By Christian Wolfer
Yoshie Agata is a self-taught software engineer in her 20’s, originally from Osaka, but she has been living in Tokyo and around the world for the last few years. I first met her at a tech and diversity event, where I quickly noticed her strong command of English and unapologetic confidence. Impressed by her well-reflected and sharp-minded opinions, I was eager to find out what shaped her confidence and comfort with herself, as well as just where she acquired all those international accents from.
It’s quite rare to meet someone your age with such a confident presence and mature mind. Have you always been so confident and open-minded?
It was actually a long journey. During high school in Osaka, I first wanted to become a preschool teacher, just like most other girls. In preschool, most teachers are women, so it seemed logical. Boys wanted to become lawyers and doctors because they thought they have to become rich to take care of their families.
Preschool teachers and software engineers have little in common. What changed your mind?
My math teacher was a strong influence. I love math and asked many questions because I wanted to understand everything…and be better than everyone else. He believed in me and even came to school on weekends to help me. It was him who pushed me to enter university, and so I did. It was a last-moment decision and not knowing what I wanted, I chose business as it allowed many options.
And did you end up having a great experience at university?
Actually, no. I realized that for many students at least, university in Japan is a time to relax and have fun. That was very disappointing, and when my boyfriend at the time cheated on me, I started to hate everything, including myself, and I hit rock-bottom.
How did you get out of it?
I felt like I had nothing to lose and was ready to do anything. I wanted to see if there was any purpose in what I was doing, so, more or less by chance, I went to Australia during spring break for a month after my 2nd year at university. Everyone was so kind and open-minded there, free to express their opinions. There was no judgment and no expectations of how to look or behave. You could simply be yourself and because everyone felt comfortable with themselves, I started to feel the same. It made me realize how small my world had been.
What changed for you after this transformative experience?
I started to study English earnestly, and I made new friends from bars or international events. I felt great! I went to Australia again and made even more international friends, and eventually, I started to look towards Europe. I began to work at an international shipping logistics company with the hope that I could go abroad, but it turned out to be a horrible experience.
What made it so horrible?
I was the only full-time woman there, it was very hierarchical, and a tough working environment. Nobody was teaching me much and I always had to serve drinks to clients. I stopped putting on makeup but I was told that I should “take care of myself.” They thought I was weird for being the only woman there AND not wearing any makeup. Soon I started to wonder what I was doing there and quit after 7 months.
I ended up joining a British company in Tokyo where I worked in IT support. I could speak English again and my Japanese colleagues were really open-minded. Some of them are still my friends today. Nobody treated me differently, which I think is partly because the CEO is a woman. Anyway, after 1 ½ years I thought it was time for the next challenge. I quit and went on a 2-month trip to Malaysia, the US, Italy, and Ireland, where I stopped in 2017 and stayed for a year.
What were your goals there?
I wanted to perfect my English and get deeper into coding, which I had started at my previous work. I wanted to see if a woman can do difficult things. In my head, coding was a man’s job because I mostly saw men doing it and it looked very complex. Turns out it’s not, and everyone can do it. In fact, I got a job there after 6 months.
How did you do that?
First, I went to many tech events, continued asking many questions, and received lots of help and kindness from other people from meetups.
Then I noticed something at an event organized by Facebook; I was the only woman among 100 people. I wanted to find out if there were other women interested in tech, so I started a meetup myself called “Women in Blockchain”. I had no idea about Blockchain…But that didn’t matter. I wanted to create a safe space for women – and it worked. Over 30 women came and companies contacted me to ask if they can send speakers to the event. The women who came told me how they didn’t feel comfortable at the other events because there were mostly men and they were not confident to speak. While they never asked questions at the other events, they felt free to ask many at mine.
So in the end, I got a job partly due to my meetup experiment. But…I had to leave because my visa got rejected. I decided to go to Barcelona, where I had visited friends before and I felt great being there. I found a job after a month and I’m still with them.
Wow, that’s some journey. It’s impressive how you keep going forward with a positive mindset. What’s next?
Recently, I realized that I love talking to and helping people. So I’m looking into psychology or therapy for kids. You know, in Japan, they never tell you to do what you love and follow your passions. At my first job, they told me I’d never find a job again. I didn’t know if it was the right path, but now I know it was because I followed my heart.
Can you tell us more about what’s behind your next idea?
I observed lots of communication issues in my family, I was bullied (for example having rubber thrown at me) I didn’t have close friends until I was 20, and I was even a bit suicidal. I had no idea how to handle that. I was afraid to go to the school council because I would have been called sick and nobody would talk to me anymore. Looking back, I wish I had gone. I could have been in a better place.
So, that could be my purpose. In Australia, I realized happiness comes from doing something for others. Psychology, coding, software engineering – I’m not sure what I’ll do, and it may change, but the purpose is clear now.
There are probably a few people reading this who don’t quite know what they want to do, let alone what their purpose is. What can you tell them?
I just talked to a high school girl the other day. She told me she doesn’t know what to do. I told her “Of course you don’t!”. What we can do is just explore. Your heart knows the answer.
If you feel uncomfortable in a situation or at your job, it’s a good sign that you should change something. Listen to your heart and act on it.
You are afraid because you don’t know what will happen if you do something. But once you do it, the fear and insecurity will disappear and you will become stronger.
I wish more women would ask themselves if what they are doing is REALLY what they want to do. Are they listening to others, or to their hearts?