Stories/Katie Fujihara
Katie Fujihara

Katie is a Software Engineer who loves to create at the intersection of beautiful/accessible product design, and front-end development. In addition to contributing to open source projects, she runs the Portland Future Leaders in Tech organization.

#developer#software engineer

Tell us about yourself

If you were to tell 2016 me what 2020 me is doing, 2016 me would laugh at you and ask “Wait, what’s a software engineer?” It always amazes me how life works in such unexpected ways. I graduated from the University of Hawaii in Fall 2015, so eager to finally jump into the workforce. With two degrees under my belt (Japanese and Marketing), as well as a minor (Women and Gender Studies), and a cumulative GPA of 3.9, I thought finding my dream job wouldn’t be particularly difficult. I was wrong. After working an exhausting and unfulfilling administrative assistant job at a major hotel corporation, I swore I would never work corporate again.

It was around this time I heard about tech startups in the Bay area. Someone encouraged me to consider moving away from Hawai’i so that I could pursue this. About a month after this person initially encouraged me to move, I officially moved into a small apartment in San Francisco with roommates I met off of Craigslist. I had secured a customer support role at a startup in Cow Hollow. While this was one of the most toxic work environments I have ever experienced, it was great in that it exposed me to jobs that I didn’t even know existed or had any understanding of.

It was at this startup that two coworkers, both software engineers, encouraged me to learn how to program. I laughed in their faces and tried to brush off this suggestion by saying, “Haha! You think I am that smart? I am so bad at math and science!” One of them looked at me sternly and said, “You are completely capable! In fact, coding is more like learning a second language than memorizing algorithms.” This was the first time I heard coding explained to me in this way, and for once it felt doable. From there I bought the popular Colt Steele Web Development Bootcamp course on Udemy and realized that coding is not only doable, but can be fun as well.

In the Fall of 2017, I moved to Portland so that I could dedicate my time to learn how to code at an in-person bootcamp. My program finished in May 2018 and I finally landed my first full-time software engineering role in May 2019 at an amazing company called Webflow. I currently work as a software engineer on their Designer Experience team, and I couldn’t be happier. I get to work from home, I get to work with amazing folks from around the world, and the best part is that I finally feel challenged and fulfilled at work.

How did you first get started in your career in tech?

From the beginning, I knew getting a job in tech would have to be half technical aptitude and half having a network of connections. Between January and May 2018, I attended an in-person coding bootcamp in Portland, Oregon. A few months into my program, I started a meetup group called Portland Future Leaders in Tech with a classmate, filling a niche that was missing in the Portland meetup scene. This meetup wasn’t meant for only software engineers or aspiring software engineers, the purpose of this meetup was to make anyone who is interested in entering tech feel like they had a community. Running this meetup allowed me to expand my community offline, and I expanded my community online by being extremely active on Twitter.

Other things I did to increase my chances of standing out was:

  • Speak at a conference and a meetup
  • Attend conferences (ACT-W, JSHeroes, and Write, Speak, Code)
  • Work on a side project
  • Contribute to open source
  • Complete an internship

What are the most important skills in your current position? How did you develop these skills?

On a technical level, we use React. I wasn’t too familiar with React until the beginning of 2019 because it wasn’t a framework we went over in code school. I learned how to use React through playing around with Gatsby. Another technical skill I have been trying to get better at is competency with git, which in my experience, gets developed through repetition and also having to look into how to fix your mistakes in practice (only after some mild frustration and panicking).

What are some resources that helped you in your journey in tech?

If it weren’t for the Colt Steele Web Developer Bootcamp course on Udemy, I would not be here. Gatsby and Netlify were game changers for me in terms of learning React. DEV was also a great resource for me to read everything from technical how-to articles to personal anecdotes of folks in tech.

What difficulties did you face in your career? How did you overcome them?

The absolute biggest challenge in my tech career was getting a job. Hiring practices in tech are so seemingly unorganized, uncommunicative, long, and sometimes just plain disrespectful. Going from one candidate pool to another, interviewing with each company for about 2 months before finally being told, “this isn’t the right fit” with no other feedback, not only exhausted me but also killed my sense of self-worth. The anxiety around finances and “being good enough” made this period of time the most challenging thing I have ever overcome.

Looking back on your career, what advice do you wish someone had given you that would have helped accelerate your career?

While this is something I heard a lot while trying to get my first tech job, I think it is important to iterate here. You have to remind yourself to not compare yourself to others. I know this is something that everyone preaches, but that is because there is so much truth to it. Everyone is on their own timeline, and there is no right or wrong way to do things. Do what works for you, and if you realize it isn’t giving you the results you want, change your method. People will offer a lot of advice, but you have to remember that this is what worked for them, a friend, or a colleague, there is no guarantee it will work for you. Everyone has their own set of privileges, so you have to be willing to constantly change your methods to see what will work for you.


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