Look for gaps to fill
Fulfilling your potential is all about seeking opportunity, and opportunity can come from unlikely places. For Vanessa Adams, a senior manager at Pratt & Whitney, a Raytheon Technologies business, it came from a warehouse full of aircraft engine parts in Oklahoma City.
The warehouse was where the site’s maintenance and overhaul crews stored what’s known as “nonconforming hardware,” or parts that had been pulled from service because they no longer met strict standards and requirements. Over the years, the stockpile had grown, and the business was looking for someone to tap into its value – to develop a process to account for what was there, see which parts could re-enter service and determine what it would take to get them back up to specifications.
Adams, a senior engineer at the time, had never done anything like it. She took the role anyway.
“One of my mentors told me, if you want to make it in tech, you fill in the gaps,” she said. “There’s value add in doing that because, for one, you get to set your own platform, and there are a ton of opportunities for learning.”
Get all kinds of experience
Michael Wallace is a systems engineer with a background in electrical engineering. He’s also a U.S. Air Force veteran, a former chapter president of the International Council on Systems Engineering, a former adjunct math and engineering instructor, a real estate broker and a father of five.
That variety of experience paid off back in 2018, when Wallace found himself in need of a new job; his wife received an offer that required the family to move, and Wallace’s company at the time had no openings in the region. So, he drew on his range of skills and his networking abilities to find his current position as an associate director of systems engineering at Raytheon Intelligence & Space, a Raytheon Technologies business.
“You never put all your eggs in one basket,” Wallace said. “People knew me from different companies. I’ve lectured, presented at different conferences and worked with a plethora of systems engineers in the aerospace industry. By doing that, it gives you options if you have to move around. I put myself in a position where I had other opportunities, where, if something happened, I could make a change. Diversifying your skills is paramount for a successful career.”
Dunwell used to go pretty hard on himself if something he was working on didn’t turn out right. Over the years, that sense of disappointment has given way to something better: the realization that, through it all, he was learning.
“I used to tell myself failure is not an option. Now I’ve realized success is the only option,” he said. “That allows me the grace to fail and learn as I move forward – as long as I don’t quit.”
Get a mentor and be a mentor
Many companies have internal programs designed to identify and train potential leaders. Adams, for example, completed a program known as IPP, or Identify, Prepare and Propel, sponsored by Pratt & Whitney’s Engineering African American Advisory Council. It helped her develop a network and gave her confidence in speaking with senior leaders.
“The mentorship and leadership programs really do help shape your employees,” Adams said. “They help retain your employees, and they give people a platform to speak about the work they do.”