March 8, 2024Blog

In the spotlight: Kendall McCarthy, Technical Program Manager, Arene

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⚑ Tokyo, Japan

Dive into Kendall’s path from proton cancer therapy to shaping the future of software-defined vehicles. She sheds light on the role of Technical Program Managers at Arene and their pivotal contributions to Toyota's mobility transformation, while drawing captivating parallels between the mastery of singing and the empowerment of aspiring female engineers.

Q: How did you first get into the world of software engineering, particularly in the automotive industry?

Actually, I originally planned to be a psychologist! But after getting my undergraduate degree in psychology and doing some outpatient work, I realized it wasn't the right fit. I had some close friends in software engineering, so I figured I’d work through some of MIT’s open courseware and see how I liked it. Pretty quickly, I was sold. Conscious of entering a male-dominated field as a woman, I applied for a Master’s in computer science so that I’d have the credentials to back me up in my career. I knew for sure I’d made the right choice when I realized I didn’t mind staying in on Friday nights to do the coding assignments.

After graduating, I started working at a company that made software and hardware for proton cancer therapy beamlines. I ended up staying for nine years – building up a specialized skill set in full stack C++, large networked hardware systems, and safety compliance. When I started looking for a job in Tokyo, I didn’t want those skills to go to waste, and it turned out there was a surprising amount of overlap with automotive development.

Q: What was driving the move to Japan?

I’m a third culture kid through and through, so moving to a new country is second nature to me. I was born in California, but my family later moved to Hong Kong, where I fell in love with the city. As an adult, I also spent five years in the UK and some time back in the US. When I sat down and thought about where I most wanted to go next, it was back to Asia. Then the Woven by Toyota opportunity cropped up, and here we are!

Q: So now, a year and a bit into Tokyo, has it lived up to expectations?

100%. It’s amazing. I would love to retire here. Tokyo has everything you could want from a city, and shares a lot of what I loved about Hong Kong. It’s exciting, cosmopolitan, safe, delicious, and the density of things to do and see is spectacular. On top of that, nature is never far away on public transit.

And it’s been exciting times at Woven by Toyota – the organization is going through some big changes. I originally joined the Vehicle Platform team as a software engineer working on Arene’s middleware framework to facilitate Toyota’s transition to software defined vehicles. But just recently, I transitioned to become a Technical Program Manager after realizing I was spending most of my time tackling problems that couldn’t be solved with code.

Cherry blossoms at night in Nakameguro

Q: What exactly does a Technical Program Manager (TPM) do?

For me it’s primarily two things: being organizational glue, and facilitating engineering execution. The role can vary a lot between companies, but in Arene we are part of engineering and I act as a bridge with the product side. The most important thing I can do in that role is identifying, owning, and resolving execution problems – which, for engineering, are often technical in nature. If there's a technical dependency chain, we tackle the granular detail of who needs to integrate what pieces by when in order to deliver on time. We help broker agreement when teams disagree on API, architecture, or where a feature will be implemented. TPMs are really the people that step in and help facilitate those highly technical and necessary conversations to move things forward.

Q: What would you say is one of your proudest accomplishments at Woven so far? 

Giving one of our virtual vehicles an internal code name. It might sound trivial, but we had some complex organizational and conceptual problems around how to structure the virtual vehicle project, which were significantly complicated by imprecise naming. And just by resolving that, the team was able to conceptualize problems more clearly and it unblocked some key decisions. I wish I could share the name, but believe me when I say it lent some charm to the project – team members could suddenly be found smiling when talking about the car, as if it were a fun coworker. This is the kind of elegant solution to a complex problem that you dream of as a TPM – simple, effective, and even improved morale.

Q: What about outside of work?

My hobbies are all over the place. I like hiking as much as I like to stay in to marathon a new video game release. I’ve been lucky to make some great friends through work, and we go out regularly for food, drinks, and karaoke. Sometimes we go to museums or aquariums together as a bunch of fully grown adults and all the other visitors are families with young children – it’s pretty funny. Because we want to see the penguins just as much as the kids do but we need to play it cool.

Hiking in Wales

Q: The theme of this year’s IWD is Invest in Women, Accelerate Growth. Where do you think companies could invest more to help women succeed?

Invest in women. Simple as that – if you are a company, you should invest in your female employees. We spend a third or more of our day at work. It’s hard for one company’s investments to make a measurable impact at scale, but it can mean everything for the women who actually work there. Even if that company doesn’t start out with many women, those women who are elevated and empowered at the company will contribute to hiring more women and inspiring more women. If every company did this, it’d go a long way.

Q: Any advice to women looking to grow in their careers?

In order to be a great singer, you need a great ear. That’s something I heard recently, but it resonated with me. An accurate internal feedback mechanism is critical for growth and improvement – only by seeing our abilities and our weaknesses clearly, without pride and without humility, can we improve. This is good advice for anyone, but because women are subject to bias, it’s that much more important to maintain that objective self view and not internalize the bias. Find people you trust to give you honest career feedback, and act on it.