Interview: Blockchain Engineer and Japan
By : Kie Tsukamoto
Career as an Engineer
Kie: You are an undergraduate student at Tokyo University, and have already started your professional career as a blockchain engineer. How did that happen?
Shizuka: Actually, I was not a science/tech-savvy guy. As a matter of fact, after graduating from high school, I got into university and majored in economics. I had never done programming. I never thought I would touch something like that. My turning point came around the summer of 2017. During that time, everyone was talking about crypto currency, what it was, how each was different, and which one to invest money in, and so on.
Because of that, I got kind of curious and started looking into crypto currency. The best way to learn it was to use it. So, I started trading it. Basically, I started learning about blockchain and crypto currency from an investor’s stand point. But it did not take too long for me to start looking at blockchain technology from a developers’ stance. That is how it all started.
Kie: So, basically you were not into engineering until last summer.
Shizuka: Yes, a complete beginner. Well, because I was trading it, I knew about the technology as a concept, but nothing about coding. However, the more I got into the tech side, the more interesting and profound it got. Because it is so profound, and the tech is advancing at a super-fast pace, I realized that my time would be better spent polishing my skill and knowledge as an engineer.
Thus, I decided to take a year off from university. I am devoting this year to growing further as a blockchain engineer. One year in this engineering field, especially in blockchain, probably equals five or even ten years of advancement in some other fields. I have definitely set my mind on blockchain tech now. So, I am a student “on vacay” working as an engineer; I should not call myself a student-engineer, at least for this year.
What is Keymakers?
Kie: So, while you are “on vacay” as a student, what are you doing as an engineer?
Shizuka: Well, it was around this March, when I started learning about NEO blockchain; then, I joined an NEO camp in Shanghai to learn more about it. In Shanghai, I was able to communicate with a lot of NEO engineers there. It was a fantastic environment for engineers. I felt that if there was a community in Japan, where NEO blockchain engineers could freely participate, it would be a great environment for engineers and also for future engineers.
The overall number of engineers in general is quite small in this country, and when you narrow the area to blockchain, the number becomes much smaller. Besides, NEO is not really a widely known blockchain technology here in Japan yet; this means, even if someone like me exists, it is so much harder to learn the tech because there are no Japanese docs to read to understand the tech. This is why I decided to create the NEO engineer community, Keymakers. I created this in May 2018, right after coming back to Japan from Shanghai. So, it is still a baby, though I am hopeful that this community becomes a great place for both current and future blockchain engineers.
Kie: It has been just few months since its establishment; but can you describe your activity there?
Shizuka: There are two main activities for Keymakers:
1. Release NEO documents for Japanese engineers, and
2. Create NEO engineer community.
The major obstacle for Japanese engineers when learning or developing their use of NEO is the fact that there is only scarce information available in Japanese. If it is Ethereum, there are docs and sites available for engineers to go to when they have questions etc; but, for NEO, there is so little available, if any. So, I am basically creating posts on MEDIUM where engineers can visit and read them. By doing so, those NEO beginners know where to start and what needs to be done. Through this, NEO becomes a more friendly blockchain for Japanese engineers.
Kie: Are there any other activities done to support those engineers?
Shizuka: I am organizing tutorials for them as well, though this is not a fixed thing. We communicate on slack and we discuss tech things there; however, when there is a repetitive topic or question thrown, I organize a tutorial session for those repeatedly raised themes. NEO is hosting a hackathon* in Aug, 2018; I love to do the same with Keymakers, too. I would like to grow this community further; and I hope that Keymakers itself can organize an NEO hackathon in December, 2018. That is my hopeful plan for now.
Kie: Now, I understand that Keymakers is a community for engineers where they can support each other/converse about the tech and so on, to better their skill and understanding. But, why did you develop such a high interest in NEO in the first place?
Shizuka: To be honest, I am not an NEO advocate. To me, NEO is just one blockchain technology that I research. The very first blockchain tech I touched was Ethereum and I devoted my time to this technology. Then, I wanted to learn more about other technologies and I started looking. That is how I came across NEO, and also Hyperledger. So, although Keymakers is specialized in NEO, to me, it still remains as just “one of them.”
Shizuka: Yes. However, I truly believe in engineer community like Keymakers. There is no win-lose/profit-loss game. It simply and purely is all about engineers and engineering. Such communities are very appealing, and I would love to keep growing such communities.
* NEO hosts a hackathon event, NEO Blockchain Challenge – Tokyo, on Aug 24th-26th, 2018 in Tokyo. For more information, visit here.
Journey as a Blockchain Engineer
Kie: Aside from Keymakers, what do you do as an engineer?
Shizuka: Aside from Keymakers, I am involved in a blockchain-based online game project. That is actually my main activity. If you have played an online game, you know that you can purchase items on the game. With the purchased items, you can exchange and use those within that game. But, do you not think that is a bit odd? If you purchased an item, it is yours. You should be able to use the items beyond the game itself. Such thing is not possible because the items are stored and managed on a server belonging to the game development company. What I do is I develop a platform based on blockchain to decentralize the game items. I am bringing the items back to the hands of purchasers. On this platform, you can do a P2P exchange. This is what I do for a living at this moment.
Kie: Is that a personal project?
Shizuka: No, this is a distributed gaming platform development project called MOLD. It is a Singaporean-based community and the team consists of Chinese and Japanese people. The main base is in Singapore, but we develop the platform here in Japan. I am involved in their blockchain-based development projects. The way I came cross this company is also quite interesting, well, more like coincidental. My college friend is a friend of the CEO of this company. That is how we all started talking, and now I am involved in their projects.
Where Is He Headed?
Kie: What developmental phase is this blockchain technology getting into now?
Shizuka: I believe that it has just started gaining a lot of attention, and many projects have started using blockchain; however, many of those projects are not purely blockchain-appropriate. The reason why I say this is that, when you look at those projects, the core technology does not have to be blockchain but they are using blockchain maybe for ICO purposes or some other reason.
From this point forward, it is going to be a natural selection phase, and we will get into the next stage where only interesting projects that stand on the uniqueness of blockchain, such as decentralization, will remain and blossom. As these projects start growing their own case studies, the technology itself will be further advanced. I believe that there will be a lot of interesting applications to emerge and something that is Japan-specific may also appear. This is going to be an interesting phase to observe.
Kie: As an engineer, what kind of career path are you looking at?
Shizuka: Beyond borders of countries and companies, I like to always be a part of interesting projects. Whether here in Japan or not, I think the way we work is shifting quite drastically. “Employment” will be replaced by project-based contracts, I believe. And, this project-based work style will not be limited domestically but will be borderless.
To keep being involved in interesting projects as an engineer, I have to keep my skillset in tip top condition, that is how I like to be. But, for now, I will focus this year on developing myself as an engineer.
Kie: What are the advantages and disadvantages of being an engineer here in Japan?
Shizuka: Because it is very technical and sometimes there are not many who know the area that you are interested in (NEO is an example case) the road to becoming an engineer can get very lonely and very self-disciplinary. If you do not have such huge passion, it is very hard to overcome that.
The advantage is that you are able to connect to very interesting people who are super-engineers, doing super-cool projects. I was also able to meet such great people through Keymakers. Such networks and communications always motivate me and keep me not only going, but growing.
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