James Nickolettos and his wild adventure from TC intern to full-time employee

You have to empathize with those who’ve endured in their educational pursuits throughout the pandemic – remote learning, remote internships, and the pitfalls of a tenuous job market following graduation. Taking life with a grain of salt and the anxiety of uncertainty is a tough way to go, but those who are persistent can find a way to succeed.

James Nickolottos is one of those success stories.

In late 2019, Nickolettos was a junior in college, studying computer science. He didn’t want to develop just another app. He wanted to design products millions of people would use, products that would change the world in some way. He also loved Toyota, pining for a Mark IV Supra. So, naturally, he searched online for Toyota software internships and found an opportunity with Toyota Connected. He applied and then interviewed with TC.

He’d start on the UX/UI team, with the intention of helping tie up the final loose ends before Toyota and Lexus were to launch their new Audio Multimedia infotainment system.

But, as we know, the world changed in March 2020. In a position where collaboration is key and the organizational structure needed to align around a new fully remote work protocol, Nickolettos would again have to hit the pause button.

“A lot of things were uncertain,” he said. “They had to cancel the internship.”

Alas, he received a consolation: the prospect of an internship in summer 2021 following his senior year in college. Patiently waiting through online classes and another year, Nickolettos persevered. The Chicago native interned remotely for the summer.

The next 12 weeks, he’d spend time with the UX/UI team as they built out Toyota’s new infotainment using a different software kit than had been previously done – a proof of concept that would shape processes and plans plan for upcoming infotainment technology generations. The open-source kit would help reduce time and complexity in software development, ultimately helping streamline processes.

“After the summer internship, I reached out to my manager and said, ‘Hey, I really liked working with you guys. I'm very interested in this project.’ I couldn't think of a product that I was more interested in working on than embedded in-vehicle, user-facing software that's going to be used in millions of cars that are sold every year.”

He continued, “I really liked that my team trusted me, and they just gave me the opportunity to learn so much through helping build the app.”

By September 2021, Nickolettos would move to Texas, setting up his new home and settling into his new full-time position on the UX/UI team.

Looking back at his internship experience with TC, Nickolettos said, “I didn't treat it as I was just an intern. I tried to act like I was a senior engineer. That's just the mentality I had. I think that's something I would recommend to all interns is to just pretend like you're just hired as a full-time engineer and treat it like that. But also, treat it as a learning experience, because that's ultimately what it is.”

“The second thing I would say is you get out of your internship what you put in it. I was really passionate about the project I was working on. I think all of that reflected in my code and my behavior.”

Lastly, Nickolettos said, “Don't be afraid to ask for help. No one is expecting you to know everything.”

“I think that applies for everyone in the software development world. People with more experience have been through different situations. They understand what younger engineers are going through. Even then, my team has encouraged me to build projects, make mistakes, learn from those mistakes, and grow. They’re helping me be the best developer that I can so I can build the best possible product that I can.”

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