About - my career journey -

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I was juggling 4 jobs to get by — an assistant preschool teacher by day, a line cook/server/barista by night, and a receptionist at a local fitness gym on the weekends.

I worked at a smoothie barista
Back when I was a kickass smoothie barista

It was a rough few years trying to develop a career without a college degree — something that I willingly chose to opt out of. At the time, I couldn’t justify taking on loads of student loan debt when I was still uncertain of what I was interested in becoming. So naturally, I’ve made the attempt to fascinate myself with a few ideas, and proactively took classes at a local community college to entertain them while working full time hours. After about a year and a half of balancing full time studying and work, I chose to drop out due to reaching the point of burnout. Broke and exhausted, I still couldn’t find my passion for what I was studying after nearly two years. With no money, no concrete life goals, and no social life, I was defeated.

That all changed in early 2019.

After barely making ends meet for some time, I decided to move to Tokyo, Japan.
Having been born and raised there, I believed that there must be opportunity there for an English speaker like me. I was determined to leverage the skills that I had to kickstart my career in corporate, and Tokyo seemed to be in my favor a whole lot more than the United States. Almost immediately upon arrival, I got my first opportunity. A unicorn startup called OYO was looking to kickstart their new life in Japan, too. And as if it were a match made in heaven, I got the job (corny, I know).

My resume at the time wasn’t much, so I’d like to believe that they hired me for my promising potential.
That, or the fact that the company had a hiring target of 1000 employees EOY. Regardless, it was my chance and I was committed; I wasn’t going to let anyone overlook me for the fact that I dropped out of college, so I got to work.

Since I was considered a special hire, I didn’t fit into one of their three main hiring positions, which at the time were for Business Development, Operations, and Transformation (renovation&remodeling). Instead, I was granted a title of an "HR Generalist", where I would be playing a floater type of role until I found a good fit within the corporate function. Very bizarre when looking back at it, if not even disrespectful to all HR Generalists out there doing their thing. At that moment however, it was exactly what I needed.
I translated documents from English to Japanese for localizing documentation, interviewed candidates, ran onboarding sessions, interpreted for the CEO, etc. Half of the time I didn't know what I was doing, but I hustled my way through it. Somehow by the 3rd month, I was given the responsibility to start a team beneath me, with subordinates and all.

Fast forward a few months later, I was working as a manager, leading a team to create & curate content for property listings on Online Travel Agents such as Expedia, Booking.com, and Rakuten Travel. Exact details of what I did is recorded here on LinkedIn. In just 1 year, my life took a turn from working multiple part times jobs, to reporting directly to executives who had priorly worked for well known companies such as Netflix, Facebook, and Bain & Company. More importantly, I was genuinely enjoying what I was doing. I felt confident in my ability in the workforce, and felt like the chip on my shoulder had gone away. I saw the various functions that exists in the corporate world, and grew certain that I was doing exactly what I wanted to be doing (I played a Web/UI director + Project Management type of role).

Signed offer letter. March 2019.
Signed offer letter
Went to Gurgaon, India for a work trip.
Celebrating Independence Day at OYO HQ
Team memebers in Gurgaon, India. OYO HQ.
Lunch meetings in Gurgaon, India
OYO Japan award ceremony
OYO Japan Q2 award ceremony

After about a year of growing together with the company, “the growing pains” eventually came along with it. Covid-19 happened, and it did not come to play nice as we all know. For a premature startup in the travel industry working towards profitability, it was the equivalent of being on death row. Remember when I mentioned that we had a massive hiring of 1000 employees? Well, the fat had to be severed to cover the projected losses. With more than half of the resources cut, the OTA team was running on just managers only, along with a handful of associates. Lean and mean? Not quite.

There was good that came out of this bad situation. Mainly, I was able to ruminate on the next steps I had to take for the career path that I was on. My options were to continue leveraging my people skills to segue into a formal Project Management career. The other option was to pursue my interest in further learning about UI/UX design, and becoming a UI/UX designer myself; It just didn’t feel right that I was directing design when I personally wasn’t formally educated on it. My thought process was, that if I ever wanted to further a career in management (and become proficient at it), I would have to experience it firsthand to understand what it feels like to be the one doing the “dirty work”, so to speak. Coincidentally, I had a friend who at the time, was also considering a similar career change. They were scheduled to enroll in a coding bootcamp in Tokyo, which seemed to be a promising investment for just 9 weeks. After having a consultation interview with the bootcamp manager, I was assured that they also covered some UI/UX in their course material, and that there were graduates who became UI/UX designers upon finishing the 9 week course. That was enough information for me to sign up. Few weeks later, I had a call with my manager to let him know that I was thinking of quitting to pursue a change of career. As he was an ex-software engineer and ex-software engineering manager himself, he was excited for me to learn programming, even telling me that I might be cut out to be a software engineer. He was right. After 3 months of leaving OYO to learn about software (and design), I discovered a passion for software development, and took a job as a software engineer upon graduating.

I've been working as a software engineer for a year now, and I gotta say, I'm loving it. I truly love what I do as a full-stack developer, and am grateful that I got to discover my passion, despite the non-traditional route I took to find it. I wouldn't be where I am if I wasn't blessed with the amazing people that I had met throughout my journey, especially the hiring team at OYO who took a chance on me when I had nothing going on for myself. I hope that one day I can give back by giving a chance on someone who also have walked in an unconventional career path like I have.

If you enjoyed reading about my career journey, and is also interested in learning how to code, you can read more about my experience at the Le Wagon Tokyo coding bootcamp by clicking the link below!

‘Find joy in the learning process’: Story of Yoshiki, a creative mind turned software engineer

lewagon.com • 4 min read

And if you might think I might be a good fit to your team, I am available to connect through the mediums provided here on my website. Let's have a chat! :-)