BS electrical and computer engineering '02
Occupation: Applications engineer, NOVA Power Solutions Inc.
Residence: Buffalo, NY
Family: Married with two children
Community activities: President, Friends of UR; crew/sometimes ass't coach, UB Men's Crew
When and how did you choose your major?
Going into college, I knew I wanted to be an engineering major because I was strong in math and science in high school, and there were a lot of news articles at the time promoting engineers as having the highest starting pay of any (undergraduate) college majors. I thought I'd have more time to pick a field, but to graduate on time with an engineering degree at UR I had to pick a field before first semester sophomore year. I ended up picking electrical engineering because that's the field my faculty professor taught at the University.
What activities were you involved in as a student and what did you gain from them?
I saw a flyer on campus for the Crew team and joined late first semester freshmen year. I rowed all four years and I consider it the best choice I made while attending the U of R. It taught me about hard work, time management and I matured significantly through the physical and mental challenges the sport provided. The relationships I made on the Crew team, and now working with the Crew alumni organization, have benefited me more in business then my EE classmates – although I admittedly took Crew much more seriously than my studies. I don't believe I would have learned as much about myself if I'd just focused on my studies, and some of my closest friends today are my friends from the Crew team.
What did you do immediately after graduation? How did you decide to take that path?
I actually moved to Philadelphia and enrolled in a Rowing Development Camp to see if I had what it takes to row for the US National (Olympic) Team. I figured I'd never have another opportunity like this, and I'd always regret it if I never tried. After the summer program was over, I moved back home and spent four months looking for a job. During this job search I quickly learned the adage: it's now what you know, it's whom you know. I accepted a position with a small power supply manufacturer because it was the only immediate opportunity available in the area, doing a combination of business and technical work.
What do you do now and why did you choose this career?
I'm an applications/sales engineer with a small power supply manufacturer in the Metropolitan-DC suburbs in the Defense Industry, working remotely out of a home office in Upstate NY. I was kind of tracked into power supply manufacturing after my first position with a power supply manufacturer, and most businesses are looking for someone with experience who they don't have to train. I don't think I would have picked this product/industry again, but I didn't know what I wanted and it has provided opportunities to learn about business, which is more exciting than the technical work.
How do you balance your work and personal life?
They say on the East Coast we live-to-work, and on the West Coast they work-to-live. I try to prioritize work to make sure I'm able to live the comfortable life I want to live outside of work, without letting work run my private life – but for some professions, careers, and people, work is their life.
To keep work and personal life separate, I have rituals going into work, and leaving work, so that you don't let a bad day at work ruin dinner with the wife and kids, and not let personal issues trigger a bad day at work. This is harder to do with smart phones and other technologies that allow us to be connected all the time, but I also make it a point to keep a separate work cell and personal cell, so I'm not checking work email when I'm supposed to be enjoying personal time with the kids at the playground, etc. Everyone has a different method to accomplish the same thing, and not everyone shares this view, but I've always believed it's important to keep the work and personal life separate, as much as possible.
What advice do you have for current students?
I didn't really have an idea of what I wanted to do after graduation. I just assumed employers would be waiting for me and I wouldn't have to work that hard to find a job, but that wasn't the case. Because I didn't have a plan, I kind of fell into my current career path, and while it's worked out and I've been successful, I've been navigating my career as it happens, rather than planning and executing.
Although I learned a lot stumbling through the process and am proud of my success, it's taken longer to get here and was probably more expensive then if I had thought about what I wanted to do with my life while I was still in school.
Before you graduate, I recommend considering who you want to be within your field, what type of company you want to work for (small, big), in what industry (commercial, medical, military, etc.) so you can immediately begin looking for work in that field, rather than graduate and then stumble along figuring it all out. Realize what you choose may take you to different cities, and that you may have to go where the opportunities are.
I also recommend networking within your group of family and friends before graduation. If you know who you want to be within your field, what type of company you want to work for, in what industry, and where, before you graduate, your network will help get you interviews, which lead to job offers. Don't be too embarrassed to ask family and friends for career advice/help. They were in your position once, someone probably helped them out at some point in their career, and most people are glad to return the favor.
Also, keep in touch with your college friends. Your lives may take different paths in the 5-10 years post-graduation, but you'll never make friends like you did in college.