Previously, we introduced Krista Moroder, our multi-talented instructor and video producer.
Our second introduction will focus on Yan Fan, Code Chrysalis’ CTO/co-founder and brilliant entrepreneur, educator, and software engineer.
What were you doing before Code Chrysalis? As I understand, you were originally in a non-tech career before making the transition.
Yan started out in finance, but over a 13 month period transitioned into work as a software engineer. Of the numerous goals motivating this career change, a desire for independence and an awareness of the challenges facing women in her industry were among the first.
“I felt trapped. I had a lot of different ideas and I also wanted a bit of freedom. I realized that I was really attached to my company, in the sense that if I left my company, my only real option would be to just go to another company. I wanted to get out of that cycle of having to rely on another company for my livelihood.
I also realized that there were not many women in positions of power, or even over the age of 35 in my industry. That was not a good sign…I wanted to actively think of a way to avoid that and take hold of my career.”
She was also motivated by an entrepreneurial drive.
“I wanted to learn to code, because I wanted to start a company. I had all of these startup ideas, but I didn’t know how to execute on them — as in, I didn’t know how to build anything — and I didn’t understand the technical side of things. So I started learning to code. At first I wanted to learn enough to be able to hire someone. And then I thought “maybe I should code enough to make an MVP” — something small that I could prototype, or show off — and it all just blossomed from there. I decided I wanted to work for a few years as a software engineer before taking my next steps.”
Not coincidentally, her path bears a resemblance to that followed by many of our students.
Yan went on to work as a software engineer in Silicon Valley and later moved to Tokyo to start Code Chrysalis.
Why did you decide to co-found Code Chrysalis?
Disruptive educational models like bootcamps are now common and accepted options in the U.S. for those wanting to change their career to tech. But those opportunities are lacking in Japan. I have always been interested in education because of that — because I realized that it’s never too late to do that dramatic career shift.”
I’ve also always really liked teaching, and my mother was a teacher as well. In San Francisco I was doing a lot of volunteer work, moderately active in female communities teaching beginners how to code…Having gone through Hack Reactor, and having taught there as well — I taught one of their beginner courses — I had a lot of ideas as to what I would do if I had my own program. And there were a lot of topics that I felt like none of the top bootcamps were adequately teaching.
I wanted to try to implement my ideas.”
Why Japan specifically?
“Japan is a really interesting country because they are both very technologically advanced and also not at the same time.There’s a disconnect between the hardware and software sectors, and because it’s been so hardware-focused, they’ve really lost track of software.
So I think there’s a lot of opportunity here, because it’s currently the third largest economy in the world with so many large tech powerhouses. There is a lot of potential here, and adding to that, Japan has a lot of soft power in technology.
We’ve seen that in our students. We had two students come over from Iran. They came because they thought of Japan as technologically advanced.
I think if Japan can harness its potential, there’s a lot they can work with. We could see a big shift if there are enough pieces moving at the same time.”
What is your vision for the future of Code Chrysalis? What do you hope to accomplish?
“When I think of Japan, I see a lot of industries as both isolated and integrated. I want Code Chrysalis to be a bridge between Japan and the rest of the world.
I think we have a really solid, industry-aligned curriculum, and also a really solid set of ideals. I’ve actually had this conversation before with Krista [an instructor at Code Chrysalis]…We’ve both had somewhat unusual career paths, and being in the crossroads of a lot of different industries and experiences is really fascinating. And there’s not a lot of people on these borders.”
“While I think there are some pros to a single specialization, I think increasingly we’re seeing the need for generalists on the borders.”
“That’s also why I think people learning how to code is important. For example, in our program, we attract a lot of students who have been able to use their experiences in this new way. It makes our classes really dynamic, where we have students from all different backgrounds and they’re able to straddle these two sides of their experience. And it provides insight into technology, and how to build, and how technology works.
To be a strong software engineer you need to be able to do more than code. You need to have good communication skills, and be able to empathize with your user, and have a certain autonomy and drive to learn.
To be good at something you need a collection of abilities.”
On that note, you’ve been deeply involved initiatives to empower women in STEM. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?
“There’s only really two things we’ve seen gender parity on: education and health. Women, for most OECD countries, and getting just as educated and living just as long. But there’s two other areas: economics and politics. I’m not in politics, and I can’t really do anything about that, but there are things we can do on the economic side.
The way that it’s looking now, the majority of jobs that are going to be safer, that aren’t going to be automated away, and that have more economic power — they’re in tech. So tech skills are incredibly important.
Programming used to be an acceptable female occupation, but now it’s not. So I think trying to increase those numbers, and prepare women to protect themselves economically, is important. Also, being a software engineer gives you mobility and freedom — if a company isn’t treating you right, you can go somewhere else.
For women in Japan in particular…Well, Japan is very bad at gender relations. They’re currently ranked 114 out of 144, which is shocking for the 3rd largest economy in the world — they’re not efficiently utilizing half of their population.
They’re facing a lot of labor shortages and my response to that is treat your female workers better. There are so many women in Japan who are stuck because of this poor treatment. Japan has one of the largest percentages of college-educated women…There’s so much underutilized talent here.”
In fact, Code Chrysalis has actively worked to attract women interested in the tech field with all levels of experience.
“Because we are advanced, it was difficult to find female students who have the skills to enter. So we started the beginners course, Foundations, because we saw a lot of interest — a lot of women coming to our meetups — and we wanted to be more accessible. We’ve had quite a few women since! Our first Foundations class was majority female, our second was about a quarter, and the third one is going to be majority female as well.”
These efforts have shown promising results:
“One of the women from our first Foundations class is joining our Immersive later on. And I’m keeping in touch with a lot of women who are currently studying programming.”
If you’re interested in reading more about women in the dev community in Tokyo, please check out our most recent post, a guide to women’s tech events and communities in the city.
Making a startup is quite a lot of work. Do you have any advice for current or prospective entrepreneurs?
“The most challenging thing is the long hours. It’s a very different experience when it’s your own thing, and when you’re doing something you enjoy.
In regard to advice for people who are currently entrepreneurs, or who want to be entrepreneurs…I’m struggling to find something that isn’t cliche, but honestly what the successful people say is totally true.”
Which is to say:
“Don’t sweat the small stuff. Don’t be afraid to think big. Don’t be afraid to dream a bit. I think the best entrepreneurs are those resourceful people who, when something happens, can find another way around it. I think it’s just like coding — if it doesn’t work one way, you find another way to do it.”