“When I was a student, I wish I had known that the habits you make in college generally stay with you for life!”
What are your typical day-to-day activities in your career?
By day, I am a Senior Systems Engineer and Technical Project Manager for a company that specializes in Apple IT professional services in Sydney, Australia. I think my title makes me sound more fancy than I am! In a given day, I manage, from start to finish, complex and large scale IT projects for enterprise-size clients of varying sizes in Australia. I get to play with cool things in the Apple world, such as iPad, MacBook, and iPhone, and sort out how to make them work better, easier, and smarter for our clients. I have to have, and maintain, an unrelenting passion for our customers, because I am an advocate for them, and for my company.
A typical day for me consists of a LOT of meetings all across Sydney, lots of emails and phone calls, relationship management (as in, putting out fires, making sure customers are happy, ensuring what our engineers did… does what we said it would) and following up loose ends. It starts early, sometimes ends late, and usually includes a lot of coffees. I spend a lot of time researching and reviewing … anything from quotes our sales guys are about to send to clients, to product specifications and vendor documentation. A small error or omission can equal a mistake that costs thousands of dollars, to my company or a client.
I spend an equally large amount of time in meetings, both with my internal team members, and with clients, and I take a ton of notes. I spend a lot of time on follow up and conversations with my team and clients, and spend a lot of time finding out what works and what doesn’t, and in a situation when something doesn’t work, it’s up to me to convey that information to folks on both sides so that we get things fixed, our sales guys stop selling it, and our vendors know that there are problems, and our support guys are aware. In rare cases, if there’s no one else available for a job, or folks are out sick, sometimes I partner with the engineers and go to clients and help deploy the projects that I work on every day.
What process did you go through to enter (or rise) to your position? Which skills and experiences distinguished you from other candidates?
What process did I go through? I worked. A lot. The biggest thing that helped me out when I was a student, was the fact that I worked, and kept working throughout my time in college. That gave me an edge when I graduated, because I graduated past being “entry level.”
I kept applying for jobs I thought I could do and getting turned down, and kept asking for feedback about why they didn’t choose me. Finally, I got a chance as a part-time sales rep for a telecom company. The hours were terrible and I worked nights and weekends and holidays, but eventually I was promoted to full-time, and worked more. I balanced this with university, and at times, that meant dropping down to a part-time work load, or taking a class in the summer. At school, I worked a lot, and I made sure I took classes from professors that I personally gained a lot from, and who I enjoyed learning from, and I worked hard to contribute, to do the work, and to actually come to class. Those professors, in turn, invested countless amounts of time, effort, energy, and above all else, patience in me.
I was promoted to management, and with the help of some amazing mentors, both at university and professionally, I was promoted higher. But when I wanted to change careers, it meant I had to make a decision, and that was to take a slight pay cut, to get my foot in the door for an opportunity in a field that was exploding with growth. I took it, and rebounded quicker than I would realize. At the end of all of that, the hard work I put in at college landed me a scholarship and opportunity to study in Australia, and my experience in the USA made me an attractive candidate in the Australian job market, because of the niche field that I specialized in. The company I worked for while studying abroad in Australia wanted me to come back and sponsored my visa to do so.
The biggest thing I’ve done in my career (and my academic career) has been to show up and learn. If there’s something I’ve been interested in, I’ve found a mentor, or a friend, or even work in the field that would provide me the training or knowledge to take it further. Sometimes that meant going to work on a weekend or doing something outside of my official job title, but people see that, and they want to help develop people who want to develop themselves. The biggest asset I have is a voracious desire to learn new things and to teach myself, up to a certain point, what I want to know, if I don’t already know it. Companies don’t hold your hand and make you learn new things … they’ll buy you a book and the rest is up to you. The second biggest asset, is to make sure I always surround myself with people that are incredibly smart and talented — I learn so much from other people and their experiences.
“When I was a student, I wish I had known….”
When I was a student, at least early on, I wish I had known how valuable a degree would be. I took a long time to finish my degree, including time off from school. It was hard to get back into things, and that made it even more difficult, but it took being passed up for promotions because I didn’t have a degree for me to realize how valuable it really is. I wish I had known how valuable hard work would turn out to be, WHILE I was a student.
Practically speaking, I use the skills I gained from my higher education every day. Critical thinking is, above all else, what I use the most. I deal with people from all types of fields, industries, companies, and I have to be able to quickly ingest, digest and analyze complex information and deal with thousands of details and nuances, and then I do it again and again and again. I have to focus on thousands of moving parts, and keep them all lined up. I have to stay aware of the news and markets and what’s happening in governments, because my clients range from finance to retail to governments.
I wish I had known that I shouldn’t have worried so much about WHAT my degree was in, so much as WHAT I was learning from my degree … it’s hard to think that I don’t use my degree in the same way as, say, an architect does, but yet, I use various parts of it every single day.
Finally, I wish I had known much earlier on, how valuable my professors would be. My professors have provided counsel and feedback and encouragement that I would consider to be priceless. They have been some of my biggest advocates and have championed me for things that I wouldn’t have given a second thought to, but that have given me immeasurable advantages and knowledge. And, most of them DO know what they’re talking about most of the time ;).