Welcome to the second piece in our Meet the Team series, where we introduce you to the hard-working Embracians behind your favorite mobile analytics tool. This piece will introduce you to Kohei Hisakuni, a Software Engineer in our Embrace family for a little over two years.
Kohei was born in Japan, but moved to Minnesota when he was 12 and lived there until he graduated college and found a job in Los Angeles.
“I’d never seen that much snow before. The area of Japan I was in was two hours from Osaka, with a subtropic climate. Coming to Minnesota was very rough. It was sub-zero—that’s crazy,” said Kohei. “After graduating, I was like, ‘I’ve had enough of this; I need a change of scenery.’”
The software engineer worked at an agency focused on scaling prototypes and MVPs—R&D type work where projects would last from 4 to 12 weeks—before he found Embrace.
“At the end, you’d let the client’s team take over. You could only take it so far, and I wanted to be part of a team that worked on a project long-term to see what the differences are when you really own a project and work on it for years at a time,” said Kohei.
Other than a more long-term, stable project, Kohei also said that Embrace’s mission statement resonated with him.
“One time, I joined the Customer Success team for a demo, where our partners were first integrating our service and we were showcasing the dashboard. They’d go ‘Oh my gosh, that’s so useful!’” said Kohei. “You hear at stand-ups that someone said they liked our product, but it takes on a whole new dimension when you actually see them say it with excitement on their face. That made me proud to work on a product that brings joy.”
Initially, he mainly worked on the dashboard and its frontend, which uses React. Kohei’s job eventually evolved into working on some backend functionality and becoming Embrace’s resident React Native expert.
“At the agency, I wasn’t strictly doing frontend—we built out Rails apps and handed them off. I was always more interested in learning about that. It seemed like from the get-go that there would be opportunities like that at Embrace, especially it being a smaller startup,” said Kohei.
That opportunity came to him immediately upon interviewing with the team.
“One of the things that got me excited about Embrace was that they were starting to use Go. John, my interviewer who’s no longer at Embrace, was leading that charge and was also in charge of the frontend. I would be brought out to help him with that,” said Kohei.
Embrace’s collaborative environment was also a factor in him joining. At the agency, because there were different projects going simultaneously, Kohei would go some time without talking to some fellow engineers.
“Here, the emphasis is that we should like working with each other. I think that’s how we foster a collaborative environment, off-sites cool activities, taking trips together, and once you set those base tenants of collaboration, it just goes from there,” said Kohei. “Then, everyone is quick to get on Zoom calls and want to collaborate.”
That team culture extends past working on the product. When not at his standing desk, Kohei can be found on coffee walks with the team or playing Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.
"Everyone likes each other. Everyone likes to spend time with each other. It’s always funny,” said Kohei. “One of those moments is playing Super Smash. Everyone’s just trash-talking each other the whole time—David gets pretty savage, Pete, I miss that guy, and Juan, of course.”
It’s become a bit of a running joke in Embrace that other than React Native, Kohei is also the go-to on Japanese culture. During his childhood, that would’ve been a troublesome reputation.
“Making new friends then was tough. It was the middle of middle school, and I had to come to the United States during a weird time in childhood and start over. I was one of five Asian kids in the whole school, and not just with Japan, but any topic that touched Asian culture or politics, it came to me. I was like, ‘I don’t know. Why is this my job?’”
With the addition of Ray Nakada, whom we met in the last Meet the Team piece, Kohei no longer handles all of these questions.
“We share the burden, but before, if anything Japan-oriented came up in a conversation, it was like ‘Kohei, tell us more about this.’ as if I’m the ambassador from Japan or something? That’s kind of funny,” said Kohei.
Stay-at-Home orders have changed this instant rapport and forced Kohei to learn to collaborate in new ways.
“I miss the immediacy of being able to tap on someone’s shoulder when I need to talk to someone. I didn’t appreciate how much course correction you do when you’re with someone and can check in with them more,” said Kohei. “When I’m working from home, I feel pretty good about what I’m working on, but there’s always something that makes me go, ‘Oh man, is this the right thing?’”
For everyone, these orders have also changed our personal day-to-days. Though Kohei started quarantine hoping to learn how to make beats, he’s spent more time at the pasta maker than on Ableton Live.
“It’s definitely worth making fresh pasta. When you eat it, it has this chewy consistency you just don’t get from dried pasta. But it’s so much more work,” said Kohei. “It’s fun and kind of zen. It’s just you and the pasta, and that’s it.”
What hasn’t changed though is Embrace’s celebration of dark humor and keeping with friendly rivalries between team members.
“It’s kind of an inside joke that I start arguments with everyone, apparently. It’s usually thrust upon me—I think I’m not the instigator but I’m phrased as the instigator. Of course, that’s just my take on it,” said Kohei.
When asked more specifically about any rivalries he has anyone, he mentioned David Stahl, from the Customer Success team, and Juan Carrillo, a fellow engineer.
“I somehow end up in feuds, especially with David, which is an ongoing rivalry because we started at the same time,” said Kohei. “Then, a perfect example of starting stuff is with Juan. He’ll say something crazy and make it seem like I was saying it! So now everyone associates that with me.”
What’s the truth? I’m not sure myself. But we’ll make sure to ask in our interviews with Juan and David, and you can find out in our next Meet the Team posts.