For Tomomi Arita, starting a job at Mentor, a Siemens Business, signaled a moment of major transition. After earning her undergraduate degrees in graphic design and fine art, Arita went on to work for several years as a desktop publisher at a small, boutique company. A deepening interest in web localization and design, though, ultimately brought her to Mentor. But pivoting career paths wasn’t the only change that came with the job.
“I grew up in a small village on the southern island of Japan called Kyushu. It was a monoculture environment,” Arita explained. “Coming to the U.S., and especially working for a global company like Mentor, meant getting to work with people from around the globe… Part of me is still a little girl from a small village, and every day I realize that people have different perceptions and interpretations of what is in front of them. Working at Mentor reminds me to be open-minded.”
Fourteen years later and Arita, now a Knowledge Analyst within the company’s systems & online experience team, continues to find her curiosity sated and her desire to learn expanded upon every day. It’s dynamic work that keeps her engaged, nimble and nourished.
“There are so many new, disruptive technologies exploding in the tech industry,” she said. “When I hear about these new technologies changing our world, I feel the same excitement as when I learned web development.”
Considering her level of fulfillment today, she marvels at the fact she nearly talked herself out of applying to Mentor, for fear of “not being qualified.” Since then, with the help of supportive mentorship, she’s been able to identify the thought pattern behind her sense of imposter syndrome (hint: it’s one a lot of women will identify with).
Arita recently shared with Fairygodboss how she learned to overcome that imposter syndrome, as well as her top three pieces of advice to other women interested in pivoting to STEM careers.
How long have you been in your current role? What were you doing before?
My role has been changing quite a bit at Mentor but ultimately staying in the global support area. My most significant career transition was moving to Mentor, a large global corporation, from a small-size translation company where I worked as a desktop publisher for seven years.
Pivoting career paths can feel overwhelming. Why did you want to make this change, and what ultimately helped you do it?
In my previous career as a desktop publisher, I learned to layout multiple languages in many applications in which the customers had the original language versions and also learned to work with limited resources and time to meet project deadlines within a team. It was an excellent opportunity to work with people from different nationalities in a family atmosphere. I was interested in web localization and design, and I continued to learn on my own, as well as taking on some web localization projects at work. Mentor was looking for a Japanese speaker with web localization skills to work on their support site localization into Japanese, and my skill set was aligned with that. I was ready to explore different opportunities, especially in website development, and I was also curious to see what’s like to work in a large corporation like Mentor and where it would take me.
Tell me a bit about your current role. What are your priorities, and what about it excites you most?
I am in the systems & online experience team under the global customer support division, assisting in keeping our customer support web portal up and running and continuously making improvements to it. My team is working with our customers, technical and business counterparts, and many backend systems interconnected to the portal. I enjoy learning how these interconnected systems work, from the data level to our customer view on the site. Based on my knowledge, I like to tackle challenging troubleshooting issues and come up with requirements for improvement. Currently, there are so many new, disruptive technologies exploding in the tech industry. When I hear about these new technologies changing our world, I feel the same excitement as when I learned web development.
What about Mentor stood out to you and made you want to join? What’s been your favorite aspect since joining?
Previously working for a smaller company, I was interested in working at a well-established, large corporation in the area. I grew up in a small village on the southern island of Japan called Kyushu. It was a monoculture environment. Coming to the U.S., and especially working for a global company like Mentor, meant getting to work with people from around the globe and also having a chance to speak in my native tongue with my Japanese coworkers. Part of me is still a little girl from a small village, and every day I realize that people have different perceptions and interpretations of what is in front of them. Working at Mentor reminds me to be open-minded.
What have been your experiences since your origins as a fine arts student shifting into STEM, and as a minority in STEM?
I tried to talk myself out of applying for the job at Mentor from the fear of not being qualified. I remember when I went for the job interview, I was very nervous. I spoke with multiple people who looked very intelligent. My hands were shaking, so I needed to put my hands under the table and hoped that my interviewers did not notice. Once I started working there, I was very intimidated by the engineers. I did not understand many of the terminologies and concepts they were using. I felt small and thought about how I could mold myself to fit into this environment. My strategies were to take programing and technical courses, improve my English in speaking and writing, and dress more like people around me.
I had undergrad degrees in graphic design and fine art. I took evening classes on web design and HTML while I was working at the translation company. For my first programing language class, I tried Java but could not keep up. I was stubborn enough to retake the same course and completed a one-year Java certification, then continued with other programming languages, SQL & database, and computer information system courses. I started to understand the technical details that engineers were explaining in the meetings. For English communication improvement, I have tried multiple things: writing courses, toastmaster, Dale Carnegie’s course, tutoring, improv, a storytelling class, voice lessons, an accent reduction class, and an MBA. With trial and error, I finally started to get comfortable speaking.
After all of that, my strategy has changed as to how I can better contribute to the organization while keeping the excitement of learning new technologies and continuing to find my own voice. With my art background, I can visualize and communicate abstract concepts. Growing up in Japan provided me with the ability to speak Japanese and learn to cope and adapt in different environments. Being a woman, I can relate to roughly 50% of the market share we haven’t fully tapped into in the technology business. I am still intimidated working in this field, and that makes me want to learn more. Now, I dress more like my stubborn mother instead of wearing jeans and a shirt.
What’s the first thing you do at work every day?
I will grab a cup of coffee or green juice from the cafeteria, read through any emails that came in overnight from different regions, and identify if there are any critical items I need to take action on quickly. Then, I prioritize my action items for the day, along with ongoing project tasks I may need to follow-up on.
What’s the most memorable piece of career advice you’ve received?
I have a tendency to underestimate my abilities. My mentor noticed this, and so she asked: “What have you accomplished in the last six months?” I shared the list of items with her. She posed a question: “Why do you think you cannot take on another challenge when you were able to accomplish these?” It helped me find a way to get back to reality.
What advice would you give to other women interested in making a major career change into the STEM fields?
Please don’t be afraid and give yourself a chance if your heart’s desire is working in the STEM field. I may suggest taking the following actions:
Keep learning new things where you are. You never know what skill will come in handy working in the STEM field. It’s constantly changing.
Speak with others working in STEM fields, seek mentors, and go to meetups.
Take STEM classes. You might start with a free online class or a meetup workshop. Do your best to start to accumulate knowledge in the STEM subject of your focus.
After that, if the STEM field continues to excite you, please pursue it. There are so many benefits from working in STEM, and there are many well-paying, secure jobs available. You will meet interesting people. It is challenging to keep up with continually changing technologies, but it is rewarding at the same time.
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