AsanaUP with Sophia Yamauchi

Caity Beaudoin

February 28, 2022

We interviewed Sophia Yamauchi, talent acquisition manager with Asana, about the company’s apprenticeship program AsanaUP and its soon-to-be launched product design focus. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity, with images sourced from

What is your role at Asana? Tell us about the origin of the AsanaUP product design apprenticeship.

I oversee the AsanaUP apprenticeship program at Asana. AsanaUP is the development program we have in place to create opportunities for individuals breaking into Asana from nontraditional, underrepresented backgrounds. Our mission for AsanaUP is to create economic opportunity for individuals from historically marginalized communities by developing programs that enable participants to gain the skills, experience, and the pathway into a full-time role at Asana. So within the program more specifically, apprentices join for six months while being paired with an Asana mentor, manager, and secondary mentor. This is their support team to ensure they are learning the tools and skills they need to know to be successful.

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How did elevating folks from non-traditional backgrounds come to be one of the central missions of the program?

Asana as a company has very specific focus areas and goals, and one of our biggest goals within Asana is not only to grow the company but to focus on diversifying the company. As a company, our mission is to help humanity thrive by enabling the world’s teams to work together effortlessly, and we aim and strive to build a company that’s more representative of our customers. That’s a huge reason why we stemmed off this apprenticeship program to elevate and create more opportunities for apprentices trying to break into Asana. 

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What does a day in the life of an apprentice look like?

Up front an apprentice gets paired with a manager, mentor, and an additional team member, so from the get-go an apprentice has a great support network. Within the first two to three weeks, the experience is really focused on onboarding. Not only getting to know the team, but also getting to know the product and understanding how to use Asana to its fullest extent, as we use Asana within the company. 

There’s an Asana-specific onboarding where you get to know the company, our mission, our values and the reason there are specific functions, initiatives and goals within Asana. From there, you also get to know your team through a specific team onboarding.

After an apprentice goes through their sequence of onboarding, they start working on real work. Depending on the team they’re working on, they’ll jump right onto the project, and we really like to start our apprentices off with bite-size initiatives. You’re working on something that’s impacting the bottom line, but it’s in a more controlled manner so if something breaks it’s not the end of the world. We’ll be there to support you and help figure out the kinks, but you’re also learning how to contribute from the get-go. 

As the apprenticeship goes on, we empower our apprentices to build more autonomy throughout their experience. By the end of the apprenticeship, our goal is for the apprentice to feel that their transition to a full-time role doesn’t seem like a huge jump.

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How long has the program been in place, and do apprentices transition into full-time roles?

AsanaUP has been in place for a little over three years. It started within engineering, and there were three apprentices that went through the program. I joined Asana in June of 2020 and to date we have a little more than 85 apprentices that have gone through the program across 13 different teams encompassing engineering, product, design (soon to be launched), talent acquisition – it really spans across the whole company. And we’ve converted around 82% of our apprentices to full-time opportunities.

Did you have to consider anything unique about the design function as you expanded the program?

We’re actually launching the design apprenticeship this season, so this is brand new to Asana. There are definitely more specific considerations we want to take into the launch of apprenticeships within design. We can use very similar frameworks that we apply at every apprenticeship program, like the mentorship structure and support structure. When thinking about design it’s really thinking about how to create a great, robust experience for our apprentices. What initiatives are they going to be working on? Our apprentices will be joining our product design team specifically, so what are the initiatives that we have on the roadmap that we can plug our apprentices into? Another thing we’re considering and very mindful of as we launch a new program in design is what the support team will look like. There are so many people within design that are very enthusiastic about this program, so I’m really glad we get to see this come to fruition because there’s so much passion around seeing this program come to life from the direct team itself.

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What benefits have you seen for teams and team members beyond the individual apprentices?

We send surveys and gather insights from those who participate in the program. From managers directly, we hear that it’s the most rewarding experience they’ve had to be able to bring an apprentice in. With Asana’s focus, apprentices are not expected to have direct professional experience in the role. So with someone who’s starting just fresh right out of a bootcamp and seeing their growth and development, we hear time and again that it’s the most rewarding experience for our managers. Same with our mentors who work very closely with our apprentices, and it’s a great opportunity for mentors to flex their leadership muscles and get a deeper sense of what it’s like to be in a leadership or management role with that unofficial title. 

What are you looking for with this first cohort of apprentices? How would folks know if they’re a good fit?

On the product design team specifically for those who are interested in joining the AsanaUP program, we’re looking for individuals who are curious and collaborative and excited to be creative and jump right into the design team. 

As a part of a product-driven and design-led company, individuals will play a key role in a small team of product designers who own the core product development from inception to iteration and post-launch reflection. So there’s a lot of autonomy and engagement apprentices can take on from the get-go. It’s a collaborative group of designers from many different backgrounds who have a love for combining their research, data and insights, and peer feedback into a user-centered design process. We pride ourselves on having a high designer to engineer ratio that enables our designers to do their best work on a balanced team. 

For this role specifically, anyone who has a non-traditional product design background that really faces barriers into the tech industry is someone who would be a great fit for this role. We’re looking for individuals who are excited about collaboration, they’re curious, eager, and willing to learn and grow, and have that passion for creating a high quality user experience down to those little details that matter. The final thing I’ll leave you with is we’re looking for individuals who are excited to be part of an inclusive culture where everyone brings their whole selves to work, and we want to emphasize that for the apprenticeship.

Should applicants have anything in terms of a design degree or portfolio?

We don’t require a design degree – that’s a very specific intention of this program. It’s more so meant for individuals who don’t have a design degree. It would be great if applicants do have a portfolio that they’ve been able to create with their bootcamp or through self-taught learning. In addition to that, it’s definitely a plus if individuals have experience using Figma, Sketch, or product design-centric tools.

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What else is ahead for AsanaUP?

We’re continuing to expand our partnerships, so finding really great organizations we can align with to find amazing talent and continuing to focus on growing the program. These are all things we’re very excited about moving forward. 

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