Making Myself Count
By Chad, education customer success
Life has a funny way of leading you down one path and then showing you a completely different one. Ever since I was a kid, all I wanted to do was fly airplanes. As I grew older, however, my passions started to shift and I ended up joining Boeing after college. I figured if I didn’t become a pilot who flies airplanes, the next best thing was to become an engineer who designs and builds the airplanes.
I spent about seven years working for Boeing on different airplane programs and learned what it means to be an engineer. Looking back, I realized the significance of my first day and first two years at the company.
On the day I started at Boeing, I met someone who I presumed to be an adversary. His first words will forever stick with me: “Don’t screw this up.” We didn’t hit it off initially, but he turned out to be a great mentor and friend and provided the nurturing I needed to, in his words, “make myself count.” That same day, my manager asked me if I knew how to use MATLAB. I was taken aback, as I’d hardly used it during my time as an undergrad and so I didn’t understand its usefulness.
“What I learned in college was not enough to prepare me for the workforce; specifically, thinking like an engineer and having some level of programming/modeling skills.”
Two years later, after developing under my mentor’s tutelage and gaining proficiency in my role, I had the epiphany that what I learned in college was not enough to prepare me for the workforce; specifically, thinking like an engineer and having some level of programming/modeling skills. Those early moments shaped my perspective on engineering and how I would proceed with my remaining time at the company, and henceforth my career.
The Turning Point
I decided to write a letter to the dean of engineering at my alma mater to express my thoughts on the degree program. I detailed my experiences during the two years in industry and suggested things that could be added to or changed in the curriculum to improve the learning experience for future students. The dean reached out several weeks later and asked if we could sit down and have a conversation regarding the letter. At that point it felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. We had an opportunity and potential agreement to do better.
After the meeting with the dean, I had one more meeting with the chair of mechanical engineering a year later and he told me about a few small things that had been done to improve the curriculum. I felt good about this but also realized it wasn’t enough. The issues I called out applied not only to that university but to many across the country and perhaps around the world.
Fair Winds and Following Seas
Fast-forward to year seven at Boeing. I was no longer satisfied with the work I was doing, so I began looking at other options. My mentor passed along the idea of working at MathWorks since I had been utilizing its products heavily for six-plus years and he believed the company had a good vision. He sent me information on an open position for an application engineer (AE). It was focused on the aerospace industry in Seattle. I appreciated the suggestion but wasn’t interested, feeling I’d worked quite a bit on the industry side. I wanted instead to expand on my efforts with the dean and chair at my alma mater to improve curricula for future students.
“My goal was to make sure the students had a better opportunity to succeed than I did when I was in their shoes.”
I later came across a customer success engineer job description, also at MathWorks, which basically detailed the exact kind of activities that interested me. It’s like the AE position, except with a concentration on collegiate education and research. I literally said, “Wow! They actually pay people to do this?” A few phone calls and interviews later, I became a MathWorker based in the Plano, Texas, office.
This relatively new role is evolving and encompasses many responsibilities, such as strategizing to create opportunities for customers to adopt MathWorks products, traveling to customer sites to support their teaching and research efforts, and presenting directly to end users about specific applications of MATLAB. That last aspect excites me most, and an example is pictured below.
A few months after starting at MathWorks, I had the pleasure of speaking in front of an audience of 600 incoming freshmen at Texas A&M’s College of Engineering about what it means to be an engineer. I was able to share my experiences in industry to help shape their perspectives and provide guidance. My goal was to make sure the students had a better opportunity to succeed than I did when I was in their shoes. The reception was overwhelming, and I felt that I had found my avenue for impacting education and society.
We want to empower students to do the right thing before they go off to industry. Why is that important? Because the products they will eventually build—whether they are airplanes or toaster ovens—have the potential to do good or harm. A young workforce educated on the importance and responsibility of being an engineer is a major benefit to society. If I had words of wisdom to share after my own journey, they would be “Make yourself count!”