It was a quarter to 11 this beautiful and warm Friday morning. We parked on the northwest side of campus and I was oh so proud that we were half a block from the tall glass blue building, Coor Commons. I put the baby in the stroller and had a tear in my eye that I was actually a mother. The first time I recall Mom dropping me off around this side of campus, was my first day as a freshman: some 14 years ago.
My reminiscing had to come to stop after I was informed of being in the wrong building.
Last month, I ran into my mentor at the WE Local event in downtown Phoenix. She asked if I would like to speak on a panel for Engineering Student Council Conference. I couldn’t refuse. Now here I am, thinking I was 30 minutes early, realizing I may be 10 minutes late.
I jet across campus with the stroller in my arms and kept looking back at my mother trying to keep at her own pace. I was confident I knew where I was going and then wait: where am I? I found myself stopping in the center of Arizona State University. Lost. I felt like there were 100’s of young eyes just staring back at me. Who is that lady with the baby? (I’ve become a lady?! Or maybe that Mom with a baby?!) I was standing in front of the Memorial Union. The location I spent most of my “free” time has now become a place of unfamiliarity. How did that happen? When did that happen?
I finally got to the room. I strolled my baby in and asked my mom to take her to the hall if she started talking. The young eyes again were staring back at me.
“She brought her baby?” I’m pretty sure I heard someone say it, unless I could hear their thoughts. I sat down. The room quieted down and the host began our session.
A nuclear engineer for APS and myself were the targets, invited here to discuss our transition from college to industry.
So what did I have to say?
Deadlines have huge impacts
I reminded them that grades are critical and to of course stay in school. I then started to talk about how different deliverables were in industry. You can no longer just miss an assignment or negotiate with a professor on retaking an exam. I told them the story from the Summer of 2010, during my Medtronic internship. I was asked to find a temporary location for inventory control so they could move the new line in.
I spent hours drawing up spaghetti maps and interviewing team members. Each tile in the clean room added up to four square feet. So on any given day, you would see me tap dancing and counting with my fingers across the tiles.
My manager called me and asked “where is the new location?” And I regret my answer.
“I need until Monday.” He chuckled and said, “you have until tomorrow morning or it’s all going out into the hallway.”
The line was for a new product launch. There were clinical deadlines that all led up to FDA submission. Had I missed that deliverable, who knows where I’d be today.
Make friends fast so you don’t make enemies faster
It’s all about who you know. When entering a company for the first time, especially out of college, it helps to have people to turn to. They can help get you up to speed on the culture, the tricks of the system, who to go to when and who to stay away from.
Also, things can get rough. We all have bad days and you can’t just go home and tell your family the details. Besides the fact you have non-disclosure agreements you signed on day one, they won’t understand or even care. Having a support structure can help you navigate those bumpy roads and remind you that everything is a phase.
Step outside your comfort zone. Sit with "strangers" at lunch or purposely schedule lunch meetings with people. Trust me, the day you need to tug on them, they will pull you forward.
Then someone asked about life balance.
“What’s a typical day like?”
My mentor leaned into my should and said “Tima why don’t you share that time you worked a 20 hour day?”
Let’s not scare them.
But what I did say is that life balance is in your hands. Eight years ago, I was fresh out of undergrad and taking 2-3 classes for my masters. Work was my life. It was easy to do 60 hour work weeks and still have time to go to the gym and hang out with friends.
I made an impression on the organization. And I got rewarded for it. When I was promoted into New Product Introduction, I set new boundaries for myself. I left at 4. It felt like I was doing a half day! I still stayed over when they needed me since we are a 24/7 manufacturing site but the point was I set a new expectation.
Now that I have my baby, I’ve been fortunate to be in a more global position, where I could leave at three when I need to and pick up where I left off at 8 or 9 at night. It also comes in handy when I need to make calls to our supplier partners in Asia.
The point is you figure out what makes you happy. You need to figure out what “balance” means. It could be as simple as going to the gym for 40 minutes after work, regardless of the outcome of your day.
The years go by quickly. The night before this talk I sat down, grabbed a piece of paper and asked myself “what was it like transitioning?”
Being human, I remembered the struggles. I remembered the negative comments from people who were intimidated by me and the new vision of the company that I was a walking example of. I remembered the blunt and brutal conversations from one of my toughest managers.
But then I remember the patients: the people we serve day in and day out. Decisions can be hard to make, especially when no one is around on a holiday weekend. I never hesitated though because it all came back to the patient safety and product quality.
There is no easy answer to transitioning out of college. It will be different based on your degree, the culture of the company you’re hired with and your definition of balance.
The critical point is to recognize it is a transition. Don’t underestimate what the world has to offer because opportunities are truly endless once you walk through that door. You just need to open your eyes to see them, open your mind to embrace them and raise your arms to navigate through them.
(Photo credit: https://asuevents.asu.edu/content/mu-takeover)