What I Learned From Writing “Until One Woman Becomes an Engineer”
You’re probably wondering what this number is. According to the FY2019 Information Service Industrial Standard Statistical Survey published by the Japan Information Industry Association (JISA), this is the percentage of engineers in Japan who are women. The low representation of women in the ranks of Japan’s engineers is regarded as a problem that some organizations are dealing with by hosting events for knowledge and information sharing that focus on women active in IT and other industries.
One such effort, a blog published in January of 2021, has garnered a lot of attention. The blog, titled “Until One Woman Becomes an Engineer,” was authored by @wiroha, an Android Engineer working at Mercari.
As the title suggests, the blog talks about the path that @wiroha took to become an engineer. However, reading through text, you soon learn that this blog is not some epic saga of struggle, but rather a review of the author’s past habit of giving up on things because she lacked confidence.
After its release, @wiroha’s blog exploded on Twitter. One after another, people who read her blog began to publish their own stories of how they became engineers. How has @wiroha responded to this reaction, and what has she learned from this experience?
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@wiroha@wiroha is a member of Mercari’s Camp 1. After working for a social media company as a product manager specializing in the development of social media and new business, she joined Mercari in April 2018. Her first assignment involved developing an Android app as a member of the Merchari Team, at a time when Mercari had only released the iOS version of the bike-sharing app. She took part in launching the service and then worked to improve it through several rounds of user testing. After transferring the Merchari business to another operator, she moved to work on Mercari product development and was mainly in charge of improving the app’s logistics features.
For all of the reactions people had to my blog, the one thing they all shared was the wish to find people like them
—After the release of your blog, a lot of people quote-tweeted it. There were even a few people who, just like you, wrote blogs looking back on their lives.
When I wrote it, at first I thought it’d just be nice if a few of my Twitter followers read my blog, but I was shocked to see that the response was a lot bigger than that.
Reading “Girl Code” is what prompted me to write the blog. There was so much in that book that I could relate to, and a lot of what happened in the story is what happened to me as a student. After that, there was no way for me not to write something charged with reflections on my past. My high school memories came back to me especially vividly. It made me really nostalgic, and it made me want to throw my support behind women aiming to become engineers. One of the people who shared their feelings about the article commented that, “it was like you were writing about me!” A lot of other people shared similar stories on their blogs as well, which I think made us all feel braver.
—Was there a common thread in the reactions that you received?
I think the one thing they all had in common was that everyone said they wanted to find people like them. Of course, I think the world of all the people I now work with, but when you’re a woman and a large percentage of your colleagues are men, there aren’t many opportunities to share the problems and feelings that you face as a woman. This is why there were a lot of people who said that they wanted to find people like them who they could talk to about sensitive things. I’m now taking part in “Code Polaris,” a community that brings together women engineers. But when people in the group introduce themselves, a lot of them say things like, “I’m here because there aren’t a lot of other women at work,” and “I’m here to meet people.”
—So instead of people saying, “I’m looking for friends,” they say, “I’m looking for other women like me?” That sounds so disheartening.
Say for instance that one of my male colleagues asks the room if anyone wants to go for lunch—I hesitate to put my hand up first. After all, if no one else raises their hand, then lunch becomes a meal shared one-to-one between a man and a woman, and there’s a high probability that things will get awkward. At times like these, I find it hard to step forward. It’s also hard for me to ask for time off for menstrual cramps. Because there are so few women at work, I get needlessly nervous and end up overthinking things sometimes. There are situations where I just feel a little isolated. You would think that ostensibly small things like these would have simple solutions, but feelings like these have a snowball effect.
I wanted to tell people that shying away from a challenge because you lack confidence is a waste
—When you wrote your blog, how did you feel about yourself?
Writing my blog, I guess the feeling that came back to me was that I had let a lot of chances get away from me because I hadn’t felt confident. Like when I think back on how I didn’t join the computer club at school even though I loved computers, or how I turned down an invitation from my university professor to meet the president of a startup business associated with our school—I realized that if I had felt confident, I would have taken on those challenges.
In writing the blog, my goal was to share my record of failures and of letting chances slip through my fingers, because I lacked confidence, in order to save others from making the same mistakes. I wanted to tell people—in no uncertain terms—that shying away from a challenge because you lack confidence is a waste.
—I think it’s hard for people to notice a lack of confidence in themselves unless they’re made aware of it. Before you wrote the blog were you aware that you had maybe let chances slip away because you lacked confidence?
What opened my eyes was when I read Lean In. In the book, the COO of Meta (formerly Facebook) looks back on her career and personal life. She wrote that, even from a statistical point of view, women tend to have a hard time being confident. Up until then I had thought that not feeling confident was just a part of my personality. When I read Lean In, it all made sense to me. After that, I figure I probably had two or three times as much confidence and I made a point of taking on the things that I was interested in. Case in point is this Mercan article; if I hadn’t read Lean In, I probably would have turned down your request for an interview. (laughs)
@wiroha icon is a shoebill. The interview for this article was conducted online.
—When I read your blog, what really surprised me was the part where you said that when you thought about your career as a woman, you chose a career that you could continue even if you got married or had children. In the blog, you also touched on how you had a history of giving up on things because you didn’t feel confident. It made me wonder whether you would have chosen your work without including considerations for marriage and having children if you had felt more confident.
The blog gave me many opportunities to speak with a lot of different people, many of whom were women worried about whether they would still be able to keep working after they had children. In choosing the first job of my career, I picked a company that had a track record of employees being able to return to work after having children. After that, my positions at mixi and Recruit led to where I am now at Mercari. And yet, even though I have purposefully sought out progressive companies, I still worry about being able to keep working after I have children.
It would be great if we could close the gender gap to the point where the term “woman engineer” disappears altogether
—What was it that made you want to change jobs and join Mercari?
I knew a few people who were already working at Mercari. So even before I thought about changing jobs, I had a general idea of what it would be like to work at this company. At the time, the business that I had been in charge of was transferred to another operator, so I started thinking about the next stage in my career and decided to join Mercari, which I had heard about on a number of occasions. After I joined the company, I was assigned to the Merchari team and put in charge of developing the service’s Android app. Back then, I still didn’t have much experience working in development as an engineer for the Android platform, but thanks to Mercari and my coworkers, I felt like I was picking up the technical skills I needed to grow and be successful. Following Merchari’s transfer to another operator, I moved to work on developing the Mercari app, which is what I do now.
—Since you joined Mercari, have you found anything where—as you put it earlier—you weren’t able to take on a challenge because you didn’t have the confidence?
For me, deciding to join Mercari was a Go Bold challenge. So, I would say that everything else I’ve done here has been a shade of that same Go Bold value. Compared to joining Mercari, other challenges like learning a new language or a new architecture, seem easier to me now! (laughs) Also, the people around me at work have really helped me out. I think it’s thanks to them that I’m still able to take on the challenge of development work.
—I guess the process of changing jobs was itself a challenge. (laughs)
Yeah. (laughs) Lately, I’ve been thinking about debuting as a VTuber. I even made an avatar for my channel. There are a few Merpay members who are also VTubers, so I want to give it a try. The fact that I can take on this sort of challenge is proof that I’m now more confident.
—So are you going to keep putting yourself out there online?
By writing my blog, I was able to expand discussions among women engineers. It also tied into a lot of new opportunities for me to make appearances and be interviewed on podcasts. I want to keep the momentum going and promote Mercari as a place that helps to increase the number of women engineers and to connect them to each other. And I think it would be great if we could someday close the gender gap to the point where the term “woman engineer” disappears altogether. At Mercari, just like with Build@Mercari, we are working to create a workplace that is great not just for women, but for other minorities as well. I want to do whatever I can to make that happen.