloud concepts. These are the fundamental stuff that go.
Hiroko Nishimura: And the cloud practitioner exam is really good with that. That's what it's there for. So, teaching for the cloud practitioner exam allows me to explain all these little concepts that are like the founding blocks for people to start accessing cloud computing. I don't know very much about the other cloud computing platforms, but I think the cloud concepts are very similar for all of them. The concepts they have, like why cloud versus the old tiny legacy IT infrastructure. Hey, it saves you money. Hey, it's faster. Hey, you don't have to go out and buy a big server. You can just rent one for a couple of bucks.
Hiroko Nishimura: You can probably ask Corey Quinn about how that goes wrong a lot of times. But I'm not worrying about that level yet. So, I was just like, "Hey, these are the things you can do." And you no longer have to buy these really expensive things to try things out for the first time, which I think is fabulous because the entry to barrier... not entry to barrier, barrier to entry is so low now as long as you can understand these fundamental things.
Hiroko Nishimura: So, I say like, I'm the person who helps open the gate into this sphere. I'm not going to teach you how to do stuff in it. I'm going to give you the vocabulary. I'm going to give you the foundational concepts and content and give you vocabulary to talk to other people with and ask questions so that you can then access the rest of the really rich content that's out there for free even now.
Hiroko Nishimura: But without that first zero to one step, you can't access the rest of all the amazing stuff out there. So, that's another reason why I'm stuck here because I've been talking about this for two years and I'm still here.
Adam Elmore: Yeah, you're still at the gate.
Hiroko Nishimura: And I haven't been able to move on. I'm still at the gate.
Adam Elmore: Yeah. You're welcoming people in. Yeah. It's funny. When I reached out to you about coming on, you said something very self-deprecating that you're not in the AWS space. And then before the call, you said you don't know anything about AWS, which I think is hilarious because, one, you're an AWS hero, but two, you are plugged into this space. You're helping others come from all these different backgrounds and get into cloud computing. And I think for that, you have to know something about AWS, but I get where you're coming from.
Adam Elmore: Now, I understand it better. You don't have that more intermediate perspective. But that's so important because I think there is so much content out there. We talk about there's this huge amount of beginner content, but really it's not beginner beginner. It's like you're saying, it's people who have maybe a background in tech. They just don't have AWS knowledge. And then, there's a ton of content centered around that.
Adam Elmore: So, taking you from your engineering background and getting into AWS. You're meeting this need where it's folks and you see it all over Twitter coming from all backgrounds that are completely unrelated to tech and they don't have all that context. So, I think you're doing really important work. I know you don't need me to tell you that. And I know AWS recognized that in making you a community hero. I think you know something about AWS, I guess.
Hiroko Nishimura: Well, actually, this was like a battle I had, probably a tiny, tiny one within myself a couple of years ago when this first started taking off. And I was intending on taking the solutions architect associate exam, but the amount of work I was doing in the beginner land was so much that I couldn't really study for it. There was so much content I needed to create. I was making courses. I was working full time and then I was running AWS Newbies. And then, suddenly, there's bunch of people who's trying to ask me questions and get me to help them do whatever I'm doing.
Hiroko Nishimura: And I was like, "Well, there are a lot of amazing engineers and cloud people who do great work in the AWS community and in building. And they actually know a lot of things about AWS." I don't necessarily need to know all this stuff because I know these people. And these people are so helpful. They are really like, they're willing to give time and help people out a lot. Of course, I wanted to become that person who can actively help people out.
Hiroko Nishimura: But I was like, "Well, all these people already exist." So, if all these people already exist and they are helpful and they're so generous with their time, I don't need to go out of my way to become one of them because I have this place here that really need my specialty." And that realization really helped me hunker down.
Hiroko Nishimura: Because the expectation was that I keep on going up, up, up, and up and continue taking certification exams, becoming a DevOps engineer, all these things. But then, I realized, wait, like if I don't, first of all, even really enjoy that process, but I enjoy being able to help people get from zero to one, there's nothing wrong with me staying here and helping more and more people get from zero to one.
Hiroko Nishimura: And I think, especially with COVID, like the whole population of people who are trying to suddenly understand the cloud has exploded. And so, I never got my solutions architect associate certification exam. I never made it past the gate. And I'm like, "I'm perfectly fine with that." This is great place to be.
Adam Elmore: Really, if you did go down that other path of just advancing through, raising the amount of awareness of very specific AWS things, you wouldn't have that context and that empathy for the people at the gate. So, I think you would lose some of that effectiveness. Because you can still understand what people are going through, you're not losing all that familiarity with being a newbie.
Hiroko Nishimura: Yeah. Because I never got past it.
Adam Elmore: Yeah. No, I think it's a perfectly... I think you recognize and you're self-aware enough to know where your strengths are and what you add to the community and you're seeing all that feedback from people that you're helping. So, yeah, no, I don't think... It's very hard, I'm speaking from experience, to know where you fit in and I admire you a lot for figuring that out because that's something I'm very actively trying to figure out. What is it that I want to do when I grow up, I guess? You seem to have figured that out.
Adam Elmore: And I guess in terms of the content you're creating, so you've got courses, you did the LinkedIn Learning courses. You write a lot and then we'll talk about your technical writing in a bit, but you write about all things. You've got podcasts you've done. You've got YouTube channel. You've got really all of the different types of content. I guess one question I have for you just as a fellow person in the AWS community dabbling with content creation and getting super overwhelmed with the idea of it, is it super overwhelming to you?
Adam Elmore: Do you manage all of this stuff? And it's like, no big deal. It's what you were born to do. Or is like, I guess the content creation, just hamster wheel everywhere on you?
Hiroko Nishimura: So, the biggest non-secret that I have is that I have very severe executive function disorder. So, my whole life is a mess. Everything I got into, I got into by accident, but technical writing was the biggest accident, because I had brain surgery when I was 22. And after my brain surgery, short-term memory was shot. My attention span was nothing. It's like a hamster, like an actual hamster. So, I couldn't retain any information. I couldn't focus long enough to really get into anything. And I couldn't even watch like a few minute YouTube video because of how short my attention span was.
Hiroko Nishimura: Like a music video, I couldn't watch a music video. Right? And so, for me to finish school and also get into this brand new career that I knew nothing about, I had to get really good at Googling and I had to get really good at creating documentation for myself. Because if I couldn't document what I was doing, I'm going to be wasting so much time every single time trying to re-figure out what I've already figured out.
Hiroko Nishimura: And I was like, "This is such a waste." If I wrote good documentation for myself, then I just had to read it. And doing that for a couple years in my IT roles is what culminated into becoming a technical writer. And I'm apparently a pretty effective technical writer because I write for myself. Because if I don't get it, I have to be able to read my own documentation and understand.
Hiroko Nishimura: And with my brain, like my lack of memory, like I write my blog articles on my personal blog. And recently, most of them are technical how-tos. It's not because I'm being really nice. It's because the next time I need to do this, I'm not going to remember. So, I have to reread.
Adam Elmore: You got to write it down. Yeah.
Hiroko Nishimura: Yeah. I have to write it down. And if I'm going to write it down and go out of my way to do that, I might as well publish it. Right? So, that's how I get myself to create content is I'm already doing it for myself. I think this is important. I couldn't Google it and find an answer in five seconds. Therefore, I should write it. And so, I do have a lot of stuff. I try a lot of things and I felt really bad for a while that I can't keep everything up.
Adam Elmore: I have those feelings. Tell me, how did you get over them?
Hiroko Nishimura: Well, so the only thing I can keep up and consistently do is Twitter. I can't consistently do anything else except Twitter, which I don't know if it says anything about Twitter as addictiveness, but conveniently-
Adam Elmore: Yeah. You don't have to-
Hiroko Nishimura: Ease of use. Yeah, yeah.
Adam Elmore: Yeah, exactly.
Hiroko Nishimura: It's only a couple of 100 letters. And I think that really was one of the benefits because, after my brain surgery, I had a mild case of aphasia. And aphasia is a language disorder, output disorder where I couldn't write. Reading was difficult. Writing was difficult. Speaking was difficult. And Twitter is only a couple of 100 letters. So, even I could effectively express myself. And after a while, if you write threads, that turn into a blog post. So, I slowly went from a couple of 100 letters per idea to being able to write more.
Hiroko Nishimura: And I think it's really funny because I write. That's what I get paid to do, but it's very difficult for me to read. So, read text. So, consuming content, I think on Twitter, and then even tech content, people that share that couple of 100 letters and then I can click on that. And a lot of times, those tech documentations are written a little more for ways that I can read easily. I was like, "Okay, I'm rehabilitating myself solely into reading more and writing more."
Hiroko Nishimura: The only way that I've been able to create more is to take down the barriers of difficulty because I could be a perfectionist and I would want that perfect thing out. But I was realizing that the more pressure I put on myself to create that perfect content meant I just don't get anything out. And so, I bought like Osmo Pocket because Osmo Pocket, you just record it, you put it in the computer. I open up iMovie. I tried so many fancy video editing apps.
Hiroko Nishimura: And I was like, "Dude, the time it's going to take me to learn this, I might as well hire a video editor." And I'm not going to get anything out. So, I'm just going to record video. Boop, boop, boop, stitch it together in iMovie. Make a little thing in Canva. Done. It's important for me to get stuff out because I get stopped so quickly and I get discouraged so quickly because I'm not producing content. And so, I've gone to paring down to the bare necessities on what I need to get out for it to be real content.
Hiroko Nishimura: And I think, yeah, the biggest thing was trying to let go of that perfectionism and needing for everything I say and do to have meaning, like a deep meaning. Because that's what we, as content creators want to do. Right? We want to create deep content. It's just not possible to always have deep thoughts and ideas.
Adam Elmore: Too high a bar. Yeah.
Hiroko Nishimura: Yeah. And some people I talk to get to that point with Twitter and they're like, "Oh, I don't have anything meaningful to say." And I'm like, "Have you seen my Twitter feed? It's just cats. It's just videos and pictures of cats and selfie with cats and food." And once in a while, I tweak pic stuff. And once in a while, people are like, "Oh wait, she actually works sometimes." This is the way that I can get content out.
Adam Elmore: Yeah. Yeah. I want to dive into your work because you are now, it's been a couple of years. You're a freelance technical writer. So, what does that look like? I understand technical writing and I've worked with technical writers at more traditional jobs. But as a freelancer, how does that work? People are paying you to write documentation or is it more blog articles? Could you share a little bit what your day-to-day looks like?
Hiroko Nishimura: Yeah. So, this year I said, I'm going to not work for 2021. And so, I quit technical writing for the year. But then, I signed a book deal. So, that didn't work out very well.
Adam Elmore: Oh yeah. That's writing.
Hiroko Nishimura: But when I was working actively, yeah, I was hired to usually to create documentations or blog articles for small to medium startups to explain concepts, to help beginners get into if it's like a SaaS product, like their product. It's that beginner person to get into, because no one's going to buy your thing and use it if they don't even understand what it is. And a lot of the languages, people were using a lot of the languages, and the ways documentations were written, they were written for people who inherently understand what that is.
Hiroko Nishimura: But if you're a new product, no one knows who you are. No one knows what you're doing. So, stuff like that. Because I'm also the target audience, theoretically of the complete beginner who may or may not want to use your product. But I don't know enough to make that decision. I was able to write documentation or I was able to write blog posts or copy text to explain what it does and why you should try this or who it's for.
Hiroko Nishimura: And on the other hand, I would write blog articles or technical articles or stuff like introductory Java script or certain AWS reserved instance, what are reserves instances, stuff like that. And this is also for people who don't know these things. So, it's another one of those like beginners thing. Beginner's mind is very important thing. And so, I call myself a professional beginner.
Hiroko Nishimura: People hire me to not know what they want me to talk about. And then, they value my process of going from not knowing what I'm talking about to knowing what I'm talking about.
Adam Elmore: Yeah. Because they want to guide a whole lot of other people through that journey.
Hiroko Nishimura: Exactly. Exactly. Whatever process I'm going through is what everyone else is going to have to go through. And it's very difficult once you're on the other side to be able to remember that process, especially if you created whatever you're trying to sell. That was another extension of me realizing I don't have to throw parts away, myself away, but also that this concept of being a beginner is very valuable if you can express what you're feeling, what you're thinking, where your confusions are.
Hiroko Nishimura: And this is why I'm always like, people who want to be a technical writer or do something that I'm currently doing, I'm like, "Write about what you're learning, write about what you've just learned this week." And people are like, "Oh no, it's been written about like, everyone's knows how to do this." I'm like, "Everyone does not know how to do this. You didn't know how to do it. That means a lot of other people coming in behind you don't know how to do this."
Hiroko Nishimura: And they're like, "Oh, it's already been written." I'm like, "Well, when was the last time that you Googled something because you were confused and then that first link solved your problem for you?" You probably usually have to go through a couple of resources. You might even have to go on YouTube until you finally get that aha moment.
Hiroko Nishimura: And I'm like, "Whatever you write, because you were solving your own problem from you last week, that could be that aha moment for someone." And what's better than being an aha moment for someone else if you already learned it, and it also solidifies what you've learned, so it's like win-win-win.
Adam Elmore: Do you have to keep an arm's length and make sure you don't start learning it too much or you'll be ineffective?
Hiroko Nishimura: Well, I don't have that problem. Because as soon as I finish my contract, I forget everything. So, I don't have that problem.
Adam Elmore: So, you can still do repeat work.
Adam Elmore: Yeah. And that's what I was going to say. So, I read a book, Malcolm Gladwell. I got super into Malcolm Gladwell books. And he has a book David and Goliath, where he talks about, like how many just super successful people have dyslexia and other specific disabilities that because they have to work harder or because there's some reason that it's more challenging, they actually apply themselves more and end up. It's the same thing. Because you had that hard time early on after brain surgery and feeling like you could output a lot of writing.
Adam Elmore: I feel like you output so much and I can't help but think that's related that you push yourself into this state where you're putting out so much content. And it was because it was so challenging.
Hiroko Nishimura: Yeah. Before my brain surgery, there was that rude person who if there was a paper or project due, I would do it at midnight, the night before and I'll get an A-minus. Right? And that to me was the norm. But when I had my brain surgery suddenly, I couldn't even read a chapter or a paragraph even. And so, I had to really learn how to break tasks down. I couldn't write a paper. I couldn't even read the requirements for the paper. And suddenly, I'm in grad school. My job as a grad student was to read a lot of journal articles and then write a paper on it.
Hiroko Nishimura: And so, I had to really quickly adapt and figure out how I can do it because, in the end, I realized... It was in one of the books called I think the series of Four Tendencies, Gretchen Rubin. She writes a lot of books about productivities or how to mold your personality and your tendencies into getting the result that you want. And that sounds like whohoo stuff, but this was, it's really silly in retrospect. But when I read it, it was like really, really, really eye-opening was that no one gets brownie points for suffering.
Hiroko Nishimura: So, for me, it's very difficult for me to intrinsically motivate myself to do something, right? I know I need to not eat cookies, but for me to not eat cookies is very difficult. And then, I'm going to suffer, right? There's going to be a cookie here and I'm going to suffer and suffer and suffer. And I'm probably going to eat that cookie. And then, I'm going to feel really bad about it. But then, I ate that cookie and I couldn't stop myself and I'm going to be like, "Oh, I have no self-control. I suck. All this week, I didn't eat a cookie and now I eat a cookie. "
Hiroko Nishimura: And she's like, "Just throw out the cookie." Right? Tell someone that you are not going to eat anymore cookies. And then, you're going to have to tell that person that you ate a cookie, and then you're going to feel bad. And because you don't want to feel bad that you broke your promise to this person, you're not going to eat a cookie. She's like, "It's okay if your motivation is extrinsic. If you have to outsource your motivation, that's fine." And you don't get brownie points for suffering through that inability to self-regulate yourself.
Hiroko Nishimura: Because in the end, did you eat a cookie? If you didn't eat a cookie because you promised someone you wouldn't eat a cookie or you threw the cookie away so you couldn't eat it, you didn't eat the cookie. The result is that you didn't have the cookie. You can check that off.
Hiroko Nishimura: In retrospect, it's like, duh, but if you think about it, I think a lot of us are like, there's a specific way you have to do something. There's a specific amount of suffering you have to go through to achieve that something. If you didn't go through that and test your endurance and your internal motivation, it doesn't count as much. And I was like, "Wait, that's BS."
Adam Elmore: It is. Wow.
Hiroko Nishimura: I got this blog post up and this person suffered and didn't get his blog post up. And I cheated a little bit. I don't know how I cheated, but cheated a little bit and got the blog post up. I got it out. This person didn't. If I have to go to a cafe, order myself a $4 latte to motivate myself to do something, but then I could be at home and making myself a $0.30 coffee and then not get that work done. It's like, it doesn't matter that I went to a cafe and spent $4 because now this content is out. And so, now I sign up for a personal trainer because someone's going to have to tell me to do this.
Adam Elmore: Yeah. That is external motivation. Yeah.
Hiroko Nishimura: It's external motivation. And I think even if it were just, if I say, Hey, Adam, let's go to the gym three times a week, and I'm going to have to tell you every time I go, you're going to have to tell me every time you go. The fact that I have to tell you that I didn't do it is enough of a motivation for me to do it. And before reading that book, I was like, "I have to tell myself I'm going to do it and I have to do it. Or I failed." And I can't just rely on other things. And I don't even know why I'm talking about this.
Adam Elmore: Well, no, it's good. And I think you spent a lot of time around people who are trying to go from nontraditional tech backgrounds into tech. I guess I'm putting you on the spot here, but is there something you would say to those people who are where you were trying to get into tech, and maybe they need that external motivation, the intrinsic isn't there or they're struggling? Do you know of any resources, something you've created good external motivator in those situations to really get into cloud?
Hiroko Nishimura: So, back in the days when this hashtag worked, #100DaysOfCode, was what got me back into coding. And then, that's like epitome of external motivation. Right?
Adam Elmore: Yeah, exactly.
Hiroko Nishimura: Everyday you tag and then, so many people came in and congratulated you, cheered you on. And it's not just your fellow newbies. It was people who've been software-developing for decades. They come into this tag, encourage you. If you have problems or if you have questions, they help you solve your questions. And so, that was the few I was going for with Cloud Newbies. Currently, it's like a Discord server. I'm thinking about moving it to another platform because people are so helpful there and people answer so many questions.
Hiroko Nishimura: But because of the nature of Discord as a chat platform, we can't get that legacy, like good knowledge base going on. And I want more of that to not be so fleeting. But there, like I was hoping people can come in, motivate each other, study for certifications together. Because a lot of times when you get stuck on something, it's like just that little thing. But if you can't solve that little thing, that just breaks the whole thing that you've been building up.
Hiroko Nishimura: And personally, I've experienced that a lot. It's like that one little chink that makes me go, "Ugh, I'm not doing this. This is not for me."
Adam Elmore: Yeah. Just throw it out.
Hiroko Nishimura: And I'm hoping like the social aspect, especially I think Twitter helps a lot too, but the social aspect of entering a community of people who are really into helping other people get to where they want to be, who's not gate keeping, who's not like, "Oh, you don't know this. What a dumb question." Finding that community for yourself and joining it and being active in it. I've seen so people go from that position of, I want to enter tech to being hired at Microsoft, Google, even if they're not in those FAANG companies, like being hired into these tech roles that they've been dreaming of.
Hiroko Nishimura: And it's like really cool seeing that progression between them going like, "Oh, I just wrote my first hello world code to being a software engineer," or any tech world that they wanted.
Adam Elmore: That learning in public and doing it all on Twitter. Yeah. And I know Andrew Brown's listening, and the 100 days of cloud is equivalent to the 100 days of code.
Hiroko Nishimura: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Adam Elmore: Yeah. I didn't even think of it when I threw that question out there that there are very proven ways to have that external motivation today in 2021. And Twitter's a great place to do that. So, I've got a few questions I ask every guest here as we wrap up the show, and I'm particularly interested in a couple of them knowing that you claim to know nothing about AWS. The first question though is not related to AWS and that is, did you have any mentors or do you have any role models in tech?
Hiroko Nishimura: I don't know if I have any mentors or role models as individual people, but the way the AWS community embraced me when I first came in was really, really motivating because almost immediately, I had contacts at AWS saying they love what I'm doing. There were people who uplifted or people who had much, much, much larger followings and influence picking up my story. Corey invited me to his podcast pretty early on. And I didn't even know what that meant until people were like, "Wait, you were on Corey's podcast?"
Hiroko Nishimura: And I was like, "What? Do you know him?" It was like, everyone knows him, but it was stuff like that, that people I think were interested in the fact that I have multiple disabilities. I am a transplant into tech. I don't know anything about AWS. And here I am making a name for myself in AWS. And also, I think what I strive to be is not hope, but going like, "Hey, you don't have to be the 10x engineer to be accepted by the community and be respected by the community."
Hiroko Nishimura: And having gone through a lot of periods in my corporate life where I wasn't respected for whatever I could be. It could be race, gender, the fact that I'm not the 10x engineer, the fact that I'm asking dumb questions. The fact that almost everyone's just really helped me get from negative 200 to becoming an AWS community hero. And it's like, I didn't do that. Right? It's the community that helped me do that.
Hiroko Nishimura: So, it's like, I guess basically mostly everyone who's not rude and mean. I'm just super thankful for the community because without being amplified, there's no way a little old me who have no idea what she's talking about could have come here. And so, yeah, no, I don't have a specific person, but there's like that whole community, like I'm really, really-
Adam Elmore: Just the community.
Hiroko Nishimura: ... thankful for the community. Yeah.
Adam Elmore: That's really great. I guess the next question I have is normally, do you have a favorite AWS service? In your case, maybe it's a favorite concept in AWS to teach. Is there anything along those lines?
Hiroko Nishimura: I don't know if it's like a concept, but I really like the fact that, I think we're talking just a little bit about it earlier, but the fact that barrier to entry has been lowered so much by the fact that we can access all these amazing amount of resources online without huge upfront capital. It's I think a lot of tiny startups, a lot of stuff that's just been living in our heads can suddenly come out. And I feel like we're so much richer for the fact that people are creating little products and little services that we can then use that otherwise, they would've had to get VC backing and start a company and all these things.
Hiroko Nishimura: And a lot of social media stuff or a lot of little services people have come up with, realizing that, that came from the one of the big value propositions of cloud computing, right? It's like, you can trade your capital expenses for blah, blah, blah. But it's like, what does that even mean in English? In English, it just means, Hey, we can pay for stuff as we use them and we don't have to pay $20,000 for a server. So, yeah. I think that's one of my favorite parts because it allows us to do a lot of things now.
Adam Elmore: Yeah. I just remembered something I wanted to ask you because you also put out info product on freelancing. So, like freelance finance. That's super interesting to me as someone who this year went freelance to again full time. And I wonder, I guess any tips for people who, I think it's through COVID maybe, I don't know. It feels like it's more trendy that people are leaving their corporate jobs. There's like these mass echoes from full-time employment.
Adam Elmore: Anything you would say to somebody who's just branching into freelance or thinking about it? Any advice? Because I think you probably created that as you were learning how to best set up your freelance business, just knowing you and how you go about teaching. So, anything you didn't know back then that you wish you had known?
Hiroko Nishimura: So, everything I wish I had known I wrote in Freelance Finance 101.
Adam Elmore: There you go.
Hiroko Nishimura: When I first started, I obviously didn't know anything, but I didn't even know you had to pay taxes four times a year, right? And there's all these things that I think in the past someone told you, but given that I didn't have a network of people around me who were freelancing. Most of my friends and colleagues obviously were employed full-time. So, I asked around. I asked a lot of people who'd been freelancing online a lot and stuff like that.
Hiroko Nishimura: And what a lot of people said to me was like, "Oh, yeah, I didn't get it for 10 years, and then I had to pay a big IRS tax bill, and ha-ha-ha, I got an accountant." And I'm like, "Oh, boy." I'm not okay with this.
Adam Elmore: Yeah. You can't avoid that. Yeah.
Hiroko Nishimura: My anxiety level is so high, that just the idea that IRS is going to come back to me in 10 years and go like, "You have not been paying taxes properly for 10 years" is my worst nightmare. So, I was researching. I was learning. I was asking people. And there's all these little things that I was like, "Why is there not this one book or course or YouTube video that just tells me all these fundamental things?" And this goes back to everything that I create is about the fundamentals.
Hiroko Nishimura: But I was like, "I've wasted 100s, if not 1000s of hours trying to figure these things out but it could have just all been in one place." And just giving me the vocabulary to ask the right questions, the ideas, like all these stuff that could have been prevented if there was something like this out there, which is why I created Freelance Finance 101. And I actually had given up on it last year or a year before. It was sitting on my hard drive, like not written for a while.
Hiroko Nishimura: And then, someone was like, "Someone asked me about freelancing. I was going to recommend your book. What's the link?" And I'm like, "Um." So, I avoid that because now, there's extrinsic motivation to write it. Right? So, I got that thing out in a month. But yeah, it's like taxes, the different corporate structures, what may be for you, what may not be for you, the way to do accounting, the ways to be like, what can be expensed, what can't be expensed. And one of the biggest things for me was health insurance.
Hiroko Nishimura: And so, I researched a lot on different ways to get health insurance as a freelancer. And so, all this stuff I wrote about, because a lot of things I was learning in the process, like no one had ever mentioned them to me before. And another big thing for me is because I'm really interested in personal finance and financial independence, retirement accounts was really important for me. And setting myself up for retirement. And that's another thing that you have to really research. That's really confusing and complicated.
Adam Elmore: There's so much out there. Yeah, it's so confusing.
Hiroko Nishimura: So, I try to distill that to the core, like these are the options, these are the differences, and this is what-
Adam Elmore: So, people don't have to go to irs.gov and learn all this stuff because it's not fun.
Hiroko Nishimura: Though to be fair, the irs.gov retirement pages are pretty good. They're pretty good. But you still have to be able to know the right words. Right? The keywords to research that. So, yeah. So, everything I wish I had known, it's in that book.
Adam Elmore: Yeah. Well, there, that's a good plug for the book. I think just pick up the book if you're getting into freelance. And really, if you're getting into anything that Hiroko has ever gotten into, you'd be best served, picking up what she's written down. It's been so great to have you on the show and learn about your career. I come into all these shows, thinking I know something about the person, and then after an hour, I know so much more and that makes doing podcasts really worth it and fulfilling. So, it's been really great to have you, learning about your professional beginner mentality. Just thanks so much for coming on the show, Hiroko.
Hiroko Nishimura: Yeah, of course. Thanks for having me on.
Adam Elmore: So, I guess if you listen to this show on the podcast platforms, Apple, in particular, I appreciate your reviews and ratings. Thank you for those. They make me feel really good. This is me trying to ask for them again very awkwardly. I'm really bad at this. I still don't know why people ask for them, but I know every podcast I listen to, they ask for reviews. So, I'm going to ask you, please give me reviews I guess. It's great. It makes me feel good. I think that's it.
Hiroko Nishimura: And be nice.
Adam Elmore: I don't think we had any... Yeah. And be nice. Be kind. If you have bad reviews, maybe just DM them to me or something. I think I didn't see any questions. So, I think we can end the space. Thanks, everybody, for joining the live show, really appreciate all of you. And join the Discord if you want to keep the conversation going. A whole lot of AWS folks in the Discord. It's growing all the time.
Adam Elmore: It's exciting to watch people mingle and talk about how to make the show better and things that they're learning in AWS or things they don't know about AWS in Hiroko's case. She can get on there and maybe learn something. I don't know. Don't learn too much though. You got to keep helping those beginners. Thank you, everybody, for joining.