I sometimes look at my life and reflect on how I got here – in Minnesota, halfway across the globe in an R&D leadership role at the manufacturer of the world’s smartest electrochromic glass.
Growing up in the Netherlands, I had no idea that I wanted to be an engineer. How could I choose one career path with so many options in front of me? The only constant was that I wanted to make an impact on the world around me by working in sustainability.
A Sustainability Career Path
Because sustainability is a broad field, I continued to ask myself, “How can I make the most impact?”
I was always captivated by the ability to understand and predict nature using math and physics, and I realized I could turn my passion for these disciplines into a technical skillset I could apply to help solve important world problems.
Now, at SageGlass, I work with teams to develop a low-energy product that, with the press of a button, can dynamically change the amount of sunlight coming through the window. Talk about making an impact – from its start as a lab-scale demonstration a few decades ago to its widespread use today in buildings across 27 different countries, the smart glass technology in SageGlass has a direct impact on people’s everyday lives. Not only does it provide comfort and an ability to stay connected to the outside world at all times, but it also helps to lower the energy use of the building by up to 30 percent.
3 Tips for Finding Your Dream Career
Today, I feel lucky to have a sustainability career path that makes me excited to go to work every day. Here’s what I learned along the way:
- Break out of your comfort zone.
Everywhere you go during college, there is an opportunity to find your passion. While it’s easy to feel pressured to keep your head down and get through your coursework, it’s so important to go beyond your comfort zone and experience new things. I live by one powerful piece of advice that was once shared with me: your knees have to shake at least twice a week because of nerves – “I can’t do this”! This means you are expanding your skill-set and build out your trust that you will be able to adapt to whatever comes at you. Become your most fearless and authentic you!
As you advance in your educational career, the type of knowledge you attain evolves. At first, you learn what other people have done – fundamentals you can use to expand your knowledge so you can begin applying analytics. I felt that I needed to be more fearless – comfortable driving my own research, be more comfortable with not knowing what the next step might be – so I jumped into engineering full-force, working at internships and pursuing advanced degrees.
After earning my PhD, the fact that I’d done organizational work during school, like running committees, hosting panels and being involved outside of my coursework demonstrated to my employer that I had capabilities beyond the technical skills I had honed – like driving change, working with all kinds of people, and building bridges.
- Realize that success is best achieved by working together.
In school, we’re often conditioned to study hard and focus on our own work to reach a personal goal, like a degree. The time you invest in helping others might be limited because you’re focusing on fueling your own trajectory.
When I joined Saint-Gobain, which has employees in 67 countries, suddenly I was no longer working toward my goals in a silo. Instead, I had the support of more than 170,000 colleagues, each of whom welcomed me with open arms, shared resources to support my work, and were genuinely rooting for my success – because it was working toward the greater good of the company.
It takes all types of engineers to make SageGlass a reality. Industrial, chemical and electrical engineers, computer scientists, physicists, materials and building scientist work hand-in-hand to solve challenging manufacturing problems and design the next generation of products. I suggest finding a company with a great culture – one that has shared values and encourages a diverse and inclusive workplace and an entrepreneurial spirit across geographical lines.
- Take cues from your daily life to find your strengths.
My husband and I share a passion for sustainability – he is trained as a climate scientist. In a way, we are working toward the same goal – but he tackles environmental issues by working in a relatively small team to develop solar projects. For this, he loves building large complex models to predict the economics of the projects, and diving into the details of contract negotiations. While I am very proud of what he does, I would not be strong in this role, because I’d miss the human interaction and complex problem solving that comes with being part of a team in a research environment. This collaboration makes me tick.
Look at your daily life and find where your energy lies. Try to understand what makes you excited to get out of bed, and then see if there is a career that can tap into that passion.
Defining your career can seem like a daunting task, but what I recognize now is that the journey I took to get here is just as important as the destination.