The importance of using your voice

Even when you’re a software engineer

Last week, Yumi Nogami (opera singer and voice trainer extraordinaire) visited Code Chrysalis to teach students the fundamentals of voice training. Communication is a key component of our curriculum and an important skill for software engineers. Your voice, and how you use it, is often one of the cornerstones of this skill.

We began working with Yumi because, as stated before, communication is central to our curriculum. Internationally competitive software engineers need to develop soft skills like communication alongside their technical abilities. They especially need to be able to communicate in English, which we also teach.

Most software engineers have never given a public technical talk and we want our students to be able to be assertive about sharing what they know and confident in their ability to learn what is necessary.

By the time they’ve graduated from our immersive, our students will have given multiple presentations per week, both in class and to our partners. Our current cohort will be discussing their tech topics of choice at the Big MiniConf and, like every cohort before them, presenting their MVPs at Demo Day for graduation.

According to Yumi, poor articulation, quietness, or even a mismatch between what you want to express and the way in which you vocally express it can all contribute to ineffective communication. Such an obvious statement, but one that is surprisingly easy to overlook.

We sat down after class to talk about her background as an opera singer and voice trainer, and how her work connects with society.

How long have you been working as an opera singer?

I’ve been singing since I was a child, but my debut as an opera singer was shortly after I graduated college. So it’s been about 17 years now. I’ve been working as a voice trainer for the same period.

What kind of people do you usually teach?

I teach the basics of vocalization, so I have a wide range of students. I teach singing, of course, but as a voice trainer my main focus is helping people use their voices properly in order to express themselves. So, as a result, I teach everyone who makes their voice their job. Narrators, voice actors, actors, and even general employees — I instruct a lot of different people!

What is the importance of one’s “voice” in your opinion?

If you don’t know how to use your voice, it is difficult to properly express what you feel about things — not to mention your most important thoughts! If your enthusiasm and your technique for expressing that enthusiasm don’t match, I think you can start to feel really depressed. So that’s the sort of thing I try to fix as a voice trainer.

What separates effective speakers from ineffective ones?

Articulation is one of the first things that comes to mind. If you can’t speak clearly, then no matter how passionately you feel about something you won’t be able to reach people.
After that is vocal range. If you have limited range, then you can’t express your passion either. The most effective speakers have really good control over the pitch of their voice, so when they’re speaking they can express both excitement and seriousness clearly and with impact. In fact, one of the things I teach is how to gain that same persuasiveness.

What were your initial thoughts on Code Chrysalis?

At first, I was worried about whether I would be able to train foreigners given the language barrier and other differences, but during the first lesson it became clear the difficulties they faced were exactly the same as my Japanese students. For example, the most common things people worry about are having quiet voices or poor articulation, or having a lot of thoughts but difficulty properly expressing them aloud. These are the types of universal problems I try to help with. However, people using different languages have different weaknesses when it comes to the muscles involved in using one’s voice, so I keep that in mind when I’m trying to help my students.
The thing that surprised me most when I first came to Code Chrysalis was definitely the environment — it was so different and wonderful. Even I’d like to work at a company like this (laughs).
The environment at the average Japanese company can be so psychologically unhealthy sometimes, so I hope all of Japan becomes more like Code Chrysalis. If you want to share your thoughts, you need to have a good mental environment, and if you don’t feel happy it is really difficult to express yourself. In the same way, if your work environment isn’t positive, it is really difficult to express your ability. This is why I was so impressed when I first came to Code Chrysalis.

Now that you mention it, it’s not uncommon to hear that people feel difficulty expressing themselves in Japanese companies. It would be really nice if things changed, wouldn’t it.

Absolutely. There are a lot of things that we can improve upon, but this is one of the things I most wish would change. In my lessons, I always try to make sure that people can have fun using their voices and expressing themselves, and I believe that expressive ability is connected to people’s hopes and dreams. That’s the type of lesson I want to create — one connected to people’s dreams.

We’re really grateful to Yumi for coming to give voice lessons for the third time! In the meantime, if you’d like to see one of her performances, check out her Twitter.


Code Chrysalis is an English-language based coding school located in the heart of Tokyo. Our programs include a 12-week advanced software engineering bootcamp, a beginner coding course, and an English communication immersive.

See why we are an industry leader in tech education in Japan.

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