March 8, 2024Blog

In the spotlight: Miho Kusaka, Senior Solutions Engineer, Enterprise Technology

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⚑ Tokyo, Japan

From electrical engineer to software engineer, Miho’s story is a testament to resilience, adaptability, and the pursuit of one's passions and joys. She takes a quick break from her busy day-to-day to talk to us about her cross-atlantic experiences, the joys of motherhood, and where the opportunities to invest in women and accelerate progress are.

Q: So Miho. Tell us a little bit about your journey to date!

Well, I wasn’t a software developer from the start. I went to school in Japan and did my masters in electrical engineering at Keio University. I had my eye on becoming an electrical engineer at Toyota, but there was something about the speed of feedback from users (bitter or sweet) and the changes in software engineering that interested me and made me pivot my career. I wouldn’t have guessed that I would make my return to Toyota later on!

I found my first break into software engineering with Goldman Sachs in Japan and being surrounded by talented engineers, I was able to learn a lot about how to build and manage secure quality software on the job. Goldman Sachs then gave me the incredible opportunity to move from Japan to New York City and that was an amazing experience. The highlights definitely include connecting with people from really diverse backgrounds, and starting my family. After 7 years there, I knew I wanted to raise my new family in Japan, and that was around the time when the Woven By Toyota opportunity came up!

Miho Kusaka's wedding photo

Q: What was the greatest learning you took away from those early days breaking into the software engineering world?

That you don't have to think you’re 100% with your technical skills to be successful. I wasn’t ever a super technical person to be honest. The key takeaway for me was finding and focusing on a strength that complimented my technical skills in a different way to everyone else. I wanted to be close to our users, to be able to bridge technical solutions with real human problems, so that’s what I focussed on. I think that’s what makes one’s job enjoyable; focusing on your strengths while finding and working on the areas you know you need to develop.

Q: What exactly was it that you think made you say ‘yes’ to Woven by Toyota?

I am being honest when I say it was the mission of the company that caught my attention. Everyone knows Toyota. It’s one of the most successful traditional Japanese companies and one of the top car manufacturers in the world. The idea of being able to work for Toyota in the context of helping them transform into a company with future-focussed software standards is what I could imagine myself doing. I saw it as a chance to bridge tradition with innovation. It’s been an amazing opportunity for me to be able to use my technical expertise, language skills and cross-cultural understanding.

Q: And what is it that you do at Woven by Toyota?

Before I went on a year’s maternity leave, I worked as a Solutions Engineer for internal enterprise systems  helping the systems of different companies that we merged with to come together as one. Right after returning from maternity leave, Jack Yan, our VP of Enterprise Technology, asked me to be a part of project Stargate as a customer success engineer! And that’s where I spend most of my time now. 

The best way to think about Stargate is that it’s a cloud based platform which integrates tools to accelerate development of mobility products.  You can use Stargate to collaborate across Toyota and suppliers to be more agile by working in the same environment using the same tools whilst maintaining IP segregation.  Stargate is used by tens of thousands of different engineers - electrical, mechanical and software from project planning tasks to co-development of software which goes into the vehicle.

Q: What's the most rewarding part of your day to day with Stargate?

Learning about Toyota culture and how a Japanese company with such a long history continues to evolve to be competitive in the global market. It’s eye opening to learn how Toyota operates but it also makes it very rewarding when we are able to connect our solutions to address their challenges and help transform their software development process. I love the moments when we can bring a “a-ha” moment to our customer that helps push their transformation forward. 

Q: And the most challenging?

The scale of  work with Toyota is huge and connecting the dots between various needs and solutions and ideas at this scale is difficult. It's easy to become conservative with decisions, especially when we have to make sure that what we’re creating together is the highest quality it can be, is as secure as it can be, and as safe as it can be. What I will say is that everyone is very motivated to be part of the transformation and you just have to be extra patient and persistent; help build understanding and momentum in small amounts.

Q: How do you unwind outside of work?

My two kids are my joy. There are busy days and it’s a balance of course but I have flexibility to spend time with my kids when I want to. And really, that’s how I get to “unwind”. By seeing their faces and being able to spend time with them. Beyond that, I also try to travel and explore new places as much as possible. I love to scuba dive but recently I’ve stuck to exploring nature and historical sites on land, especially as we travel with two little ones!

Miho Kusaka at the Tokyo Mobility Show with her family

Q: Do you think your kids will follow in your footsteps?

Who knows! I do get excited seeing my son start to program with Legos. Did you know legos do that nowadays? They’ve come a long way… you can literally program a train of legos. It’s amazing.  Being there with him to show him little bits of the joys of programming that he finds along the way, it may help him explore the joys and challenges of programming in the future!

Q: Speaking of the future, where do you think there are still opportunities for companies to invest to enable and empower women?

Spaces and opportunities to connect and support one another. I think this is getting better but still not great in Japan in particular. I think having those opportunities to network, learn from other people’s experiences is really valuable. And it gives you confidence as well. Sometimes we end up waiting until there is a problem to reach out to someone but if we can connect people more often, sooner, I think more women will have past experiences to draw from, and be able to find their own confidence to try things and take opportunities. 

Q: Any final words of advice to others considering a role in software development?

Software development isn’t just about how well you can code. There are so many other skills that are needed, and that add extra value to a software developer role. Find yours, and keep working on it! You’ll find a place where that combination is needed.