Amanda Nemec is a 2001 alumna with a degree in mechanical engineering from NAU and an MBA from ASU. She has been with The Boeing Company for 21 years—she is currently the senior manager and chief engineer of AH-64 Apache Attack Helicopter International Programs and the AH-6 Little Bird. Her career has included airframe design, flight test, field support and Mission Assurance & System Safety. Outside of work, Nemec loves exploring the outdoors of Arizona (including frequent visits to her ‘home’ of Flagstaff) with her husband and two dogs. She can be found on LinkedIn or on a hiking trail, in her double kayak or in a hammock with her nose in a novel.
Happy International Women in Engineering Day!
When my alma mater contacted me recently to ask if I would be interested in writing something to celebrate International Women in Engineering Day, I was honored. I’m always honored when someone hears “engineer” and their mind goes to me. I’m so incredibly proud of the work I do and the aircraft I work on, so yes please, give me the opportunity to talk about all that! But what to focus on …
Suggested topics from NAU: “talk about the education that got you there, your job now, advice for other women, etc.” Well sure, it would be easy to talk about how NAU gave me the best education with smaller class sizes, stellar professors and plenty of hands-on opportunity (which, surprisingly, isn’t the norm at other universities, from what I’ve found). I could also talk about how my 21 years with The Boeing Co. have been more than I could have hoped for from a career, and I’m grateful every day.
But the last suggestion about advice for other women struck me as most important. When I graduated from NAU in 2001, only 10 percent of all engineers were women. Now it’s improved—to 14 percent. Still not great, but we are getting better. I have to be honest though, I still often find myself the only woman in the room. But more and more other women are joining me in the room, so for this post I decided to ask them for their advice as well. After all, my favorite piece of advice is to surround yourself with good people and ask for help. So I did! Here are some pieces of advice these women in engineering sent me to share with you.
Bloom where you are planted.
You are going to end up in jobs and situations in your career that aren’t fun, and sometimes they’re miserable. But here’s the thing: You are the only person in your life with the power to choose happiness and to choose to make the best of the situation you are in. I often credit where I am in my career to one spectacularly bad boss. From him I learned what kind of boss I didn’t want to be some day, and I also discovered that where he failed, I could pick up the slack and gain the respect of people around me.
Don’t be afraid to speak up and ask questions.
In the spirit of this day, this one is especially important for women in engineering, as we’re often greatly outnumbered. Many people don’t speak up and ask for clarification when they need it because they are afraid it makes them look bad. On the contrary, I find myself respecting people more who ask questions because it means they’re paying attention, they want to learn, and they aren’t so overly proud of themselves that they wouldn’t admit they need a little help. When I shared this one with one of my mentees, she suggested that people also not be afraid to speak up when you have a good idea, even if you’re the younger/newer person in the room.
When you’re speaking with someone, give them 100 percent of your attention and focus.
Yes, 100 percent! Not only will you get more out of every interaction you have, but people notice when you are mindful about listening when they speak. It’s really easy to get lost in your own thoughts or to be looking for the next place to interject your opinion, but if you make a conscious effort to be patient and really focus on what someone is saying to you, you both benefit.
Everyone’s career path is different—think about what you love to do and choose your path wisely.
I talk a lot with my mentees about the pitfalls of “careerism” and being careful not to make the mistake of focusing on the next fancy new job title. Sure, that’s important (and let’s face it, the money is important too!), but it’s definitely not everything. A few years ago, I was offered a significant promotion that came with a fancy title and money. I stressed for a week about taking it. I’m lucky I have a husband who is patient when I need to talk through a problem. When I broke it down with him, I realized I wouldn’t actually like the job, so why in the world would I take it? Fast forward six months, and my dream job presented itself. I encourage everyone to keep a running five-year career plan, but start that exercise by asking yourself what makes you feel rewarded, what makes coming to work fun?
Get a support system in place. (This one came from another NAU alumna and engineering leader!)
Generally, companies are getting better at recognizing the importance of work/life balance, but it’s completely up to you to ensure that balance is in place. Having a solid support system outside work is essential. I’m lucky that I found a partner who lifts me up and celebrates my successes, but also calls me out when I’m devoting too much time/effort/stress to work. Another coworker suggested, “Be intentional about spending time with your loved ones.” I couldn’t agree more. Work to live, not live to work, my friends!
To all my fellow women in engineering, thank you for all that you do and all that you are. And if you need to expand your support system, you know where to find me!