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A conversation with Tifa Nguyen about Year Up and interning at Amazon

In Marketplace, Amazon’s organization focused on helping third-party merchants sell on our platform, we like to invent and simplify whenever we can.  Part of this process is attempting to do things that nobody else does – and in this area, Marketplace Technologies Quality Assurance delivers.  MTQA is the team I am a part of, and what I am sharing with you today is an example of how we innovate in the area of hiring by way of our Quality Assurance internship program.

In Seattle, there is a nonprofit organization called Year Up  devoted to helping young adults gain the skills and experience necessary to enter professional fields like high tech, and it is this mission that drew MTQA’s attention.  We have developed a partnership with Year Up to hire Quality Assurance interns, a unique practice not found anywhere else in Amazon. Of course, Amazon hires other interns, but our partnership with Year Up is different in that it gives us access to talented people who might not otherwise be part of our intern selection pool. Year Up provides urban young adults with training, resources and support that helps them jump start a professional career and/or continued education.

Tifa 1I decided to interview Tifa Nguyen, the newest Year Up intern on our team, to get her perspective on what it’s like to work at Amazon, the background she came from, and what her experience has been like through the entire process.

Joe: Hi Tifa, thanks for agreeing to participate in this interview. Please tell us about yourself.

Tifa: Hi Joe, thank you for taking the time to listen and share my stories.  I am currently interning at Amazon (obviously) as a QAE (Quality Assurance Engineer).  Prior to this, I was getting trained full time, for six months at a nonprofit organization called Year Up while working as a server at a family-owned Japanese restaurant during the weekends.  Coming from a non-tech background, landing an internship at Amazon is a huge step for me and I am very excited for what it has to offer.

Joe: Can you explain what Year Up is? 

Tifa: Year Up is an intensive one-year program where participants get trained on-site with courses in IT, Financial Operations, Sales, and more. The program offers professional skills classes for the first six months, and then earn real-work experience at their assigned internship.  Its mission is to provide urban young adults with in-demand skills, college-level classes, and support that will empower them to reach their full potential and achieve a meaningful and professional career.  Year Up has 24 campuses around the US that offer courses including IT help desk, QA, web development and data analysis, as well as soft-skill courses that include business writing and public speaking.  For me specifically, I was placed on the QA track with a minor in project management and now here I am: two-thirds of the way done with my six-month internship at Amazon.  Year Up welcomes low- to moderate-income young adults between the ages of 18 to 24.  Everything is completely free, and students even get weekly stipends.  Students are also provided with many resources from Year Up’s Student Services department that support and help them succeed throughout the whole year.  The courses we take are also college-credit applicable after completing the whole program.

Tifa 2Joe: How did your internship at Amazon come about?

Tifa: After six months of on-site training, students earn their internships.  I use the word “earn” because at Year Up, nothing is given to you.  You work for it. You get out what you put into it.  The program has a group of staff members that specializes in corporate engagement and internship placement.  Their role is to thoroughly evaluate the students in both academic and business etiquette performance to ensure the best match between the company’s needs and the student’s growth opportunity.  The whole process takes about two months.  One of my proudest achievements was hearing the same thing from all of the staff saying that they could not think of a better candidate for Amazon than me.  I would like to think I got this internship opportunity because of one time I spent 45 hours outside of training to finish a “teach your own 9-year-old self Excel” project with a one-week deadline.  One of Year Up’s core values is “Work hard. Have fun.”, and now for me it’s time to add Amazon’s “Make history.” part.

Joe: What do you do here?

Tifa: My role here at Amazon is Quality Assurance Engineer Intern.  I am currently in the MTQA Mobile team (woohoo!!), where we focus on testing features on a mobile application for third party sellers on Amazon, allowing them to manage their business on any device.  Some of my duties include communicating with technical product managers (TPMs) and developers to identify business requirements for a specific project, as well as constant communication with the project team to make sure test plans and test runs meet their expectations while triaging any issues identified.

Joe: How are you liking it? Is it different than you expected?

Tifa: I’ve been here over three months now and I still can’t believe I am interning at one of the tech giants.  I remember being scared and nervous when I found out my internship placement was Amazon.  I did not know anybody here nor what to expect.  What if they treat me differently because I did not come from a traditional four-year college? What if I mess up?  There were so many doubts and what-ifs.  Now, being here, this company and team have changed how I think.  People are nice.  Everyone is extremely knowledgeable and resourceful (this was to be expected).  Everyone I have interacted or worked with has been understanding and patient when I introduce myself as an intern and say that I might ask a lot of questions.  Each and every one of them has responded with the same thing, saying that Amazonians love questions.  They encourage me to be curious and not afraid to ask for help.  Folks here are supportive and humble.  They work hard to deliver quality products and services for their customers.  I am inspired to better myself every day and take on challenging responsibilities.  I really love it here.  There’s always a lot of room to grow, and what could be more fun than Waffle Wednesday every week?

Joe: What was it like ramping up and getting started here? 

Tifa: It was challenging, for sure!  But I love it.  I was very surprised at how quickly my manager assigned me a project even though I had just got here and was an intern. It took me almost three weeks to get ramped up.  I remember, during one of my first meetings, I tried my best to follow what was going on.  It was a blur because there were so many thoughts rushing through my head. I applied what I learned through Year Up as well as utilized the resources that my manager provided to me.  My work has turned out to be quite good.  I have gotten good feedback from my peers and the PM I worked with on my first project.  I was very pleased and proud of myself.  The project turned out to be bigger than we all thought it would be; a small feature turned out to be a three-phase project.  But that’s how it is here – everything is always changing. 

Now, I’ve participated in many different projects including launching new features on multiple applications doe sellers. I am grateful for this opportunity to work with such a supportive group who are not only focusing on delivering quality products but also developing their team members and making sure they grow as much as possible.

Joe: As someone going through the Year Up program, you have a pretty unique viewpoint on working in the tech field.  Can you describe how Year Up has helped you here, and how your unique entry into the field has impacted the way you view working at Amazon?

Tifa: Before joining Year Up, I thought working in the tech field was something impossible for someone like me.  Everyone I knew said it was really hard and competitive. Year Up really made me believe I could be successful.  The women at Year Up have shown me what ambition really is.  They are hungry for knowledge and success.  They are supportive and always hold each other accountable.  Most of us came from the same situation: zero or very minimal technical knowledge, and now we’re interning at some of the most admirable tech companies in the world.

It is honestly a privilege to work at Amazon.  I am surrounded by very intelligent, hardworking, and humble people every day.  There was a learning curve for sure, but people here made it easy for me to learn at my own pace while taking on more responsibilities and challenges as I go.  Everyone here is welcoming and supportive.  You see quite a number of women here and they are all hard working and knowledgeable.  The ladies on my team are fierce!  They all have great leadership skills, and are very strong and transparent.  I am very fortunate to be in such an environment where everyone pushes me to be my best and they all make sure I can come to them if I need help.

Joe: Do you have any advice or statements for others that were in your situation prior to joining Year Up?

Tifa: “Say yes now and figure out the rest later.”

Coming from a family with a very traditional and old-school way of thinking, it was hard for me to figure out what I wanted to do for a living, especially when there was no guidance.  As immigrants from Vietnam, we were told was that if you want to be successful and respected, be a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer, or anything that has to do with banking.  So that was what I was aiming for.  I went straight to Bellevue College after high school to pursue a degree in accounting and I dropped out when I had almost completed my associate’s degree when I realized that I had no interest in any of these jobs that seemed so ideal to my family. I took a break from school and was just doing odd jobs from babysitting to freelance wedding makeup.  I was doing that for almost three years when I realized that I needed to have something more stable and meaningful. 

During that time, I reconnected with some old friends and found out that quite a few of them were in the tech field.  Some are developers and some are in QA.  Since tech has been booming, I decided to go online and try out a free coding course from Code Academy.  I loved it!  It was such an amazing and exciting feeling for someone like me, who has no coding or tech experience, to create something with a few lines of code and see the results right away.  Afterwards, I spent some time to look for a school or a boot camp for coding, but all of them were very costly and there was no way I could pay that much within such a short period of time, nor did I have the patience to go back to school for another four years.  I felt a little disappointed and hopeless.

Fortunately, two of my friends told me about Year Up.  I went online and filled out the interest form, even though the program sounded too good to be true.  A few days later, a recruiter from Year Up gave me a call for an info session.  I was hesitant and not sure if that was what I wanted or if it was for real.  Being bad at saying “no”, I agreed to enroll in the program and now here I am, with zero regrets.  Not only have I gained tons of knowledge about something I never thought I would be able to do, I have also formed meaningful relationships with people who have supported me throughout my journey.

Year Up has changed my life.  I am grateful and hope to be able to do the same for whoever needs my help and support in the future. There are many young talented adults who are underserved, who may live in a zip code that does not offer opportunities, or are otherwise lost as to where to go next.  They need motivation and inspiration.  They need someone to guide them.  And that someone can be you.

I would like to extend a heartfelt “thank you” to Tifa for speaking with me.  I value her contributions to the team and look forward to being able to work with her more going forward.  She is proof that dedication and a desire to succeed, along with support from organizations like Year Up and Amazon Marketplace, go a long way in helping ambitious young professionals kick start a career.

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