Back in high school in the late ‘90s, I developed an interest in a number of languages—Spanish, French, and ultimately Japanese—and Japanese was by far the most difficult, fascinating, and beautiful language I had ever encountered. I decided to major in Japanese at Georgetown, which ended up being one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life.
At Georgetown, I fell more in love with the Japanese language, and using it every day filled me with joy. My classes were engrossing and my professors were excellent sources of knowledge and encouragement. The more I wanted to learn, the more they would give me to satisfy my curiosity. Late in my freshman year, I decided to combine Japanese with Computer Science to make a double-major: giving the language useful context and ensuring that I would never have to suffer the curse of too much free time.
In 2003, I went to Nagoya to spend a year abroad studying Japanese at Nanzan University. I studied Japanese full-time for two semesters, living with a host family and spending nearly all of my free time reading manga and playing Japanese video games that I’d purchased at the local BOOKOFF. Little was I to know that my Japanese gaming skills would eventually become relevant to my career path…
After I returned from this transformative year, I rededicated myself to learning the language in-depth, passing the JLPT Level 1 and working closely with the Japan Network student group to make more Japanese friends and share Japanese culture with others. I also began looking for jobs where I would be able to use and develop my skills. I took a job at Nintendo of America, in Redmond, Washington, as a bilingual software engineer.
At Nintendo, I took my professional and technical Japanese skills to a much higher level than before. I translated technical e-mails, interpreted at important meetings, and helped Japanese developers understand the American market. I even got the opportunity to meet childhood idols like Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto.
I also spent three years fulfilling another childhood dream: to be a Japanese-to-English video game translator. I translated the text for major titles like Tales of Vesperia, Monster Hunter Tri, and many others. This type of translation let me exercise my creative skills and really challenged my abilities; translating jokes was the hardest and most rewarding part of the experience!
In 2013, I went back to graduate school for aerospace engineering, motivated by a desire to work in the space industry. My Nintendo experience, industry connections, and language skills helped me find internships at NASA, SpaceX, and the Hakuto Lunar XPRIZE team—the latter of which was located at Tohoku University in Sendai, Japan. At Hakuto’s lab in Sendai, I built and tested an actual lunar rover with fellow engineers, many of them Japanese. My language skills helped immensely with communication and collaboration, and generally enriched the whole experience.
Now, I’ve been working at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory for over a year as a software engineer. Here, I help build 3D software that rover drivers will use to understand and control the next generation of rovers we’ll send to Mars. I also work closely with Japanese engineers and have even had the opportunity to give a private demo of my projects for visitors from the Japanese space exploration agency, JAXA.
My study of the Japanese language has changed my life and afforded me opportunities that I never would have had otherwise. It remains a core part of my being, and I’m extremely glad that I started this journey nearly 20 years ago.