Walking into Cafe Milano on a Tuesday evening in November, Michi Kanda, a user experience and web developer for Tokyo-based startup Progate, a sort of Codeacademy of the East, wears a sweater advertising her company, a skirt that defies the cold weather settling into Berkeley, and black oxford platforms, a nod to her home country’s eclectic style. She’s with a friend, and as soon as I introduce myself, she walks off to buy a coffee.
Once we settle into our seats, I ask her how Berkeley has been in the first 30 minute she’s spent here since getting off BART. She arrived from San Jose, where she participated as a finalist in Battlehack, a hackathon run by Paypal. She and her teammates won first place in Tokyo in June for talk’n’pick, a video summarization app that processes out less important footage. The prize included free round-trip airfare and a hotel stay in San Jose, plus an ax that glows with blue light (the theme of the competition was Tron). “So far so good,” she says.
Kanda, 25, started coding only two years ago while interning at Life is Tech, an organization that teaches high school kids how to code in Japan. There she learned HTML and Ruby on Rails among other languages. Up until now, her roles have included co-founding two start-ups and landing her current job as a designer at Progate, a website that teaches the public to code and program.
“The best part is that I get to work with the people I admire and also [do the] things that I care about,” Kanda says. “Like helping people who want to code.”
Generally, there are a lot of tasks a UX designer could specialize in. For Kanda, day to day consists of site traffic analysis and making user interfaces, or UI, for new products. Kanda found her interest in coding alone; in school, she wasn’t encouraged by her parents or teachers to pursue a STEM major.
“I wish my parents or a teacher had encouraged me to explore a STEM field, but they never did,” she says. “From elementary school, there are classes for girls. You have to know how to cook, how to make clothes. But I think boys don’t really have to do that.”
She says that girls studying Computer Science at universities in Japan aren’t interested in engineering degrees; they are mostly concerned with becoming “good” wives. Through Progate, she hopes to encourage women towards careers in technology.
“I think when you first start programming, it’s good to have things you actually want to build before. It can be a simple one page website. It’s very important to start small.”
We can all take a cue from Kanda’s book–start small, dream big.
Michi Kanda presented to FEM Tech in November about her career.