Shield Spotlight: Kenny Yokoyama

 

A conversation with Kenny Yokoyama, Senior Engineer - Security

How did you first learn about Shield AI?

I first heard about Shield AI from a classmate of mine from UCSD. He had just accepted a position with the company, and he shared with me how excited he was about the opportunity to work on ‘cool robotics’ after graduation.


When you decided to join the team, what was it about the company that interested you?

When I first heard about the company, while it sounded cool, it didn’t really occur to me to pursue it any further. My mindset changed after I started researching more about Shield AI, and I was immediately sold on joining after I talked to Ryan about the mission and goals he had laid out for the company.


The company mission hit very close to home for me since I had heard stories from family members and friends who serve in the military about the losses they’ve experienced and trauma they brought back home as a result. This had an effect on me and shaped the type of work I wanted to do after I graduated college. I knew what I was really good at -- software engineering and security -- and I had a strong desire to use it for something worthwhile.


Additionally, joining Shield AI was compelling for me because of my love of robots. R2-D2 from Star Wars was my favorite fictional character growing up and my appreciation for him grew over time. The way he looks at the world, interacts with people, absorbs information from various sources and filters out what is unnecessary at any given time fascinated me to no end and it helped foster my curiosity growing up. So, when I learned that Shield AI was a company that used robotics to protect the lives of people, I became immediately interested and thought that I had found my calling.


You joined when there were only a handful of people on the team. What was the interview process like back then?

The interview process was very different compared to what it is now. We still had interviews that focused on discussions of our values and mission, and assessments of the candidate’s technical ability, but the process overall was less structured and more informal. For instance, I had my technical interview with Andrew at his apartment and my values interview with Ryan at a coffee shop.


In a fast-growing company like Shield AI it seems like so many things change every month, is there anything that has stayed the same since you first joined?

I think the main thing that has been a constant is the focus on people. We’ve made significant efforts to make sure we are fostering an environment that is supportive and welcoming to all. We are always asking ourselves if there are any areas where we can make improvements.


Another aspect of the company that has not changed is the open communication within the organization. We have an extremely talented team who are developing cutting-edge technology. While one might assume that in that kind of environment there would be a lot of egos flying around, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. We’ve established a collaborative environment based on open communication that fosters more ideas. You see people from across the company -- from Talent to Autonomy -- providing input on how to make our product better.


The focus on our values has also been constant throughout. I think that really helped with maintaining our culture as we’ve grown. We have focused on making sure that the people we bring in have similar values and can add to the culture. Along the way we’ve had to turn away people who were very technically skilled, but who perhaps were not a match on values. But overall, we have been able to establish a better culture because of this discipline of sticking close to our values.


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You have become the go-to person in the office whenever anyone needs anything. How did that happen?

At a young and growing company, you inevitably end up wearing multiple hats. But I am also the kind of person who is always interested in learning new things to improve my technical skills and to understand how things work.


At Shield AI, I started out as a software engineer, but I have had the opportunity to work on IT, Android, build tools, CI/CD, cloud infrastructure, and security. Because of that, over my time at Shield AI, I have been able to accumulate a wide array of knowledge across multiple disciplines.


How has working at Shield AI impacted your career and your professional development?

The rate at which you learn your tradecraft at Shield AI is rapid. In my case, there have been times where, within the span of 2 weeks, I had to design and deploy new infrastructure, work on IT support, and help resolve build issues for our autonomy team. The level of responsibility and the pace at which we work at Shield AI has definitely contributed to accelerating my professional development.


Beyond that, I have found the best mentors I have ever had at Shield AI. In both professional and personal capacities, they have helped me develop my technical, communication, and management skills, and, most importantly, they have taught me the importance of celebrating the small victories. The positive benefits that I’ve had just meeting them and working with them on a regular basis has been something that I wouldn’t ever want to change.

 

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