How Christianne Yu Followed Her Purpose to a Role at Helm
Christianne—or Tianne, to her colleagues—Yu has been her family's tech support for as long as she can remember.
Over the years, she has helped her family set up their cell phones, use their computers, and solve their wifi issues, along with fixing other technical snafus.
In so doing, she found her way into an overarching passion and mission that's guided her career ever since.
"My purpose in life is to help people, especially the elderly, make their lives easier with technology," explains Christianne, who is a Quality Assurance Engineer at Helm, a data and technology platform for community organizers. "It's fulfilling for me to be part of this company that creates an impact for their community, that creates more civic engagement."
We sat down with Christianne to hear more about her career journey, including how she landed her first job in tech after moving to the U.S. from the Philippines, how she's made the most of the opportunities at Helm, and what advice she has for other engineers looking to grow their careers.
When she was still living in the Philippines, Christianne realized that she wanted to live in a big city. She talked to her family and moved into an apartment with her aunt who worked near a big university campus, where Christianne ended up enrolling.
The university had strong programs in IT, computer science, and education, and Christianne followed a process-of-elimination path to decide on IT: "I do not know how to deal with people, and I don't like math as much, so I chose IT!" she says, smiling.
She'd found her way to the city she wanted to live in, and to the field she wanted to study, but when it came time to apply for jobs, she hit a roadblock. She was applying for software engineering roles, but the only company that gave her an offer wanted her to work in a quality assurance (QA) function.
So Christianne took the opportunity and learned how to QA. She figured she could build a meaningful career there—but then when she was 21, her family moved to the U.S.
"I had no contacts, no connections to tech [in the United States]," says Christianne of what it felt like to start fresh in east Texas—Nacogdoches, to be exact. She knew she wanted a big city again, and on a trip to visit an aunt in New York, she knew she had to move there.
Her first job in New York was at a Japanese curry restaurant, where Christianne quickly took on extra responsibilities doing administrative work and running the register.
She was behind the register on a slow Saturday when a customer came in. Noticing that he was wearing a t-shirt branded by a big database company—one Christianne was familiar with from her QA job in the Philippines—she asked him about his work. Their conversation turned into him offering to help Christianne with her resume and introduce her to someone on the Hillary Clinton campaign who was looking to fill a QA engineer role.
She fixed her resume, applied, and was hired by Tuesday Company a few weeks later.
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It took Christianne some time to get used to a new work culture—like meetings that ended on time, and managers who didn't glorify staying extra hours—but she settled in well to her first QA role in the States. She was in charge of release management, including troubleshooting issues for the sales and customer service teams.
When that company was acquired by Helm, Christianne had to go from being the only QA engineer on a team of 20 to being one of several engineers in her function serving a team of 70.
"I wasn't exactly overwhelmed, but 70 was big for me," says Christianne. "It was great to be a part of lots of different groups and hear lots of views from people in different states. Being new to this country four years ago, I got to meet a lot of interesting people [from all over thanks to] remote work."
Working for a company with an increased scope has meant that Christianne's opportunities for impact and growth have increased, too. Here's what she's learned along the way that has helped her make the most of the options available to her:
- "Your goals and purpose go hand in hand: put your energy towards something you feel good about." Knowing that she cared about finding ways to help people make their lives easier with technology made it easy for Chrstianne to get excited about the Helm acquisition. She couldn't have stayed on to work for a company whose mission wasn't aligned with her own.
- "Challenge yourself. Don't let yourself get bored." When Christianne's former manager used to check in with her, she'd tell him that things were good, that they were consistent. "He'd say, 'Consistent means there's no progress, it's a flat line,'" she remembers. Then Helm asked Christianne to take on a new responsibility, doing database testing instead of web application and mobile application testing, she was nervous. "I thought I was going to have to do a side step in my career. It wasn't the automation testing that I was trying to go up in my career later," says Christianne. But she talked to her manager about what she could get out of the challenge and came around to being excited by it: "It was a way to expand my career and grow. It could help build my career in the future," says Christianne.
- "Be open to anyone you trust. Connect with people." Christianne recognizes that the whole reason she managed to kick off a QA engineering career in New York City was because she struck up a conversation with a kind-hearted and generous customer one random weekend. And now she's working at a company she believes in and enjoys, one that she feels values her, listens to her, and cares about her wellbeing. Christianne now tries to pay forward the connections that have helped her find a role she loves by helping other young engineers with their resumes so they have the best chance of finding good jobs in their fields.
And Christianne is excited to keep seeing how far she can grow her QA career. "It's an art," explains Christianne, who is currently working on database testing and universal ingestion pipeline testing. "I thought software engineering was this big, whole thing, and QA is small, but QA is so much bigger [than I realized]."
Pursuing a career in the States does mean that her grandparents back in the Philippines are without their favorite in-person tech support, but Christianne makes do with video calls. "I get kind of frustrated that I can't help them as much as if I was there, but working in civic tech is great for me," she says. "It's sustainable. We're not burning money for the benefit of ourselves, we're actually helping people."