This series of interviews includes industry professionals, professors and other faculty members that highlights the School of Engineering’s many inspiring stories. We hope these stories encourage students from all majors, backgrounds and walks of life
Our second interview is with Michael Andemeskel, a UC Merced alumnus. Michael is an engineer at Stitchfix, where he codes computer software for an easy consumer experience.
I would tell myself not to be in such a hurry and not be so afraid to ask questions. I think there is just so many things that you could do day-to-day that can make such an impact on your life. I missed out on a lot of opportunities to learn from other people. It’s a lot easier to learn from other people’s mistakes and experience than to go through them yourself.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
I’m from Ethiopia, my family came here in 2001. I grew up in Oakland and graduated from high school there. I joined a startup as a programmer and then decided to go back to school for my bachelor’s degree. I went to community college and then transferred to UC Merced as a Computer Science and Engineering student.
Engineering Service Learning was one of the first courses I took. It sounded like an exciting course and I enjoyed building things more than I did sitting in class, so I thought it was going to be really fun. I took Engineering Service Learning every semester that I could afterwards.
I graduated in Summer 2018 and then went straight into my current job at Stitchfix, where I’m a senior engineer.
What inspired you to go into computer science?
I’ve always been interested in computers. I remember the first time I saw a computer; it was in a computer lab in elementary school. Coming from a third world country, I didn’t know what a computer was, I thought that it was just like a T.V. In the 5th grade, I got my first computer as a gift from my teacher, Ms. Chan. I was helping her clean out the classroom and she had an old Macintosh computer that she was going to throw away. But she let me keep it and even gifted me a couple of video games. That’s where it all began. I knew I was going to do something with computer science, even at that young age.
What were some of the barriers that you had to overcome during university or on your career path?
Coming out of high school and not being certified was a challenge. I felt like I had to prove myself in every interview because I couldn’t say that I had a degree from university. There’s far less room for error when you don’t have that certification; it’s not enough to just have a portfolio with websites and apps that you’ve worked on. Getting confident in my abilities was definitely a struggle that I had and that’s why I had to go back to school.
What was your favorite part about your education or coming into your career?
My favorite experience at the UC was Engineering Service Learning because I was able to try out all the different roles; I got to be project manager, team leader, and of course just an individual contributor. In these roles I was able to figure out what I wanted to do in my professional career. I’ve always been in leadership positions and always didn’t enjoy it, so I was able to learn that I enjoyed a less stressful setting. Being able to figure that out early on definitely helped me spend my time doing the things I enjoyed.
Would you recommend for students to take on leadership positions?
Definitely, I feel that it’s one of those things that you have to take on at one point. Leadership comes in many different forms—you can be a leader without anyone being under you. But certainly, being in a position where you’re responsible for other people’s work is something that everyone should experience.
What do you find the most inspiring about your academic and career journey?
Honestly, I was just playing by ear until I came up with a plan. I’m always surprised by how far I got by just doing that. Now, though, I do a better job of maintaining a list of things that I need to accomplish on a daily basis, another for a monthly basis, and another for a yearly basis. That method had helped me become more productive and maintain a set schedule for myself to stay on track for everything.
What are a few of the things that you do at Stitchfix?
I do a little bit of every and circle from project to project. I mainly focus on our internal tools, so buyers. Stitchfix is a personal styling company where our algorithm takes 5 pieces of clothing, you get to try them at home, and you purchase the items if you like them. It’s a great business model and it really turned the apparel business upside down. I get to work on a side of the business that isn’t seen as often, which is writing or testing code to help our buyers or vendors. More often than not, I’m debugging bits of code that are broken; so, either fixing a problem or creating one.
What’s your favorite part about working for the company?
The company is very flexible. They don’t care about how many hours you put in, they only care that the projects are done. The people who work there are family friendly and so kind. There are no egos. You don’t have to worry about the typical programmer stereotype, there’s none of that at Stitchfix.
If you could give yourself advice 5 years ago, what would you say?
I would tell myself not to be in such a hurry and not be so afraid to ask questions. I think there is just so many things that you could do day-to-day that can make such an impact on your life if you’re not in a hurry. I fell for tunnel vision, and I missed out on a lot of opportunities to learn from other people. It’s a lot easier to learn from other people’s mistakes and experience than to go through them yourself.