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Software Engineer Utako Kase - I want to be a role model for female engineers - Part 2

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What is a software engineer's job?

Utako works as a software engineer in the AWS networking department at Amazon. Since joining the company three years ago, she has steadily built her career and was promoted in the summer of 2022.

When you hear the term "software engineer," you might imagine someone sitting in front of a computer writing code all day, but he says the work content varies greatly depending on the team you belong to and your role.

Front-end engineers are primarily involved with improving the performance, design, and speed of programs from the user's perspective. Meanwhile, back-end engineers are in charge of maintaining and improving the server, and create the framework so that the software functions as intended. And those who work on both the front-end and back-end are called full-stack engineers.

The team in AWS' network department, to which Utako belongs, is developing tools to manage the geographical and location information of cables buried on land and under the sea that connect data centers. Utako is classified as a full-stack engineer, as she not only does front-end work to check the functionality on the user side, but also back-end programming. She still spends her days coding and attending meetings.

"I'm not a particularly ambitious person, so I'm basically satisfied with where I am now. That said, I don't intend to keep writing code until I'm 60, and I'd like to work hard to be promoted to a managerial position overseeing engineers within the next 10 years."

She said that managers are not necessarily superior to engineers. In the IT industry, people are divided into those who want to pursue their careers as engineers and those who want to grow as managers or other managers. Utako herself thinks that in order to shine even more, she would be better suited to being a manager rather than an engineer.

To achieve this, he needs specialized knowledge in areas such as data analysis and security management, as well as soft skills such as people management and communication. He is considering obtaining a master's degree in information science from the University of Washington Graduate School to acquire these skills. If he does, he will be juggling two jobs: working and being a student.

In terms of his private life, he got married last year. From now on, it looks like he's going to be even busier both in his private and public life.

Wedding photos at a ping pong table in Hong Kong and Japan in 2022

Recently, the IT industry has been full of news about layoffs and stock market crashes, which can be worrying for people who want to become engineers. What does Utako think about this?

"We tend to only see news about big companies like Amazon, but if you include small and medium-sized companies, there are many jobs for engineers. I feel that there is still room for growth in the IT industry. Even if you can't get into the big company you want, if you become an employee of a startup that is about to have an IPO, you may be able to make a lot of money in the future. If you work hard at what you can do now, luck will probably be on your side someday."

Utako believes that her employment at Amazon was half luck and half ability. She lives each day to the fullest, hoping that "when luck comes, I'll grab it."

What do you want to tell the next generation of engineers?

Utako says, "Connecting with people is just fun," and is also active in community activities. One of these is volunteering with Seattle IT Japanese Professionals (SIJP). SIJP is a non-profit organization established by IT professionals living in Seattle to contribute to the community and develop future human resources. It holds online computer science classes for elementary and junior high school students once every three months.

He also frequently gives career advice and presentations to international students from Japan.

In addition to lectures, the sessions also include small group learning time using Zoom's breakout room function, and last for a total of about two hours. It has a reputation for being able to learn practical content from active top engineers. On average, 100 participants gather from not only Japan but all over the world.

SIJP also has a student division whose activities are mainly carried out by international students from Japan, and Utako serves as its advisor. She provides coding study sessions, panel discussions, office tours, and other opportunities to help members develop their future careers.

Aiming to be a "role model for female engineers," Utako also focuses on nurturing female engineers. In the summer of 2022, she led a reading group project organized by SIJP for 30 to 40 female elementary school students living in Japan.

The program was held online once every two weeks, and involved everyone reading through an English book on coding called "Girls Who Code" over the course of three months. After the program, some participants said they wanted to become engineers, and the feedback was overwhelming.

Apart from SIJP, he also makes extensive use of Twitter to provide useful information to those aspiring to work in the IT industry. He currently has over 3,000 followers. He also kindly offers mock interviews and resume editing services to those hoping to join Amazon.

"I want to continue doing what I'm doing now and contribute in any way I can."

Finally, we asked him for a message to young people who aspire to become engineers.

"I wasn't able to get into the major I wanted at university and ended up majoring in geographic information, which is a liberal arts subject. But thanks to that I was able to get a job as a software engineer. I don't think there's any need to give up on your dream of becoming an engineer just because you come from a liberal arts background and it's not related to your current job. I hope people will take on challenges in a positive way and understand that nothing they are doing or learning is a waste."

Kase Utako : Born in Saitama Prefecture. With a Japanese father and Chinese mother, she grew up in an international environment from an early age. She studied abroad in the US for eight months in her second year of junior high school. She attended an international school in Tokyo for high school, then returned to the US to attend the University of Washington. After graduating with a major in geographic information and a minor in computer science, she joined Amazon headquarters as a new graduate and worked as a software engineer in the AWS network department. Her hobby is table tennis. @UtakoInSeattle

*This article is reprinted from " Soy Source " (April 11, 2023).

© 2023 Jaejun Jeon

Amazon River Region Brazil engineering generations immigrants immigration Issei Japan migration Peru postwar Seattle Seattle IT Japanese Professionals (organization) Shin-Issei software engineering United States universities University of Washington Utako Kase Washington World War II
About the Author

He has been living in the Seattle area since May 2018. He works full-time at a pharmaceutical company half the week. His hobbies are watching sports on TV, hiking, and jogging. He has recently become addicted to bouldering.

(Updated August 2023)

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