Graduate Yuki Yamamoto's Journey from Art History to Software Engineering at Tesla
At the end of 2020, in the middle of a global pandemic, Yuki Yamamoto moved from Japan to San Francisco to get married and begin a new chapter in her life. She didn’t know it at the time, but this move would also lead her to make a drastic career change, leaving her experience in the art world to enter software engineering. In this Q&A, find out how she made the switch, why she chose our 12-week immersive program, and what she's up to now as an engineer on the Platform Engineering team at Tesla.
How'd you get started with software engineering?
At the very end of 2020, I moved back to San Francisco from Japan to get married and start a new chapter. In Japan, I was working at an art auction house, because I have a degree in Art History. Before that, I worked at a contemporary art gallery. I went to college in the Bay Area, so I always felt the energy of the tech industry, but I’d never imagined myself working outside of the art world. Yet because of the lockdown and the situation with my visa, I could not work for a while once I came to the U.S., and I was so bored that I started watching videos about coding, just out of curiosity. I’ve always liked solving puzzles and IQ tests and coding felt very similar. I got into it very quickly! It started as a hobby, but I became interested in what opportunities might be out there if I pursued this passion.
What led you to choose a bootcamp? And why Hack Reactor?
I am not the type of person who can self-study for a long time, and I wished to have some guidance, so I first started searching for bootcamps on the internet. I narrowed it down to a couple of bootcamps. What stood out to me the most was that Hack Reactor seemed to have a prestigious reputation and a huge alumni network, which I knew would be very important in breaking into the industry. (And I can attest to that!) I signed up for the Prep course and I enjoyed the culture and how the course was structured, which made me want to continue into the actual immersive. Besides, the (12-week) schedule seemed more intense than any other place, and I thought, if I’m going to dedicate myself for the next few months trying to become a software engineer, I might as well give my 100%!
What did you get out of your time in the bootcamp?
I remember on my first day of the bootcamp, I was very nervous and not sure if I could keep up with such an intense schedule. The class was fully remote and I had never talked to someone new on Zoom, let alone spent all day with them in front of the computer! On top of that, my English was a little rusty after working in Japan for a while. In a lot of ways, this experience really pushed me out of my comfort zone. As cliche as it sounds, I learned to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. You cannot know everything about technologies and being able to navigate through the unknown is a required skill. It has equipped me with the engineer’s mindset to be autonomous, yet taught me when to ask for help, or how to ask for help. I also had a great time with my cohort crew and classmates, and to my surprise, pair programming became my favorite!
Congratulations on your role at Tesla! What's your job like day-to-day?
Thank you! I work as part of the Platform Engineering team. We’re building a platform that provides infrastructure services that are accessed by many other software developers at Tesla. I am mostly working on the UI side at the moment. My daily tasks consist of adding new features, fixing bugs, updating documents, helping customers who have issues using our product, attending stand-ups and retrospectives, etc.
What do you like about your role? And what challenges have you faced so far?
My favorite part is that even though it's a large company, it has a very fast-paced environment where I can see the impact of the work I do. I get to work with many experienced engineers and various technologies on a high level, which often can be intimidating and overwhelming because there is just so much that I don’t know. But at the same time, I am very lucky that my manager and colleagues are providing me with the mentorship I wanted and that I feel my growth as an engineer. Also half of my teammates are women engineers. :)
What’s your work environment like? Do you work on-site? Remotely?
My work is currently fully remote but once COVID becomes more manageable, I might go back to the office a few times a week and it’s likely to become a hybrid. The remote onboarding was a bit challenging, but I’ve been embracing the perks of working at home, too. Actually, during my first week, my manager took me on a tour of the factory, which was really fun!
Are there any skills from your art experience that help you as a software engineer?
Yes, definitely! In my previous job, I persistently had to meet my clients’ demands in a timely fashion, which taught me to be proactive, to always think two steps ahead, and to anticipate what others might ask for. This skill is being used at my current job because communicating with teammates about expectations and getting buy-in on code direction early is a big part of the daily job. I initially thought a software engineer job is only coding, but I was so wrong! It’s my belief that all experiences count for something and that everyone has something to bring to the table.
Just out of curiosity, do you have any favorite artists?
That’s actually the hardest question because I have so many! For old masters, I love Hieronymus Bosch's The Garden of Earthly Delights and surrealist artists like René Magritte. One of my favorite contemporary artists is Wayne Theibaud, who is known for his colorful works depicting desserts and landscapes. I often go to museums and galleries on weekends and look at paintings just to rest my eyes after looking at a computer screen at work all day every day.
Last question: do you have any advice for someone who’s about to start their first day of the bootcamp? How can they get the most out of their experience?
Transitions are hard and nerve-wracking, but you’ll be amazed to know how much you can change and learn in a short window of time. Looking back, doing the bootcamp was one of the smartest choices I’ve made for myself because it opened up many doors for me. But most importantly, I had a lot of fun. I have many good memories with my cohort mates and I’m sure you will too!
One thing I highly recommend is to keep a coding journal, tracking what you have accomplished, what kind of questions you had, or what you got stuck on. Things you had a difficult time understanding a few weeks back seem so simple and trivial, and it will serve as a visual reminder of how far you have come. Personally, this helped me feel less imposter syndrome. Prioritization was also enormously helpful during the immersive and I constantly evaluated what needed to be done first and tried to be okay with not completing everything.
And lastly, reach out for help. During the bootcamp, our tech leads and staff went to great lengths to offer the technical and mental support that I needed. After graduation, I enrolled in the Telegraph Track program through Hack Reactor and met a great mentor who helped me get ready for interviews. I talked to several alumni and everyone was very willing to give me a piece of wisdom, and I also had a career coach who was there for me when I was crying because the job search was hard. There is such a supportive community where people genuinely want to help others achieve their goals and you should allow yourself to lean on them!
Interested in becoming a software engineer? Yuki graduated from our 12-week bootcamp. In this blog post, read about all of our program options, including a new 19-week program specifically designed for coding beginners.