Advocating for Yourself: Advice from a Female Engineer

"If you find yourself questioning something in your career and not finding the right answers or opportunities, ask for them," says engineer Jamie Krakover.
Young woman screaming in loudspeaker making announcement.

This article was submitted by Society of Women Engineers (SWE) member Jamie Krakover.


I was about a year into my engineering career when I asked myself if this is really what I was going to be doing for the next 35-40 years of my life. If I had to sit and wait for one more strength model to run, I was going to gouge my eyeballs out with a spoon. My job was literally adding a few more composite plies to the model, rerunning it and checking the strength to make sure it wasn’t exceeded. If it was, add a few more plies to the model (rinse, repeat). I felt like a monkey pressing the same buttons over and over again. It required no thought or problem solving. Was this really what engineering was all about? Was this what the rest of my career as a strength engineer was going to boil down to?

After stewing over these questions for quite some time, I realized that there had to be other opportunities. After all, my company was huge. There were thousands of employees with hundreds of different job titles, maybe this just wasn’t the right fit for me. But where did I even start?

My manager at the time—while very knowledgeable—was quite hands off, which was tricky for me as a new employee with a lot of questions. I had great technical leads, but at this point in my career I felt like I needed an outside perspective. I sought out a mentor.

For my first mentor, I found someone with a similar background that had more experience than me. She was able to speak to the things a strength engineer did on a broader perspective. She also recommended I keep an eye on the internal job postings. But the more I talked, the more it seemed like this wasn’t the right place for me. The work just didn’t get me excited. But I also didn’t know what would be the right fit.

So I returned to my desk and started doing some research. I discovered my company had a formal rotation program. This sounded like exactly the right thing for a young engineer questioning where she wanted to be in her career. I’d have the opportunity to try a bunch of different jobs over a two year period and see what I liked. But as I neared the end of the information, my heart sank. I wasn’t eligible to apply because I didn’t work in the department that offered the rotation program. And since my department was new, we didn’t have a formal rotation program.

The more I thought about it the more I knew a rotation program was the right path forward for me, but I wasn’t sure how to get on that path. I hemmed and hawed meanwhile continuing to push buttons on my models like a monkey, until I worked up the courage to talk to my manager about it.

I was extremely nervous about the conversation. I wasn’t sure how to approach telling my manager that I was bored out of my skull and wanted to try something else without insulting him and the work the team did. How did I get my manager on my side and put him in a position to want to help me?

When the day came I was a complete ball of nerves and felt like I couldn’t get a coherent word out. But as my heart pounded faster, I finally worked up the courage.

“I’d really like to try a rotation program. I think it would be great for my development to try something new.”

My manager nodded.

Before I lost my nerve I continued:

“The only thing is, we don’t have one in our department. So I’m not sure how to work the logistics. Do I need to move to another department and then apply for the program? How would that work?”

My manager got quiet. I wanted to curl into a ball and die. I’d gone too far. This was it. The answer was no.

But what he said next surprised me. He said he didn’t know for sure but to give him some time and he’d ask some questions and get back to me.

My muscles eased a little bit. It wasn’t the answer I’d hoped for, but it wasn’t a “no,” either.

Two weeks later my manager called me into his office. I swallowed hard and sat down bracing myself for the final “no” I’d been expecting all along. Instead my manager told me that he wanted to setup a meeting between me and the skills manager so that we could have a discussion about my interests. Then he would work with the skills manager to find me some informal rotations.

Had my manager just said I was getting my own personal rotation program? I was ecstatic. A couple of weeks later I met with my skills manager to talk about what areas I had interest in. And the more I talked the more excited I got. When we parted ways I felt like a giant weight had been lifted off my shoulders. Work had possibilities. It was exciting once again.

A couple of weeks later my manager let me know they had set up a rotation for me to work with a team that did high temperature materials. The new role allowed me to leverage my strength background in new and challenging ways while also learning about materials and sharing my knowledge with a new team.

I ended up working on the high-temp materials team for two years and learned a ton. I also had a manager that pushed me outside my comfort zone and developed my career in ways I never thought possible. And it was all because I dared to ask a question rather than accepting what had been given to me.

So if you find yourself questioning something in your career and not finding the right answers or opportunities, ask for them. Because if you don’t the answer is always “no.” But imagine the possibilities if the answer might be “yes.”

"Imagine the possibilities if the answer might be 'yes.'"

 

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About the Author

Advocating for Yourself: Advice from a Female EngineerJamie Krakover is a manager for the legacy F/A-18 strength and design team in Boeing Global Services at the Boeing Company. She has a bachelor’s degree in Aerospace Engineering from Purdue University and a master’s degree also in Aerospace Engineering from Washington University in St. Louis. Passionate about inspiring young people to pursue STEM fields, Jamie mentors an all-girls FIRST Robotics team, has volunteered at the annual FIRST Robotics national championship, and is an active participant on the EngineerGirl website. In her spare time, Jamie leverages her engineering knowledge to write children’s science fiction and fantasy. She has two short stories published in the Brave New Girls anthologies that feature female characters who have a knack for STEM. Proceeds from Brave New Girls benefit the SWE scholarship fund.