Learning more and flying high

Every new school year, I invite students who graduated a few years ago to come back and share their working experience with new students. This year, Fujiko Yamamoto, who graduated seven years ago, returns and gives students advice:

“I always like a new challenge because they excite me. I do not like to do the same thing over so I change job every few years. I want to emphasize here that I change job, not changing company. I still work for the same company in Menlo Park, California but move up to better positions. I do that because I like the opportunity to learn something new.”


“When you go to work, you will know that managers always want you to stay in the same job if you do your job well because they can rely on you to get the work done. Do not fall into that trap, in the technology industry, a continuous learning attitude is required for success. In the technical field, the tools, the platforms, and technology are constantly changing. There is always something new to learn. Do not be content and stop learning, even you have a good job.”

“For many people, this fast speed of change is too much, but for me, it is an opportunity to learn new skills. When you have an aggressive career plan, it can help you to move up faster. No matter where you are in your career, there are always things to learn. Seven years ago, as a student like many of you here, I was asked to write a career plan by Professor Vu, I listened to his advice, planned my future and still follow it today. In my career plan, I wrote two questions for myself: “To get promoted to the next level in my career, what do I need to do? What skills do I need to learn or improve? Even today, these two questions are still important to me.”

“When you get a job and have been doing it for a while, there is not much for you to learn anymore. Basically, your knowledge and skills remain the same so you need to learn something new to move up and fly high. Silicon Valley is the place of opportunity with open sky for anyone who wants to soar their wings … ”

“In the technology industry, you spend more time with your team members. If you have good relationships with them, the team become your family. When team members like you and support you, then you are more likely to get promoted. When I started to work, I learned to work in harmony with others and treat them with care. Many new graduates like to compete and develop an arrogant attitude with others. That is a big mistake. Even you are the best student in your school when you go to work, you will find that there are hundreds or more people who are also the best students in their school too, and they also work in the same company with you. So do not be arrogant. Because of my humbled attitude, I listened to others’ advice and treat them with respect, in just a few months, everybody like me.”

“Even today, many students still believe that technical skills are important, that is a wrong assumption. Technical skills open the opportunity door but soft-skills are the elevator to take you to the next level. In the first few months, I worked hard and proved to the team that I am capable of doing technical work. As a woman, my communication skill is better than most of the males members so the team asked me to do most of the presentation and represent the project in meeting with managers. When the opportunity came for the position of project manager, the team nominated me. This was a surprise because I only worked for the company for eighteen months. The senior manager was reluctant as he planned to hire someone with more experience but several team members said: ‘We like Fujiko and we will work with her and help her with this project. If you hire someone new, you may not get the support from us.” That was why I got promoted to the next level.”

“Many people do not manage their spare time for their advantage. As a new project manager, I spent all my spare minutes to learn about project management. When others spend their spare time on Facebook, Snapchat, and other social media, I focus on reading technical articles or websites that help increase my knowledge. I always keep a list of books that I must read so whenever I have time, I just open the book on the list and learn useful things.”

“The project was a big success and I was rewarded with a lot of stock options. Instead of staying with the project group, I requested the managers to give me another position in the Data Analytic group. This was a challenge because I did not know much about data analytics at that time. I made that decision because there was not much that I can learn in the old group. I did a good job managing the project to succeed which make a lot of money for the company but I wanted another challenge. When joining the Data group, I did not know much, so I asked them to help me learn new things. I had to take a course in statistic to improve my analytic skills. There were many things to learn at that time but with my love of learning, I quickly overcame difficulties and impressed the group of my abilities to analyze and predict the outcomes. Our data project again succeeded beyond the expectation of the management. The news spread over the company that I was a “rising star” so some of the project team members decided to join me in this data analytic group. I expanded the data group to over one hundred people. As the group grew larger, my responsibilities also changed and I had to learn more to manage several large projects at the same time….”

“Now as you know, I became the Director of the Big Data Analytic group, one of the main functions of the company. We collected data from multiple sources, organize them, analyze them, and predict the outcomes. As I look to my classmates who graduated at the same time with me seven years ago, I find that several are still working as software developers or web developers but I had moved up to higher positions. On the average, it takes about four years to move up one position but it took me seven years to move up four positions. I can attribute all of that to having an aggressive career plan that I developed when I was here seven years ago.”

“Now I have questions to all of you: “If you think seven years into the future, what do you want to do? You can do the same as me too. Please work on your career plan and ask yourself: “What skills that I need to develop now that can help me to move up? But if you ask me, I would say “Keep on learning, never stop learning and you will fly high.”


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University

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