Hiroko Nishimura

Founder AWS Newbies

Hiroko Nishimura is a Special Education Teacher turned IT Helpdesk Engineer turned SysAdmin turned Technical Writer and Technical Instructor, helping other "Cloud Newbies" break into AWS and cloud computing.


In this episode, we talk about Amazon Web Services, or AWS, with Hiroko Nishimura, AWS Hero, instructor on LinkedIn Learning and egghead.io, and creator of AWS Newbies. Hiroko talks going from IT to cloud computing, creating AWS Newbies, and some of the major cloud concepts newbies should know about that would make their journey easier when diving into cloud engineering.

Show Notes


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[00:00:05] SY: Welcome to the CodeNewbie Podcast where we talk to people on their coding journey in hopes of helping you on yours. I’m your host, Saron. And today, we’re talking about Amazon Web Services or AWS with Hiroko Nishimura, AWS Hero, Instructor on LinkedIn Learning and egghead.io, and Creator of AWS Newbies.

[00:00:26] HN: At the time, I had no idea this was the case. And I was like, “Why can’t I understand anything any of these things are saying?” And it’s because every other word was a jargon.

[00:00:35] SY: In this episode, Hiroko talks about going from IT to cloud computing, creating AWS Newbies, and some of the major cloud concepts newbies should know about that would make their journey easier when diving into cloud engineering after this.


[00:01:02] SY: Thanks so much for being here.

[00:01:03] HN: Thanks for having me today.

[00:01:05] SY: So Hiroko, you are an AWS Hero, which means you are recognized as someone who has an AWS expertise, who’s had a really big impact on the community. But before we get into all that, I want to hear a little bit about your coding journey. Where did it start for you?

[00:01:21] HN: So my coding journey actually began when I was in middle school in way of trying to spruce up my MySpace and LiveJournal and Xanga. That’s kind of where it started. And then it moved on to creating fan websites for anime. Right now, I think, if you are maybe a middle school right now, it’s kind of hard to see how little there was of people who will talk about anime and things with you. Nowadays, there’s so many shops selling goods and it’s gotten a lot more mainstream. But back in the days, you kind of had to go to the dial up internet to talk about these kinds with people. So my coding journey started on making these fan sites and interacting with other people who are interested in what I was.

[00:02:08] SY: So when you were doing that and looking at these fan sites and building all these little things, did you know that coding could actually be a job?

[00:02:15] HN: That was one thing I definitely did not know. One of the, I guess, little regrets I have is that when I got into college, I stopped coding because for me, coding and making websites and interacting with friends online was a hobby and I had not realized that it could potentially be a very lucrative and stable career and something that I enjoyed. Having taught myself how to code from Lissa Explains It All and those websites and using Notepad and Notepad++, and it was just such an exciting kind of hobby to have back in the days. And for me to have been able to give that up because I didn’t realize it was a career option is one of those things that I sometimes think about.

[00:03:02] SY: Yeah, absolutely. So what did you end up doing in college? What did you study?

[00:03:05] HN: So I’m a special education major and I got my bachelor’s and master’s in special education with a concentration on severe disabilities and elementary education.

[00:03:17] SY: So did you end up being a teacher?

[00:03:18] HN: I did not. So after all that, I decided I didn’t want to teach in the classroom and was looking for more of like disability advocacy related work, because I personally had become disabled during college when I had brain surgery, when I was 22.

[00:03:36] SY: Oh!

[00:03:37] HN: And all this time, I was kind of learning and teaching and I guess becoming this person who helps other people going through different ways of learning and kind of modifying and commentating educational materials so that people can learn. However, they learn best. And suddenly, I’m on the other side and I’m experiencing a lot of the things that my students are experiencing. And I was kind of hoping to find a place where I can kind of utilize these new perspectives, but it turns out there’s not many people looking for someone who went to school for six years to become a special education teacher and no longer wants to become a special education teacher.

[00:04:23] SY: Right. Right. I’m curious, if you’re comfortable talking about it, I’d love to hear how your disability affected your career and your experience building up your skills, teaching that sort of thing. Is that something you’re comfortable talking about?

[00:04:39] HN: Yeah, sure. It’s shaped who I am and what I do. One of the reasons why I say this is because I had to relearn basically how to sit up, how to walk, how to hold a pencil, feed myself. Like I had to relearn everything from zero after my surgery and walking was something that took me a couple of weeks to kind of get a hold of and stuff like that. And after that is school works. I was still in college, so I was trying to do school and suddenly I went from someone who can write a paper at midnight the night before and get an A to someone who can’t even deconstruct what the professor wants me to do. And it was like a complete 180 change on what I can and can’t do. And throughout the next couple years, as I thankfully was a student, so I had time to kind of figure out how I work best, I was accommodating and modifying a lot of things in my life so that even with my really sucky memory, I had like really bad short-term memory. I was able to kind of do things and accomplish things.

[00:05:47] SY: That’s great.

[00:05:47] HN: And once I moved to New York and got a career in tech, one of the reasons why I think I was able to say yes was because I had this experience of not being able to do anything and then figuring it out. So I was like, “Anything, I could probably figure it out. And if I can’t, then at least I can tell myself I tried my best,” which actually means a lot more than we would think. The fact that you gave it a try, it didn’t work out, that’s fine. At least you’re not going to spend the rest of your life going like, “Oh, what if I had just done that one thing?” So failing to me is actually not that big of a deal. And one of the reasons why I was able to create AWS Newbies, I think, is because without knowing I was kind of honing the skill of technical writing because I have such bad memory that any new thing I learned I had to document it and I have to document it in a way that I can understand without being confused later on. So I got really good at documentation. It turns out technical documentation is a hot topic right now.

[00:06:48] SY: Oh yeah!

[00:06:49] HN: And a lot of companies are finally realizing good technical documentation can make them a lot of money. So I get hired to do technical writing and documentations, and I also get hired to write about things that I have no idea about, like I don’t know. One of the things I was doing was writing about JavaScript and I don’t know any JavaScript. But because throughout my cycles of not being able to do something and in figuring out how to do something and then documenting it, that happened over and over after my brain surgery, and my confidence with being able to do that because I’ve just done it so many times in the past 10 years, I can sell myself on the fact that I don’t know something. And this is an asset to me because then in the span of going from, “I don’t know,” to, “Oh, I got it,” I can then create documentations for companies that help people who are also going through the same thing. So I call myself the professional beginner because I sell my services as a professional beginner. I’m like, “Okay, that’s great. I don’t know anything about what you want me to write about, but I will make sure that your documentation is going to be awesome because by the point that I’m done, I’ve understood it and then I sort of understood it.” And apparently, that’s a skill. And without this whole brain surgery and brain injury fiasco, I would never have realized that this is something that I can do.

[00:08:16] SY: Wow!

[00:08:17] HN: And another aspect of my disability, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis when I was 27. And so I was having a lot of chronic pain and also there were a lot of physical limitations to movements I could make. And I realized that being able to go into the office and work eight hours and then do one hour commutes on both sides of the day is actually a luxury. And you wouldn’t think that’s a luxury, but being able to commute, just like when I couldn’t drive in the suburbs is a luxury. If you can’t do that, you can’t work.

[00:08:52] SY: Right.

[00:08:52] HN: And now with COVID and a lot of companies going remote, I’m hoping a lot more people like me can work because we don’t have to commute and commuting is such a huge barrier to a lot of people. And so I had to create a career plan that doesn’t require me to go into the office anymore.

[00:09:12] SY: Right.

[00:09:13] HN: And that’s kind of when I started researching about financial independence and creating a career for myself that doesn’t require me to commute and I can do at home and also to have flexible working conditions so that when I’m flaring up or when I’m not feeling well, I cannot work. And when I’m feeling well, I can kind of do all the work I need to do at that point. And I ended up with freelancing because I can kind of pick and choose. I kind of know when I’m going to feel bad so I can pick and choose my work and my workload. And I think all of that kind of thinking about what kind of work I do best and how I work best wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t gotten so sick so early in my life.

[00:09:55] SY: Wow! That is fascinating. Good for you. Good for you for taking something that could have been debilitating, that could have been this huge burden and really using it as an asset and using it to propel your career and build your career. So that is absolutely inspiring. Thank you for sharing that. So what did you end up doing after school and how did you end up getting into tech?

[00:10:17] HN: So this was another complete segue in my life is after I graduated college, I moved to New York with a suitcase and my favorite pillow on a $15-bus. And I was like, “Okay, New York is where you go find jobs.”

[00:10:32] SY: That’s right.

[00:10:32] HN: And there’s definitely a lot of jobs, but not for people with a master’s degree in special education because I don’t want to be a teacher with absolutely no other skills to speak of. So for half a year, I was putting out hundreds of resumes and I had one interview and that obviously didn’t pan out. And in the meantime, I was working as a tutor, as a babysitter, like anything I can do to kind of make money while I try to find a full-time job. And just as I was about to give up, because my sublet was about to expire, I got this interview offer from an IT consulting company who basically said, “Hey, are you interested in being a help desk engineer?” And working in tech was not something that was ever something I thought about doing. As I said, I didn’t even know coding was a thing that was a career. And I didn’t know what a server was. I didn’t know what an active directory was. I didn’t have any background knowledge on IT or help desks, but they said that they’re looking for an IT help desk person to fill in at one of their client’s sites, which was a bilingual help desk engineer, and I’m bilingual in Japanese and English. I came to the United States when I was seven. So they said basically, “We can teach IT skills. So if you’re willing to learn, we’re willing to teach you that, but we can’t teach language skills.”

[00:11:58] SY: Right. Right.

[00:11:59] HN: And they’re like, “You’re the most bilingual candidate that we’ve seen and we’d love to basically ‘buy’ your language skills if you’re willing to learn IT skills.”

[00:12:08] SY: Right. Right. Oh, wow! That’s great.

[00:12:11] HN: So that was a very strange kind of mix. I applied to this company to be a recruiter. I was like on my wit’s end. I was like, “I’ll take any job.” They’re like, “We want you to fill the recruiter position, but we’re wondering if you’re interested in this IT help desk engineer position.” And I was like, “What?”

[00:12:31] SY: Yeah. Did you know what IT was at that point?

[00:12:33] HN: I mean, I knew you work with computers, but because I also never worked in corporate before, I didn’t really have any concrete understanding of what it meant. I’m like, “Okay, printers, right? Printers.” That’s computers, printers. But I figured there’s like a three-month period where you’re both evaluating each other. And at that point, after three months, they can say, “Hey, it’s not working out. Bye!” But also I could also be like, “Okay, this is not working out. I think I’m going to move on.” So I figured I’ll give at least three months a try.

[00:13:04] SY: Right. Right.

[00:13:05] HN: And it turns out you can pretty much learn most help desk things on the fly. And I spent 10 months there and then I moved on to work at an MSP as an IT support analyst.

[00:13:20] SY: What’s an MSP?

[00:13:21] HN: People who support like other company’s IT. So companies that don’t have their own IT.

[00:13:27] SY: Like outsourcing IT kind of thing?

[00:13:29] HN: Yes. Yes.

[00:13:29] SY: Okay. Got you.

[00:13:31] HN: They hired me more for proactive maintenance doing like backups, making sure servers are running, there’s no network errors in the client sites, stuff like that. Then a little over a year after that, I moved on to a startup and that’s kind of where I encountered cloud computing for the first time, which I didn’t know was cloud computing. I just thought it’s pretty cool that now I can do my job and manage accounts and be an administrator while, to me, it was kind of like working on Facebook or Twitter.

[00:14:04] SY: Oh, interesting. Okay. Yeah.

[00:14:05] HN: To me, it was like using social media except it’s my job.

[00:14:10] SY: Right. Right.

[00:14:11] HN: Because we were using SaaS products for almost everything and I’ve been doing that for a very long time. So I was like, “Oh, this is really cool that I can work and get paid and learn things. It’s kind of like I’m using Facebook.” And I’ve been managing Facebook groups for a really long time. I’m like, “I can do this.” But back then, I didn’t know this was cloud computing. I didn’t know what I was doing has a whole entire kind of backbone and infrastructure to it. So when I was a year or so into that position, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do next. And I knew I didn’t want to be in help desk forever, but IT is also just so vast and nebulous and I had no idea what’s even possible or what’s available. The only careers that I know are what I see with my eyes and my own company.

[00:15:06] SY: Right.

[00:15:06] HN: And I was like, “Okay, there’s like a network engineer. There’s like a DevOps. I don’t really know what they’re doing, but they’re there.” And then there’s all these people that are doing things, but you’re kind of limited with your ambitions on what you know. And I realized then that I still don’t really know much. I’ve only seen like a small sliver of the possibilities. And I think around then I started coding again because I was talking to my coworker who is a software engineer at my company, and half-jokingly, I was looking at what he was doing. And he’s like, “Look at this cool thing I did with CSS.” And I’m like, “Wait, what? You’re using CSS? You’re getting paid six figures and what? Wait. You’re doing cool stuff with CSS? Wait, wait, wait. Hold on. Hold on. Is this HTML?” And he’s like, “Yeah, we’re using HTML and CSS for these interfaces.” I was like, “What? It’s been like 10 years and you guys are still using HTML?” And it’s not like, “What? You guys are so behind kind of thing,” but it was just baffling to me that I didn’t even realize that the coding languages that I was using back in like middle school and high school are still being professionally used and it’s still what the web runs on. That has never even crossed my mind. And that was just kind of like a whole revolutionary moment, I guess. And I came back on Twitter then to pursue 100 Days of Code and look through CodeNewbies, actually. Those hashtags back when the 100 Days of Code was actually being used for 100 Days of Code. Now there’s a lot of spam in there, but I realized there’s such a huge giving community of people who like helped me through so many little mundane things that I was like, “Wow! Wait. There’s so many people out here and so many people trying to do what I’m doing and they’re really nice.” And that’s when I started, I think, being back on social media as more of a tech person, rather than like a person-person, because I’ve always had Twitter accounts. I’ve had Tumblr. I’ve had every account there is, but I’ve never been on social media as a tech person. And I guess I’ve always had kind of this imposter syndrome that I’m not really a tech person. I’m just administering SaaS products at work kind of thing. But they’re like joining CodeNewbies and 100 Days of Code and relearning how to code and stuff like that and then interacting with a lot of other people who are transitioning into tech, kind of made me feel like there’s a whole community. And after that, I started seriously looking into what I can do next. And I kind of knew software engineering is probably not what I wanted to do.

[00:17:56] SY: Why not?

[00:17:57] HN: I guess I was tired.

[00:18:00] SY: Of software engineering?

[00:18:01] HN: Not all software engineering, but even with the lower level stuff that I was re-teaching myself, coding to me was always like means to an end of being able to do something that I wanted to accomplish. So I use coding. So I wanted portfolios. I’m going to learn how to do all these cool jQuery things so that I can make my portfolio look cool. But it wasn’t really like, “Oh, I want to do this as a job,” kind of thing. And I guess, to me, it was more something that’s a hobby and something that allows me to accomplish something that I wanted to do.

[00:18:34] SY: Got you. Yeah.

[00:18:34] HN: And I personally definitely had a tendency to make everything you like into a job, and that was as a freelancer. That’s completely true for me. I do something and then after a while someone asks me to do it for them, for money. Right? And then suddenly it’s not something that I’m doing as a hobby anymore. Now it’s like a professional thing that I’m getting paid to do. And I think most things are fine that way, but I guess coding was one of those things that I wanted to do more for fun rather than to get paid to do. And my sister’s a software engineer and I have been seeing how stressed she is to continuously learn and learn and do new things. And I’m like, “Oh man, I’m just too tired.” But when it’s something I do want to learn, it’s like, “Yeah, I don’t care how long it takes, how many hours.” I'm deep, and therefore, it just invigorates me. But I guess I want to keep the invigoration and the fun into it, but I don’t mind using it for work. I just didn’t really want to use it as my main source of work.

[00:19:40] SY: Yeah, I totally get that.

[00:19:40] HN: And when I discovered cloud computing and AWS as a thing, and I was like, “Oh, maybe this cloud engineering is something I’m interested in. And that’s kind of where time has frozen for me for the past three or four years.

[00:19:57] SY: In AWS land. So let’s get into AWS Newbies, whose description is, “Opening doors & knocking out AWS jargon since 2018.” Tell me about the conception of AWS Newbies. Where’d that come from?

[00:20:12] HN: So the conception of AWS Newbies was that I needed to pass my AWS Cloud Practitioner Exam, and I had absolutely no idea what was going on. And I had two weeks left until my exam date. I didn’t even know the core services. I was so completely overwhelmed and all the resources and websites and blogs and video courses, especially that I was looking at, couldn’t really explain to me as someone who doesn’t have probably the fundamental IT infrastructure knowledge in ways that I can understand. And a lot of video courses and stuff would say, “Hey, we’re explaining it to complete newbies, complete beginners, for people who are five years old.” And I was like, “Well, I guess I understand less than five-year-olds because I have absolutely no idea what’s going on here.” And it took me a couple years to realize why this was the case. But I realized recently that it’s because though a lot of courses and blogs and stuff were written for cloud newbies, like people who had never encountered cloud computing, they were still expecting you to have intermediate level of IT infrastructure knowledge, like the legacy IT infrastructure knowledge.

[00:21:28] SY: I see.

[00:21:30] HN: So they weren’t really catered into actual beginners of IT. They were catering to cloud computing beginners, but probably been working with servers and as sysadmin for a little while. But at the time, I had no idea this was the case. And I was like, “Why can’t I understand anything any of these things are saying?” And it’s because every other word was a jargon and it could be legacy jargon or it could be cloud computing jargon or AWS specific jargon. And I was just getting so frustrated, but I knew I kind of had to pass this because I told my manager I’ll pass. And so I was like, “Okay, okay, Hiroko, how do you learn best?” And as a trained teacher, I actually learned best by explaining concepts in my own words to other people.

[00:22:18] SY: Great way to learn.

[00:22:19] HN: So it turns out that’s a very kind of universally accepted way of learning. That’s why they say don’t just take notes, but make sure your notes are in your own words. Don’t just copy down what people are saying. Regurgitate it in your own words then your ability to kind of understand and memorize that fact becomes so much stronger. So I created this blog. I’m like, “I can create blogs. I can use my IT skills to create a blog.” As I set up a WordPress blog, and I was like, “Okay, everything I need to know for this exam, I’m going to write out on this blog and then I’m going to take the certification exam.” And so I created AWS Newbies, I think, in a span of about eight or nine days. And spent the rest of the time, a couple of days studying off my website. And then I took the exam, passed the exam, and I was like, “Well, if it helps one or two other people this year, great, I’ll leave it off for a year and then reevaluate.” And within two or three months, I was getting 10,000 hits a month from Google on that blog.

[00:23:23] SY: Whoa!

[00:23:25] HN: And I was like, “Wait a second. Is this like a niche and a need?” Like, “Are a lot of people struggling with the same things I was struggling with?” And that was my first revolution, like, “Wait, if I can’t understand something, there’s a lot of other people needing to understand the same thing too.” And that’s when around that time a content manager from LinkedIn Learning reached out to me, asking if I’d be interested in creating introductory AWS courses for their platform. And before that, I had never heard of them, but they had acquired Lynda.com and I use Lynda.com a little bit. So I was like, “Oh, okay, okay. I kind of understand what this whole online video course thing is.” But then I was like, “You know, you do realize I created this website because I have absolutely no idea what’s going on. Right? I’m probably not the best person to be teaching people.”

[00:24:15] SY: Right. Right.

[00:24:17] HN: And what my content manager at the time said to me actually has shaped, I think, my career since then and what she said to me was like, “Actually, we have a lot of very, very talented and great instructors teaching mid and advanced level courses because they’ve been in the industry for a really long time. They are like who you would consider industry experts for these topics and they’re very good. But because they’ve been an industry expert for such a long time, they are not as able to cater to beginner courses and introductory courses, inherently, because they’ve been doing this for 10, 20 years, they can’t really understand what people who are on day one wouldn’t understand.” And I was like, “Oh, that’s so true. That’s literally what I went through for the past couple months, trying to figure out what the heck AWS even is.” And she said, “You know, you have this unique combination of being beginner enough that you understand how beginners feel and the struggles they have, but also advanced enough that you can explain these things to people because you’ve personally understood it at this point.” And it doesn’t hurt that I have a couple degrees in teaching. And I was like, “Oh, you know what? That’s so true.” And until then I had actually been trying to kind of pat all the parts of myself away that’s not this IT person, this sysadmin, this person who does IT and also as a disabled woman, a minority in tech, it’s a very kind of difficult place to exist. And I was trying to cut all these different parts of myself away so that I can be that. I try to mold myself into what a sysadmin should look like and what an IT person should look like. And when my content manager said that to me, I was like, “Wait a second. I don’t have to forget that I was ever a teacher. I don’t have to forget that I thrive on teaching and creating content.” And I was like, “Wait a second. This can actually be an asset, instead of something that kind of takes away from my legitimacy.” And so that was probably one of the scariest things I’ve ever done was say, “Yes. Okay. I’ll create these courses.” And as of now, I think it has hundreds of thousands of students. And I get messages every week and it’s allowed me to quit my full-time job and kind of focus on content creation and helping other people get into cloud computing and AWS. It all started because I had absolutely no idea what AWS was and I needed to pass my certification exam.


[00:27:23] SY: So I want to get into some of the jargon that you mentioned that newbies might find intimidating, but let’s start from the very beginning. What is cloud computing? You kind of described it as a little bit of a feeling like social media, managing accounts. Let’s dig into that a little bit more. How would you define cloud computing?

[00:27:40] HN: So to me, cloud computing is what you would assume is what IT is, all these TV shows show people running around in server rooms, tripping over network cables, all of that, except it’s over the internet. So instead of having to have all these IT resources in the server room, in your office or in a data center, you can kind of offload all of that to these cloud computing providers like Microsoft, Amazon, and Google. And they get to deal with all the hardware related problems and buying servers and you get to kind of rent space and rent resources instead of having to put up all this money yourself to create and run your own server room basically.

[00:28:30] SY: So tell us a little bit about some of the roles that people have within cloud computing. You kind of mentioned that you were sitting next to different people who were doing kind of slightly different things. What are the different job titles that people can possibly apply for or learn about within this world?

[00:28:47] HN: There’s definitely a lot, and I think every day it’s evolving. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve left corporate. So I might not be up to date with a lot of things. But I think one of the major ones, especially for people like me who are trying to kind of step in, I think one of the ones that were appealing to me were like cloud administrator, cloud engineer. And from what I saw, a lot of people who are working in that were doing the more managing and administrating side of using SaaS products and cloud computing products. And they may or may not be doing much on the development side of creating things, but they’ll be using a lot of the resources to manage their users and manage their platforms and stuff like that. And then there’s the people who work in a lot of the DevOps then they will be building in AWS or Google cloud. They would be building servers and working on them, but a lot of people might be doing things like solutions architect, which as the name suggests you’re architecting solutions for needs, which for people who like building things or people who like problem solving, I think that’s like a fabulous career path. And I think that’s one of the gateways. I was about to say gateway drugs, but gateway jobs.

[00:30:12] SY: Maybe not drugs exactly. Yeah.

[00:30:14] HN: That’s one of the first positions a lot of people I think start with is like solutions architect and there’s a huge one that you see a lot on Twitter and YouTube are the developer advocates and they might be in on one specific technology or maybe one specific technology within a cloud computing platform. Some people are developer advocates for like Lambda, AWS Lambda, and they’re really, really knowledgeable about that one topic and they are always bringing you news about the newest developments and showing you how to build in it. And those people are very cool because they’re sharing all this nitty-gritty information and new cool stuff that you can do and they’re generally making stuff so that people can consume it, courses and videos and podcasts and stuff like that so that we all can learn from them. SREs, Site Reliability Engineers, a lot of them also use cloud computing. And that one seems like you have to learn a lot about different things. But for people who like putting things together and creating all these ways to keep infrastructure safe, I think that’s like a great career path as well.

[00:31:34] SY: So where does AWS fit into this ecosystem? Maybe tell us a little bit about what it is. It’s probably a buzzword that a lot of people are familiar with or have heard of, but what exactly is it and how does it fit into cloud computing?

[00:31:48] HN: So that was a question I definitely had and I try to ask people. And people are like, “Oh, we’re not getting into that.” In the end, my conclusion was, so it’s this thing that does everything. And I say this because they have a satellite. They have little racing cars. They have servers. They have stores. They even have email and video chat.

[00:32:10] SY: They do have email. Yeah. I read a lot about that recently.

[00:32:15] HN: So I think cloud computing in general is kind of like a hard concept to grasp because it’s so cloudy in there and, “What is this? I can’t see through it.”

[00:32:23] SY: Appropriately. Yeah.

[00:32:25] HN: Yes. But I think when we talk about some services we’re familiar with, like Gmail, Google Drive, Dropbox, YouTube. So there’s all these things. So Dropbox is a store service, and yes, AWS of course has a storage service. It’s called S3. So there’s a store service. You can spin up servers. You can rent a satellite. You can program cars to race. You can have databases. And hey, there’s tons of different types of databases you can have depending on your needs. And you can send text messages. You can do email. You can do video chats. If you have an IT need, you can probably do it on AWS and with the benefit that you will likely be paying less than having to set that whole entire thing up by yourself in your server room. I mean, we’re seeing a lot of times when people accidentally rack up ridiculous bills, but I think there’s a lot to be said about kind of safety of that. But aside from that though, I think it’s very valid that AWS helps to kind of even out the playing field of where people like me without $20,000 to throw at creating something can start at couple dollars a month and start building now, instead of having to save up for buying a server or renting an office space and stuff like that. As like one person or a very small startup or someone thinking about wanting to create something, they can just go sign up and start. And I think that’s what I love the most about a lot of the cloud computing platforms.

[00:34:10] SY: So tell me about some of the most popular acronyms, buzzwords that people might encounter in the AWS world. You mentioned S3, which is simple storage. What are some other names, some other words that people might come across and be confused by?

[00:34:25] HN: I think one of the most popular words is scaling. It’s very versatile. You can use it for anything, which also means it has a lot of meanings, but if you don’t know what it is trying to signify or what that situation is, I think it’s very confusing when someone says something is scaling, scalable, is this going to scale. It could mean like you are building something and growing something in a way that’s sustainable, that’s scalable. Is this scalable? It could be a question on, “Hey, is this really something that outside of this little town of 10 who happens to want the specific thing, is this going to work out? It just has a lot of different ways of using it and a lot of different meanings, depending on the context. So I think that’s a great word to learn and define because people use that a lot.

[00:35:19] SY: Good one. Yeah.

[00:35:19] HN: The core services like EC2, which is a server virtual server.

[00:35:25] SY: What’s a virtual server? What does that?

[00:35:27] HN: So a virtual server could actually exist in your actual servers that you have in your server room.

[00:35:33] SY: Server in a server. Interesting.

[00:35:35] HN: Yes. So when I was like in high school or college, people didn’t want to buy a MacBook and a Windows computer. So they will create something called a Hackintosh.

[00:35:49] SY: I’ve heard of that. Yeah. Yeah.

[00:35:51] HN: And I think a Hackintosh is you have a MacBook, but then they put a Windows. They installed a Windows virtual machine into your MacBook so you can use both at the same time. So I had a couple of friends who had these Hackintoshes. And it’s not that you put in a Microsoft bit and a Mac bit in your computer and now there are two computers living in your one laptop, but that you put a virtual machine into there. So virtual servers are virtual machines, except instead of computers, they’re servers.

[00:36:23] SY: What would you use one for?

[00:36:25] HN: In cloud computing, that would be your actual server. You just spin one up really quickly. I think spin one up is also probably a jargon that people use. It just means to make one.

[00:36:36] SY: Right. Right.

[00:36:36] HN: Make one. Create it.

[00:36:37] SY: Start one. Yeah.

[00:36:38] HN: Start one. You create these virtual servers so that… a lot of people do it for testing. And sometimes you only need it temporarily. So you would create these virtual machines. It’s not worth buying a whole server for a real physical server where you’re like, “Oh, wait, I want to test this out.” And then once they’re done, they just kill it. And it’s fine because it’s a virtual server.

[00:37:00] SY: You’re not committing to it.

[00:37:01] HN: You’re not committing to it. But if you had bought a physical server, now you have this couple of thousand-dollar equipment laying around, which is kind of a waste. So that’s one of the huge pros of cloud computing is you can just make one, kill it, expand it, change the specifications for your new needs that obviously will keep on changing as you develop your product. And as a regular person, I say regular person, but as someone who’s not like, “Hey, cloud computing is so cool, I’m going to do this in all my free time,” people rent virtual machines and virtual servers for playing video games when they don’t have like a gaming computer.

[00:37:42] SY: Right. Right.

[00:37:42] HN: So they’re borrowing these compute resources, the computer’s ability to run really intensive games, but they’re doing it online so that they don’t have to purchase a really expensive computer themselves. Just like a lot of different ways of using it, even for people who are not salivating over cloud computing.

[00:38:05] SY: Yeah. Because I’m going to assume that for most people it’s probably more of a means to an end then. It’s something that they do for fun. In terms of its application, is it fair to say that it’s primarily used in an enterprise setting? You mentioned kind of personal gaming as one application of something you might do just for yourself, but is the biggest use case enterprise or is it popular at startups or smaller companies too?

[00:38:35] HN: So I don’t know the statistics, but I think it would be both. As I was saying earlier, the startup and small businesses, the alert is that you don’t need that much startup cache, which is very helpful. But enterprise would obviously be using volume. They’ll be using a lot more in one company. So both situations I think are very valid. I guess if the companies are big and places like AWS have all the big brand names that we’ve heard of, even Apple is using GCP, was it? They were saying like 50% increase in usage or something. Those places would obviously be using so much more per company than any startup could. So I guess by volume it might be that enterprise is using majority of their resources.

[00:39:24] SY: Yeah. Yeah. So you mentioned that before AWS Newbies came along, a lot of the AWS courses assumed this kind of intermediate knowledge in the IT space. For the courses and the resources that you’re creating, is there any prerequisite? Is it kind of a good idea to maybe get some background, some knowledge on a different tech topic before taking on cloud computing?

[00:39:48] HN: So with my courses, my goal was to make it cater towards people with no background in IT. Obviously, I would kind of want you to know about some SaaS products like Dropbox or Google Drive or Gmail because I use a lot of metaphors, and hey, it’s like this. So having youth social media or some SaaS products it’d be really helpful in really getting the aha of some of the metaphors or similes that I’m making. But other than that, I really wanted to make this into something that anyone can take and come out, being able to speak a little more with the jargon and understand what their coworkers are talking about without feeling overwhelmed with just how much there is. So I tried to kind of pick and choose the important things and then being like, “Okay, this is what we’re going to talk about,” because one thing that I struggled with, with a lot of the courses that I was taking before I created AWS Newbies was I guess not the scope creep, but they were just telling me so many things that I didn’t need to know at that time.

[00:41:00] SY: Oh, interesting.

[00:41:00] HN: And they were just trying to explain more, but being taught things that you’re not ready for actually is worse developmentally because you kind of get scared and turned off of what’s going on.

[00:41:12] SY: Yeah, you get overwhelmed.

[00:41:14] HN: Yeah, because you get overwhelmed so quickly. And cloud computing in AWS is just already so overwhelming that some people who’ve really, really want to learn hardcore may find it, like, “Oh, what? You’re talking about pizza delivery? This is serious stuff, guys. Don’t talk about pizza deliveries. We’re talking about AWS here.” There’s a lot of puppies in there. There’s some cats in there. I want it to make it more engaging and fun and something that people can watch and feel like they’re learning, but also don’t feel like they’re getting completely overwhelmed with what they’re hearing.

[00:41:48] SY: Right.

[00:41:48] HN: I tried to make it so that they didn’t have to come in with much prior knowledge.

[00:42:00] SY: Coming up next, Hiroko talks about some of her favorite resources for pursuing cloud computing after this.


[00:42:18] SY: So obviously there’s AWS Newbies as a great starting place for people interested in learning about cloud computing. Are there any other resources that you might recommend for folks to kind of get their feet wet and introduce themselves to this world?

[00:42:32] HN: freeCodeCamp has a lot of free YouTube videos that Andrew Brown generally creates that goes through a lot of the AWS certification. I think they’re doing a lot of different platform certifications too, but I generally only follow AWS-related things. So I know he does a lot of courses on the different AWS certifications. And I think he does lab-related type stuff too. So you can kind of get into AWS, which I don’t really deal with. And on the same vein, A Cloud Guru also has labs and they also do really great with sample tests, I think. That’s all the sample tests that I was taking. A lot of it was A Cloud Guru before my certification exam.

[00:43:17] SY: Right. Right.

[00:43:18] HN: But I think for people who aren’t just in for the knowledge, so I teach knowledge and vocabulary because I feel like that’s what’s going to trip people up the most in the beginning. But once you learn these jargons, there are so many great resources out there for you that so many other people are creating. You’re free to go as high as you want and learn as many things as you want, but I just want to make sure these basic vocabularies. But I think for people who want to learn to have a career in AWS, this is an AWS’s Microsoft Azure, but I think her username is like made by GPS, but she does a lot of Azure-related things. I think she does a lot of more of the getting nitty-gritty into it and building stuff with it. And there’s just so many people building in public and creating decent resources these days that weren’t around when I was trying to figure out what even AWS was that I think now is like a great time to get in because there’s just so many people catering to newbies.

[00:44:28] SY: We talked about AWS and focused on that, because that’s what you do and that’s the course that you created, but it’s not just AWS. Right? When talking about cloud computing, I think it’s the big four, right? There’s smaller players. There’s kind of four major players in the cloud computing world that people can pick from in terms of what they want to learn about, what they might want to specialize in, if they want to go into it professionally. What are the other big companies out there doing cloud computing?

[00:44:56] HN: There’s obviously Amazon Web Services that we just spent an hour talking about, and there is a Google Cloud, which is pretty big. Microsoft Azure, which I think is number two right now. And then there’s places like Oracle and even Alibaba. And then there’s like little ones that you wouldn’t think about, but then it’s like, “Oh, I guess that makes sense.” And I think even IBM has IBM Cloud.

[00:45:19] SY: Yes, they do. Yeah. Yeah. And Apple too, Apple Cloud, that’s one as well.

[00:45:23] HN: Oh, yeah, I guess so. Can you build it as a cloud computing platform?

[00:45:27] SY: I think so, but maybe double check that.

[00:45:32] HN: Yeah. I mean, I wouldn’t be surprised. It’s like a new thing. Everyone wants their own cloud. But what I’ve heard is that if you get certified in AWS certifications, then it’s pretty much usable wherever you go and whatever platform that you choose to do. You’re going to have to learn new jargon. You’re going to have to learn new things. But for the most part, they say AWS certs are the strongest in industry right now.

[00:46:01] SY: So for folks who might be interested in getting into AWS or maybe just cloud computing in general, what is your biggest piece of advice? What should people know going into that part of the world of tech?

[00:46:13] HN: So this is not like a technical advice, but more like how you think about things. But what I tell people when they say they want to think about going into cloud computing, but they’re not sure if they should, I tell them is right now, even if you’re a complete beginner with cloud computing right now, in 10 years, you’re going to be one of the seniors, the veterans, and it would be like if you had gotten into being a sysadmin 10, 20 years ago, in 10 years, you’re going to be a veteran. You’re going to be a person that other people look up to that other people think, “Oh my gosh! I wish I could be like them, but I can’t. It’s too late.” You could be that person because even though it’s been around for a little bit, cloud computing has been around a little bit, it’s only exploded recently and it’s changing so much every day that even if you’re a complete beginner today and you pick up one thing and you’re like, “This is going to be my jam. I’m going to pursue this for the next couple of years,” you are probably going to become an expert. You’re going to become a veteran. And now I think it’s time, it’s a good time as any to get in on something. And yes, it will be hard for a little while because it’s going to be completely new. But in 10 years, no one’s going to realize, “Hey, this person had absolutely no idea.” In 10 years, they’re going to be like, “Oh, this person’s so cool. This person has been doing this for 10 years.”

[00:47:36] SY: Yup. Yeah.

[00:47:37] HN: They were there from the beginning, and yeah, you’re there from the beginning. Now’s the time.

[00:47:46] SY: Now at the end of every episode, we ask our guests to fill in the blanks of some very important questions. Hiroko, are you ready to fill in the blanks?

[00:47:53] HN: All right.

[00:47:54] SY: Number one, worst advice I’ve ever received is?

[00:47:57] HN: Worst advice I’ve ever received is probably when I was graduating college and people around me, especially adults, I guess we’re adults too, but these people seem more adults cause they’re like my parents’ age, was basically trying to say that I should kind of let myself be defined by what I can’t do. Because as I mentioned earlier, I had brain surgery when I was a senior in college. And that meant that I had a lot of disabilities related to my cognitive abilities. And a lot of people around were very tempted to define me by what I couldn’t do instead of what I could do. And for a little while, that kind of plagued me too. And I was like, “Oh, look at all these things I can’t do that other people can do.” And one of the biggest things was that I couldn’t drive. The sensory overload of driving was just too much. And in the suburb of Maryland, not being able to drive means you can’t work. You can’t go grocery shopping. You can’t live on your own. So people are like, “Oh, you’re just going to be relying on your parents for the rest of your life. You’re never going to get a job. You’re never going to be able to drive or work and be independent.” And I was like, “Oh my gosh, that’s true. I can’t even drive.” And then I moved to New York. And no one needs to drive in New York or suddenly no one knows I have all of these issues. No one knows I can’t drive because it doesn’t matter. And I was able to get a job and I was able to work. And this is, I think, called like societal model of disability, but it’s kind of how society make someone disabled because of the infrastructure problems that it has. You could think of it like if someone uses a wheelchair, but then these roads are not made for wheelchairs, they can’t access a lot of things. But if the sidewalks are nicely paved and there’s ramps going everywhere, they can access anything they need to access, and it’s kind of like society puts up blockers. And if I hadn’t moved to New York after I graduated college, I think I would have never realized that a lot of these problems that I thought that I had and all these limitations I had are kind of situational. And if I move somewhere else or if I change the situation I’m in, actually that becomes a non-problem. And I think that realization definitely changed my life.

[00:50:23] SY: Number two, best advice I’ve ever received is?

[00:50:27] HN: So the best advice I’ve ever received goes back to what we were just talking about and what I was saying earlier about my content manager saying to me is to embrace what I don’t know and make it into my strength. And that, as I was saying earlier, definitely changed my life, but this is also something I tell people who say, “Hey, I want to get into technical writing or I want to become a technical instructor, but I don’t know where to start. Everything that I would ever create has already been created.” And it’s like, “I don’t know what to write.” And I’m like, “Hey, what’s something that stumped you last week or this week? What’s something that you didn’t know a few days ago but now you do? It’s stuff like that that you should share because what you don’t know and then now know or what you don’t know and you go in a process of figuring out, it’s actually really important and valuable to other people who are going through the same thing. And as someone who has made that into a career, I’m always advocating for people to embrace that, “I don’t know, I don’t get it,” and be able to kind of verbalize or put into words like how you got the “I don’t get it” to the “aha, I get it moment” because that is helping other people go through the same thing with less time and less work.

[00:51:43] SY: Absolutely. Number three, my first coding project was about?

[00:51:48] HN: My first coding project was about making anime fan sites.

[00:51:53] SY: Number four, one thing I wish I knew when I first started to code is?

[00:51:58] HN: The one thing I wish I knew when I started to code was what we were talking about all the way in the beginning is that it’s a well-paying and good career path that I should consider pursuing. I definitely didn’t know that. And while I’m completely satisfied with the career that I have right now as a technical instructor and technical writer, I love it, I do wonder why no one ever was like, “Hey, it was coding!”

[00:52:23] SY: No one told you. Yeah.

[00:52:24] HN: Yeah. You’ve been coding for seven years, you’re like 18 and you love it and you’re kind of okay at it, hey, why don’t you try computer science or coding as a career. Did you know there’s coding as a career? I think now saying it kind of sounds ludicrous because there’s no one that doesn’t know that coding is a job, but honestly back then…

[00:52:45] SY: Right. It’s so mainstream now.

[00:52:47] HN: Yeah, it’s very mainstream. Time has changed. But in 2004, 2008, it didn’t even hit any part of me or my surroundings. But two years later, my sister started college and then she became a computer science major after a couple of years. So it seems like something changed between when I started college and when she started college. Perhaps the great recession. Maybe that was it.

[00:53:13] SY: I’m sure that helped. Yeah.

[00:53:15] HN: Yeah.

[00:53:17] SY: Well, thank you so much for joining us, Hiroko.

[00:53:19] HN: Course. Thank you for having me on.

[00:53:27] SY: This show is produced and mixed by Levi Sharpe. You can reach out to us on Twitter at CodeNewbies or send me an email, hello@codenewbie.org. Join us for our weekly Twitter chats. We’ve got our Wednesday chats at 9 P.M. Eastern Time and our weekly coding check-in every Sunday at 2 P.M. Eastern Time. For more info on the podcast, check out www.codenewbie.org/podcast. Thanks for listening. See you next week.

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