From Disabled Special Ed Teacher ๐ŸŽ“ to AWS Hero โ˜๏ธ

Every time someone asks me how I “got into tech,” I think to myself, “Oh yeah – I should just make this into a blog post!”

So here’s my story on how a Special Education major with brain injury got into tech, spent 5 years working in corporate IT, became a LinkedIn Learning course Instructor, attended AWS re:Invent 2019 as an AWS Community Leader, and then pivoted again to work as a freelance Technical Writer and Consultant!

Update: November 2020, I became an AWS Community Hero! What an honor! ๐Ÿ˜„


This blog post ended up becoming extremely long. But if you are to take anything away from this, I hope it’s an analysis on how you can use your position as someone already in tech to help others climb the tech ladder. If you are new to tech, or considering beginning a career in tech, cultivating social capital may be the key ingredient to landing your dream job! (And don’t worry if you don’t have much social capital yet… You’ll get there!)

And of course, I have to plug my on stuff for people who are interested in learning about Cloud Computing/Amazon Web Services (or want to share resources with a friend!):


The question, “So! What do you do?” manages to stump me every single time. Even though I have been working freelance for over a year now, and have been doing some of what I do *gestures wildly into the air* for years now, I am still caught off-guard by the question.

  • ๐Ÿค” Do I tell them what I’m currently working on? Aside from my freelance projects, I’m currently working as a Content Strategist at egghead! I think about how to make processes and information easier to digest, and get to collaborate with super cool people in the process!
  • ๐Ÿค” Or what I would like to be doing? I’d like to be writing more lifestyle posts and creating content to pursue “SlowFI” – or concept of achieving Financial Independence while still enjoying life! And I’d like to finally start making headway in a book I’ve been thinking about for a while now, on how to manage ADHD/Executive Function Disorder as an adult with tips, tricks, and resources. Also, I’d also like to start really engaging with my audience via Twitch and YouTube, and start pushing out more video-based content.
  • ๐Ÿค” Or what I’m looking for freelance gigs as? I’m a Technical Writer, and I’m looking to connect with more startups looking for writers to enhance their technical blogs, documentations, and resources!
  • ๐Ÿค” Or what I’ve created and what I run? I’m the founder of AWS Newbies and Cloud Newbies, and teach “Introduction to AWS for Non-Engineers” courses at LinkedIn Learning! These work have gotten me a lot of press, especially from AWS, and I have been invited to multiple events as an AWS Community Leader.
  • ๐Ÿค” Or what my “Why” is for everything I do? I want to make career in tech accessible to people from non-traditional technical backgrounds by creating introductory resources that don’t rely on technical jargon. All of my technical content, resources, and work revolves around this “why.” I love being a matchmaker between people or resources to help them make a leap into tech/cloud computing.

It’s very difficult for me to try to explain what I do in a sentence, and when I try to explain, I see people’s eyes glaze over.

๐Ÿ—บ Hiro’s Career Map ๐Ÿ—บ

(2008~2020)

To remind myself how I got from being a sparkly-eyed Special-Education-Teacher-To-Be a decade ago to sitting in my home office, self-quarantine-ing for the 4th month freelancing with my laptop as gateway to the world, I created a Career Map (you can click to enlarge!).


๐ŸŽ“ University ๐ŸŽ“

(Fall 2008~ Spring 2014)

I started college in fall of 2008 as a Special Education major. After a vascular malformation diagnosis as a junior/senior that cumulated in me having a craniotomy (brain surgery), I graduated with my B.S. in Special Education in 2013, 1 year after my classmates. A year alter, I graduated with my M.Ed. in Special Education.

The years after my brain surgery was very rocky, as you might imagine. I had to relearn how to sit, walk, and hold a spoon to feed myself. When I could hobble around on my own, I had to relearn how to read, write, and bring thoughts into words.

If you’re interested in reading about some of my experiences with “Arteriovenous Malformation,” Brain Surgery, Brain Injury, and Executive Function Disorder, please check out the Arteriovenous-Malformation tag!

It’s not that I lost the ability to read words. It’s more that… I’ve lost the ability to read the words and then comprehend them, or even focus long enough to read more than a sentence or two at a time.

After half a year, I was diagnosed with Executive Function Disorder, caused by the destruction of the left frontal lobe of my brain during surgery (where your personality, cognitive skills, and executive function – like prioritization and concentration – are stored).

If you’ve experienced or know someone with ADHD, you might be familiar with the symptoms.

  • Extremely short attention span (I couldn’t read more than a sentence or two at a time, and couldn’t sit still watching a 5 minute YouTube video)
  • Inability to prioritize: Everything seems to have the same level of importance (ie: Needing to buy chips because I only have one bag left is the same level of importance in my brain as finishing a paper worth 50% of my grade and submitting a form that’ll allow me to graduate on time)
  • Highly distractible (I couldn’t get anything done if there was one extra tab on my browser, or I didn’t have a specific pen and notebook on my desk – even if I’m not going to use them)
  • Extremely forgetful (it’s impossible to separate my memory issues due to brain injury with executive function disorder, but I had to write down EVERYTHING or I will forget; every appointment, project, chore, and to-do task had to be written down)
  • Easily overwhelmed by projects (I would get completely overwhelmed and shut down when I had a project or large task to complete… However, I would be fine once I broke the said huge project into smaller actionable steps and completed them one by one)
  • Tend to ramble when trying to explain something (this one is also impossible to separate from my brain injury and aphasia, but I couldn’t “get to the point” or explain things succinctly – everything went on and on and on and after a while… I would have no idea why I’m talking about this topic)

I spent the next year learning to adjust to my “new normal” as a disabled person, relearning how to learn, read, and function independently as a college student.

One thing I had to learn very quickly was learning how to advocate for myself, which came handy later on as I became more and more entrenched in my tech career.

Long story short, I became my very own “Special Ed Case Study,” and I accommodated and modified my life and surroundings so that I could continue learning and working despite my multiple cognitive disabilities.


๐Ÿฅถ Funemployment ๐Ÿฅถ

(June 2014 ~ December 2014)

As a newly disabled person, I had a newfound interest in working to improve the living conditions of people with disabilities. For good portion of my young adult life, I thought I was going to become a Special Education Teacher. But upon reflection, I decided that I wanted to shift my focus more towards the advocacy and policy rather than being in the classroom.

To pursue my new dream, I moved to New York City with a few thousand in the bank, a lot of enthusiasm, and no experience or network to actually get me in the door. Ah, the naive enthusiasm of a newly grad, who actually believes that every applicant has an equal chance at an interview!

With an unpaid internship (aka: volunteering – don’t do this! I just needed a way to get to NYC and secure housing, so it was sacrifice I was willing to make, but always get paid for your labor ๐Ÿ’ฏ) secured with a local hospital that was doing Brain Injury research, I began my new life in the Big Apple.

I was job hunting for half a year, sending hundreds of resumes to every disability advocacy nonprofit and service organizations in the city with little progress. Unfortunately, my half-year sublet to an apartment was ending, and I still didn’t have a full-time job, paying my bills by juggling multiple gigs (babysitting, tutoring, working as therapist for boy with down syndrome).

It was either go back to my hometown to try to find a job there, or find a full-time job in New York City ASAP to justify a new lease. The latter seemed like a stretch, given my 6-month stretch of unemployment.


๐Ÿ’ป Jr. IT Helpdesk Engineer ๐Ÿ’ป

(December 2014 ~ September 2016)

In the last month of my job hunt, I found out that recruiting agencies existed, and what’s better – they’re free to use!

I submitted my resume to multiple recruiting agencies, and unlike the hundreds of resumes that probably went unread, I got calls immediately. Within days, I was interviewing with a consulting firm who needed to fill a client’s IT Helpdesk Engineer role. The caveat was that the client wanted a Japanese/English bilingual, and those are very hard to come by.

“We know you have no technical backgrounds,” the recruiter said. “And though we can’t teach linguistic skills, we can teach technical skills. Would you be interested in trying a helpdesk role?”

I thought about it for a few seconds, and said “Yes!” Did I have any idea what I was signing myself up to? Nope. Did I envision for a second at any point in the past that I would work in tech? Nope!

All I knew was that my career was up for grabs, and an opportunity presented itself. I may not know what a “company domain” is or how to work Microsoft Outlook, but I figured… Why not! If it was all too hard and it didn’t seem like it was going to work out, then no harm done. The company and I could part ways 3 months in, when my temp-to-hire would switch me over to an official full-time employee. If it worked out, well, lucky me! I’ve started a career in tech!

The next 10 months were spent learning everything about troubleshooting Outlook to Windows 7 issues to printers to network, and beginning to understand the way corporate servers and resources are structured. Though I was strictly in Tier 1 helpdesk position, because of how small the IT department was, I got to start to get the feel of how IT “worked.”

Though it was an amazing opportunity, one thing that still bugs me is that I was paid an hourly rate of $14/hour for the first 3 months while I was temp, and when I got switched over to full-time, at $37,000/year. That’s not a comfortable livable wage in New York City by any means. To pay my rent and bills, I was working multiple nights a week as a private tutor, and babysitting on the weekends when I could find parents in need.


๐Ÿ’ป IT Support Analyst ๐Ÿ’ป

(September 2015 ~ December 2016)

One thing that became clear to me fairly early on was the fact that there was no where for me to “go.” If I were to stay in this company, at this client placement, I had no positions to move up to unless people quit. And from the way people seemed to stay for decades in the same positions at this company, that didn’t seem likely.

I began passively looking around, trying to figure out what was “out there” in terms of IT careers, trying to move away from helpdesk roles. After a little while, I got a message in my LinkedIn inbox asking if I’d be interested in an “IT Support Analyst” role at an MSP (IT Managed Service Provider).

I got the message Thursday, chatted on the phone with the recruiter at the recruiting agency that afternoon, went in for in-person chat on Friday, had HR phone interview on Saturday, an in-person interview with the Principals of the MSP on Monday, and had an offer on Tuesday.

The salary went up by $13,000, which meant that I could decrease the number of days a week I was working as a tutor in the evenings and quit babysitting all together.

I moved from strictly Tier 1 helpdesk to proactive maintenance of networks, servers, backups, and occasional office IT troubleshooting and relocation projects. I spent 14 months there. And I learned a lot about the more higher level architecture of how corporate IT systems worked, especially in small to mid-sized businesses.

Unfortunately, the workplace was extremely toxic. It was a literal “mom and pop shop,” and there was no concept of HR. The two head honchos were husband and wife in their 60’s, and everyone else who worked there had been there “from the start” in the 90’s.

I was hired with another girl on the same day. After a year, she got a job at Google. I knew I had to leave, because there was no way I could cope on a day to day basis without her. So I started looking for a new job frantically.


๐Ÿ’ป Technical Services Engineer ๐Ÿ’ป

(December 2016 ~ November 2018)

A friend had joined a tech startup around when I joined the last company. Because of its rapid growth, it was hiring new Technical Services Engineers, and he asked if I’d be interested in applying.

Though it seemed like a “step down,” going back to Tier 1 helpdesk, I figured that it was a good opportunity to learn and reevaluate what I wanted to pursue next. The second work, like the first work, ended up not having any way up, because “no one ever left,” and there were not enough people in the company to allow for people to be promoted.

Because it was a startup, the company I interviewed for was fully committed to utilizing SaaS products (and the Cloud – though I had no idea what that meant at that point). I thought that would be a fun thing to learn to manage.

The legacy Windows systems were all I was dealing with for the first two jobs, and having an entirely new ecosystem of services to play with seemed fun. Besides, I grew up with social media and tinkering with websites. I loved that these SaaS products were much more intuitive to use than the legacy servers and systems that were built decades ago.

After 6 interview cycles, I was finally accepted! And managed to negotiate a $10,000 salary increase (though the recruiter tried REALLY hard to have me do a “lateral move” – changing jobs with no salary increase… which is ludicrous in the amount of money we were talking about: $50,000 vs $60,000 to be working in tech in NYC).

I learned a lot in that job, wearing multiple hats because we were so understaffed. Unfortunately, I was dealing with Tier 1, Tier 2, and sometimes Tier 3 issues with the pay and prestige of Tier 1.

I was constantly so stressed out (for a company of 600+ with a dozen offices around the country and one in Europe, we had 2 helpdesk people) that I developed stress-induced Rheumatoid Arthritis few months in.

I’ve been taking Methotrexate – a DMARD (Disease-modifying antirheumatic drug), used for cancer treatment in higher dosages – every week since then to manage my symptoms.

The autoimmune disorder affected my fingers, wrist, elbow, hip, foot, and shoulder. By the time I received an official diagnosis (took half a year because doctors didn’t believe me), my jaw was also affected.

I didn’t intend to stay in the Tier 1 helpdesk for long – the hiring manager told me that we can reevaluate my placement after one year and see if he could move me to another team or a different position within the IT department then.

Well. After a year, I made my case, and was turned down. Later, we came to realize that the whole company went into a “lockdown” of sorts because it wasn’t making enough money, so “no one” got a raise or promotion for a year. I was hired in at the wrong time, which meant that my “1 year mark” coincided with the start of the promotion freeze.


โ˜๏ธ AWS Newbies โ˜๏ธ

(August 2018 ~ Present)

In the spring of 2018, a few months into the promotion ban, my manager and I were trying to figure out if there’s a way to circumvent the promotion ban to get me out of Tier 1 and into the Server Team so I can expand my expertise. I was already stomach-deep in the Tier 2 work, but because I was officially Tier 1, I had to do both, which meant that I was constantly overworked and stressed out.

That spring, I was discussing “Amazon Web Services” with him. I’d heard about it tossed around, but I never really knew “what” it was. But a friend had recently gotten his AWS Solutions Architect Associates certification, and had immediately landed a swanky job at Google with no prior experience in the Cloud. He recommended that I take a look, too. I was sold!

When I brought it up to my manager, he recommended that I start with the AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner Exam, which was new at the time, to build up momentum. This suggestion ended up changing my life!

Even though the certification exam was marketed for people who “aren’t in tech” (ie: lawyers working at tech startups, accountants working at companies utilizing AWS, graphic design department uploading their content onto S3 buckets, etc.), I found the content and materials extremely difficult to comprehend.

The problem was this: Though the certification was MEANT for “non-tech-people,” the study materials and resources had not been modified for this new audience.

They had assumed that whatever worked for other certification exams (which are meant for tech people) would suffice.

I went through multiple courses from different platforms, the official AWS website, many blogs and documentations… And I still had absolutely no idea what was going on.

What the heck are all of the acronyms, and why are there half a dozen different services all starting with the world “Cloud”? Are they trying to be difficult on purpose?!

I had two weeks left until my exam date, and I was still lost. That was when I took a step back and tried to figure out how I learn best.

I learn best by teaching. By regurgitating information I just learned into my own words. By creating.

So I created a study blog with all of the exam content I needed to memorize. That blog was awsnewbies.com.

I created the whole website in a week, and spent the rest of the time going over the information. I sat for the exam, and officially passed!

The study site was no longer necessary for me, but I decided to leave it up for a year to utilize the AWS Free Tier plan that hosted it for free for another year. I figured that if I managed to help one or two other people learn about AWS as a complete beginner, I’d be happy.


โ˜๏ธ LinkedIn Instructor โ˜๏ธ

(September 2018 ~ Present)

But was I in for a surprise!

Not only did awsnewbies.com gain traction, once I shared it on Tech Ladies Facebook Group as a resource, I began receiving e-mails and messages from companies asking if I’d be interested in working as a Technical Writer for their companies.

Until then, I didn’t even know that “Technical Writing” was a job, and a job that was fairly well-paid! While the idea of switching over to Technical Writing immediately was definitely enticing, I felt that my technical skills still could use a bit more “in the trenches” time, so I decided to keep the potential career change on the back burner.

Then, I received an e-mail from a Content Manager at LinkedIn Learning, asking if I’d be interested in creating an introductory course about Cloud Computing and AWS geared towards people with non-technical backgrounds.

WHAT?!

Obviously, my Imposter Syndrome kicked into full-gear, and I was *this* close to saying “Thanks, but I don’t think I qualify.”

What stopped me were these words from the Content Manager when we spoke on video chat:

“I think you would be a great person to teach these introductory courses, because you have a unique combination of understanding how complete beginners feel, knowing where they can get confused, and yet you are able to deconstruct technical concepts in ways people who aren’t technical can understand. We have an amazing cohort of brilliant engineers who can teach intermediate and advanced level courses. But they are not as well-adept at teaching introductory courses because they simply have been in the industry for too long, and have no idea what people might not understand.”

It was a marvelous moment where and being a Novice, a Newbie, a Complete Beginner was actually an ASSET, not a liability. I was being called on because I was a beginner, and could understand how other beginners felt as they gazed into a bottomless pit that is Amazon Web Services jargon.

I felt like if I had something to contribute that could improve someone’s career prospects, then it was worth a shot. After all, what do I have to lose? I’ll gain experience, I’ll get to take some pretty cool trips (they flew you out to SoCal to film, all expenses paid – pre-Corona, that is…), and I’ll have this experience under my belt!

I flew out 3 times in total over the January 2019 to February 2020 time period. All with very different experiences.

Posts about Trips Out:

Last time out:

I learned a lot about myself, about how to work as a freelancer/contract worker under a client, how to advocate for myself even with uneven power dynamics, and how to enjoy the freedom I’m given as the content creator.

Unfortunately, my imposter syndrome continued even after I created my courses, and I couldn’t celebrate their releases like I’d hoped I could. One of the biggest reasons was that my full-time job didn’t value my activities outside of work.

Some managers may have been excited that I was taking an initiative and creating real meaningful change in the community, giving back, and leveling up. There were many ways to utilize the new skills and resources I was accumulating to help our work within the company, especially when it came to documentations and technical training. This was, after all, a tech startup! We used many systems that we had to teach people how to use over and over again. There were many ways we could have put my new content creation skills to good use to improve our tech support workflow.

When I told my manager about my courses, he simply said, “Well we can’t really put that in your annual review because it doesn’t bring benefit to the company.” Conversation closed.

There were many opportunities to utilize my content creation and technical writing skills gained through awsnewbies.com and “Introduction to AWS for Non-Engineers” series. Who knows! I could’ve become the company’s first DevRel! Unfortunately, the company couldn’t find uses for these skillsets.

In the past year that these courses have been out, tens of thousands of people have taken them, and I’ve had hundreds of messages from happy students telling me that they’ve passed their certification exams, or that the courses have helped them tremendously to begin their Cloud journey. And every time I get a message, I feel a little bit of the Imposter Syndrome Cloud chip away.


๐Ÿ’ป Systems Administrator ๐Ÿ’ป

(December 2018 ~ June 2019)

I was offered a promotion to Systems Administrator in winter, 2018, after a full year of advocating for a promotion for myself. I officially left the Technical Services Team and joined the Server Team.

My director had suggested that once projects were completed in the Server Team that my predecessor left undone, I can move to the DevOps team to take part in the Cloud Migration projects. I wasn’t sure if this would actually ever happen (after spending a whole year trying to get the promotion I wanted and being put into a completely different position just to backfill someone who left), but I figured any upward motion is good motion.

By that point, most people in my original team and department had left, including the friend who referred me to the company and my manager. My old director had been fired, and another one had replaced him. One month after I left, another one of my teammates left.

Well, my turn came on my 30th birthday.

I had been working as a SysAdmin for half a year at that point, in what turned out to be an extremely toxic environment. I had just had a very demoralizing one on one with my manager on my 30th birthday.

It was as though I was being set up to fail, and I didn’t know why. I was agonizing over my insomnia, anxiety, and high levels of stress I had been sustaining for the previous half year as I tried to bring myself into a very “old boys” team.

(Have I mentioned that for the whole 2.5 years I worked at that company, I was the only woman in my team, and for 2 of those years, I was the only woman in my whole department?)

My boyfriend had reserved an expensive sushi omakase dinner for the night, and we were having a rare experience, and yet the whole time, I was in distress.

I remember shaking my head and repeating, “I just don’t understand what’s going on!” again and again as I retold my afternoon meeting over tuna.

My boyfriend had known what had been going on for months at work, so after a while, he shrugged and said, “Why don’t you just quit then?”

“I can’t just quit!” I spluttered. “You can’t just quit a job… Without another one lined up…!”

He raised an eyebrow. “Why not? You hate it there, it’s toxic, and you’re getting so stressed out that it’s affecting your health. And you’ve got your courses and AWS Newbies, and a lot of other things you’re interested in. And you’ve been saving money for years, so it’s not like you can’t afford to take a break to test out freelancing.”

“What about health insurance?!” I retorted. I have multiple disabilities and chronic illnesses. That meant that I couldn’t possibly go without private insurance and hope to live with as high a quality of life as I was enjoying with my mix of private insurance, top-notch specialist access, and ability to pay for hundreds of dollars in medical care, blood tests, and medications every month.

Well, readers. This was how we found out that we were getting married within 3 weeks, before the end of the month when my insurance would be cut off.


๐Ÿ”ฅ Freelance Technical Writer ๐Ÿ”ฅ

(June 2019 ~ Present)

I had little bit of passive income coming in from my online courses with LinkedIn Learning, which were slated to grow. I had another recording to do onsite in a month. And I had to prepare to move out of New York City now that I was no longer tethered there by a job. I figured I’ll take a few months’ break and reevaluate how to work.

But as soon as I announced that I’d left corporate, the most amazing thing happened: founders of small~medium sized startups began reaching out asking if I’d be interested in writing for them. For money! Real money!

I was floored. Throughout the past year, I’ve written for half a dozen companies, and every time, I was beyond elated that I was actually getting paid to write. Sure, they aren’t novels or short stories that I thought I’d be writing when I was in middle school, but I’m still getting paid to write! That was amazing to me.

Pretty soon, I got pretty comfortable in my new hat as a Technical Writer, and began to enjoy the thrill of not knowing anything about a specific technical concept, but by the end, being able to write about it and help others understand it as well. (Though to be 100% transparent, it was about 80% anxiety and 20% excitement, but I always pulled through in the end.)

Interested in checking out some of my Technical Writing articles? โคต๏ธ

In early spring of 2020, right before COVID-19 began slamming the United States, I began working as a consultant for egghead.io, an online technical course platform.

The work I do there is completely different from the type of work I’ve done in the past, and it’s invigorating and challenging at the same time. And when those puzzle pieces fit… *chef’s kiss*


โšก๏ธ Attend AWS re:Invent 2019 as AWS Community Leader โšก๏ธ

(December, 2019)

It all began as a whiny tweet, lamenting how I would love to one day attend AWS re:Invent, but that it’ll probably never happen because of how expensive the conference itself and accommodations are. It was around the time my Twitter feed was abuzz with people excitedly reporting that they’ve gotten their AWS re:Invent 2019 tickets, and were booking hotels and flights.

With a corporate budget, I might have been able to go (with a generous company), but now that I was freelance, it would never be something I could justify spending so much money on! So I sighed, shedding a tear in FOMO.

And then yet again, allies and amazing friends swooped in. Before I knew it, I was being connected with a scholarship application, and found out about programs I had absolutely no idea existed.

Without too many expectations, I applied. After all, the worst that could happen is that I don’t get to go… Which was the status quo anyways.

And guess what! I was accepted! I was beyond the moon in excitement! Never did I think I’d be attending one of the largest tech conferences in the entire world! And on a scholarship!

I wrote about my experiences as a We Power Tech Grant and AWS Community Leadership Grant recipient. While both of these grants seemed too big to be applicable to me, I was extremely humbled and gracious for the opportunity. I wrote about my experiences here:

A few weeks before the conference, someone at AWS reached out to me, asking if I’d be interested in participating in a documentary profiling 3 different individuals from different backgrounds attending AWS re:Invent 2019. This was also something that blew my mind. Supposedly, 60,000 people attended AWS re:Invent 2019. And I was one of THREE to have the opportunity to participate in this project.

Again, I felt completely unqualified, but I said yes, figuring there’s nothing much to lose (except potentially completely embarrassing myself in front of the whole AWS community when the documentary or mini series or whatever they end up making with it airs).

I had a film crew following me all day, every day for a week, doing impromptu interviews and trailing behind me as I explored my very first re:Invent.

The conference was so huge, and I knew so little people, that without my entourage, I think I would have spent a very lonely week surrounded by tens of thousands of strangers!

It was one of the most exhausting yet invigorating experiences of my life! And one I’ll probably never be able to experience again… Sadly ๐Ÿ˜ญ

I got to meet so many people I’d only known through the interwebs for the first time, and also met new friends from all around the world who were also part of the AWS Community Leaders scholarship.

Collectively, the support that got me to AWS re:Invent, receiving the AWS Community Leadership Grant to attend, and being chosen to have my experiences documented as a “Day in the Life” documentary participant helped me see that potentially what I was trying to do had more impact than I had given myself credit for.

I’m not very good at complimenting myself. I am always a ball of Imposter Syndrome, curled up with anxiety at any new challenge. I was that subordinate that couldn’t focus for a whole entire day from anxiety and nausea if my manager said, “Can you talk at 3PM today?” without giving me context. I’M GETTING FIREDDDD!!!!

So to have my work talked about with VPs at AWS, and being introduced to many people doing many important things… I felt very small and very big at the same time.

And I decided to just savor the moment. Screw Imposter Syndrome for the week! I allowed it to occupy my brain too much on a daily basis anyways!

A year earlier, I would’ve never imagined that I’d be attending the biggest Cloud Conference in the world as an AWS Community Leader!


โ˜๏ธ Cloud Newbies โ˜๏ธ

(January 2020 ~ Present)

When I began learning about Cloud Computing and AWS in 2018, I was looking for an active online community that welcomed beginners and newbie questions. Unfortunately, most communities I did manage to find were dead or for people who had extensive experience working in AWS.

I wanted a place to go to to ask “beginner questions” and not get laughed at, turned away, or ignored. I wanted an inclusive community that celebrates the tiny milestones and help people who are interested in Cloud Computing but perhaps without the traditional technical backgrounds necessary to be immediately accepted as a Cloud Engineer.

While I believed fully in my work with my Linked In Learning courses and awsnewbies.com, but I was ready to create the community I wish I had years earlier, when I had the small, intro-level questions that would’ve helped me tremendously to have answered.

So in beginning of 2020, I created Cloud Newbies – a community of both “Cloud Newbies” AND Cloud Professionals to come together, share resources, study, and teach each other.

It’s been almost half a year since I created the community, and with 800 members from all around the world, many who have been working in the filed for years, it’s turned into a “go to” place for Cloud Computing questions and exam prep for “Cloud Newbies” everywhere.

Members are extremely generous with their time when explaining concepts or helping to solve problems, and it warms my heart to know that there are so many amazing people in the tech community willing to gather around and help Cloud Newbies begin their journeys.

Few months later, I created “Hello, Cloud Newbies!” a blog interviewing Cloud Computing professionals from around the world.

I wanted a place to showcase the different career paths people could potentially pursue, working “with or in the Cloud,” and that you don’t necessarily have to work as a Developer, DevOps Engineer, or Solutions Architect.

๐Ÿค” What’s Next? ๐Ÿค”

Over the years, I’ve had enough experiences with unsupportive managers and toxic environments to know that I have been extremely blessed with amazing allies who believed in my potential instead of my current skills, and provided opportunities for me to try out new waters, trusting that I’ll make the most out of them.

These were some recruiters that believed in me, and checked in on me periodically over the years, becoming friends rather than colleagues, and strangers on the internet who have provided generous amount of support, using their positions to help elevate mine or give me opportunities to learn new skills.

Strangers (many who have since become friends) have purchased my products, taken my courses, and hired me to write for them or consult for them. The most powerful show of support came when I asked for help or asked for work, and people provided them to me in more ways than I could have ever hoped for.

Even the few negative experiences I had working as a consultant or freelance writer had turned out to be great learning experiences, as I was solidly confident in my ability to produce work that was valuable thanks to the support I have been receiving over the years.

Everyone took chances with me, and helped pave the way for me to gain enough momentum and confidence to quit my full-time job and pursue my passions.

Given that “Pay it Forward” is at the core of my existence and values, I hope I am doing my part in providing the same sort of support and encouragement to the “next” generation of people who are trying to make a difference.

My online friends’ generosities (especially when I didn’t deserve them) have been fueling me for the past few years to push on despite many challenges and hurdles; to continue creating content and paving ways for more people with non-traditional technical backgrounds to enter tech.

Many people in tech, especially those who work for AWS, have championed for me, helping me attend AWS events, AWS re:Invent, and be recognized as an AWS Community Leader.

I have no idea what’s next for me. I might be doing something completely unrelated in 2021. From the way my past decade has gone, I wouldn’t be surprised at all.

Right now, I’m focusing on my health, my chronic conditions, and prioritizing exercise and better eating. Continuing to work in corporate would definitely have paid me multiple times what I earn now, working as freelancer, but becoming self-employed has given me so much control over my life to prioritize my body and health over work. I hope to continue to balance the health, life, and work to create the optimal lifestyle for me despite all of my disabilities and chronic conditions that sometimes keep me from living a “normal” life.

If there’s one thing the past decade has taught me, through all its ups and downs, it’s that I should be open to any opportunities and ideas, because I’ll never know where I’ll end up. I couldn’t have imagined for a second just a few years back that I’ll be sitting in my home office, writing words for money, not tethered by timesheets or daily check-ins with my manager or team.

I just go with the flow, and the flow has been taking me to amazing destinations!


TL;DR: I am extremely gracious for all the people who have propped me up and given me opportunities to reach potentials I never even knew existed, and I sincerely cannot imagine how different my life would have been had I

  • not had a vascular malformation that required brain surgery that in turn made me rethink my career
  • not moved to NYC with no job, or
  • I said “no” to that first tech job.

The past decade has been both a source of great pain, emotionally and physically, and also a source of great joys and bewilderment. I can’t even imagine what my 30’s has in store for me!


By the way, I recently created a page with my Tech Gears, and would love it if you checked it out ๐Ÿ˜ (mostly because I love my desk setup) โคต๏ธ

Hiro Nishimura
Special Education teacher turned IT Engineer turned Content Strategist and Technical Instructor. Arteriovenous Malformation, Brain Surgery, and Brain Injury survivor. Currently on a quest to manage Rheumatoid Arthritis and Chronic Pain by making lifestyle changes. Contact: hiro@24villages.com

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