‘I Can’t Wait to See What’s Next’ — Advice From an Engineer Lead, Working Mom and ‘Lifelong Learner'

Sponsored by Toyota North America

Yu Luo

Photo courtesy of Toyota North America.

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July 23, 2024 at 12:1AM UTC

When Yu Luo was in college, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected that IT would grow much faster than other areas. This statistic inspired her to pursue a career in IT, since this field meant opportunity. “I wanted to be a coder and a decision-maker in terms of putting out technology products, so I thought a career in IT would be a great fit,” explains Luo.

And grow she did. Luo majored in computer science at the University of Kentucky, where she recalls being one of only two or three women in her classes. (“That’s when I became aware that we really needed a woman perspective in the mix,” reflects Luo.) She then interned at Toyota manufacturing and, after graduating, joined as an IT financial lead, later transitioning to a leadership position in their IT infrastructure group.

Now, Luo is the DevSecOps Engineer Lead at Toyota North America, a role and company that enables her to be part of “something bigger than myself,” Luo notes. “I find meaning and purpose by working for Toyota. The platform is just so big, particularly with things like autonomous driving and other tech advances to bring people together, and that's very attractive to me.”

Here, Luo shares more about her role, insight into pursuing a career in tech, how Toyota supports women and more!

Tell us about your role at Toyota.

I lead a team of cybersecurity engineers who support over 500 critical applications to keep our information safe from potential outside influences. We also write security standards and work with application teams to implement those standards and bridge any gaps in security postures and profiles.

If there is any kind of security event, we are the “glue” that brings the application together with our incident response team to support resolution. One of our main goals, in fact, is to evangelize cybersecurity throughout the organization. 

Your job title is … interesting.

[Laughs] Everything’s an acronym, right? I’m the DevSec Ops Engineer Lead. DevSecOps stands for “development, security and operations.” It's an approach to culture, automation and platform design that integrates security as a shared responsibility throughout the entire IT lifecycle.

What are the most rewarding and challenging aspects of your role?

I think the most rewarding aspect is when the application team sees cybersecurity as a positive feature, not a roadblock or bug. As far as challenges, we are always dealing with new ways to stop attacks and defend ourselves. Every day brings literally hundreds of attempts. We’re focused on staying internally vigilant and keeping our software up to date and protected from the threat landscape. 

Externally, we also work with our suppliers and share best practices to keep everyone safe. Our suppliers have suppliers and some of them might not be aware of the latest threats. Even though they're not in our network, if they’re impacted, we’re impacted as well. We try to be really vigilant to make sure everybody along the chain gets help. 

What traits, skills or experiences do you think have helped you succeed in your career and/or overcome obstacles?

In the tech space, things change quickly, which is why I’ve branded myself as a lifelong learner with a growth mindset. I’m always continuously improving my technical skills as well as my critical thinking skills in order to thrive in different roles. 

What advice would you share with someone interested in pursuing a career in technology?

Be prepared to learn, then learn some more. Especially with the so-called “soft” skills, such as learning to communicate effectively — people issues are actually more difficult to solve than computer issues. Computers will do exactly what you tell them to do. Humans are different, for sure! I use the "People, Processes, Tools" approach to solve problems, which means that the needs of the team always come first.

How is Toyota attracting and advancing women across the organization, particularly in technology roles that are crucial to its transformation to a mobility company?

Creating a diverse and inclusive culture starts at the top and our CIO, Holly Walters, is extremely supportive of engagement and networking opportunities for women. I think it’s wonderful for other women to see a woman in her role. 

There’s also a business resource group called WIIT, or “Women Influencing and Impacting Toyota,” that promotes female talent growth by building an environment to attract, retain and promote women. Overall, our company is making a concerted effort to build a pipeline of talent and hire more women. In fact, another female engineer just joined my team, which is very exciting!

How are you personally helping women at Toyota?

I’m able to offer guidance to other women because, sometimes, they might be the only woman in the meeting room. I also mentor several female college students and try to guide them and help them with issues they’re facing. Those are the kinds of things that make me very grateful for the women who support me and it’s very rewarding and inspires me to support others.

How would you say your role is driving Toyota's transformation into a mobility company?

We have an exciting project underway right now in Japan called “Woven City,” a prototype city of the future at the base of Mt. Fuji. It will be a fully connected ecosystem with a digital operating system where we can develop all kinds of technologies, including AI, in a real-world environment. I’m involved from the security side and it’s very, very exciting. It makes me feel like I’m part of a huge transformation as we move from gas and oil to a comprehensive electrification strategy. 

Any reflections on what Women’s History Month means to you?

I’m so grateful for those amazing, pioneering women who came before. Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Women’s History Month brings an awareness to see disparities and celebrate what’s been accomplished. It also reminds me to renew my commitment to lift up the next generation and keep going.

Speaking of the next generation, you’re also a full-time mom.

[Laughs] Yes, I have a four-year-old son and a two-year-old daughter, and they’re just amazing and keep me sharp — I look at them and try to imagine what’s ahead. As I reflect on my own journey from China to attending university in America to joining Toyota, I’ve really seen myself transform from someone with no experience with a lot to learn to someone who is helping drive some incredible initiatives. In every sense, I can’t wait to see what’s next … for all of us!

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