My path to my major was a long, winding journey that started with a lot of unknowns. I started in the Gies College of Business, and it seemed like a lot of my friends knew exactly what they wanted to do. I was undecided. I explored through introductory courses, study abroad, and internships. Through those experiences I decided to pursue Information Systems because it is a good blend of the technical skills and business management. I like the way the two sides help each other out to create value.
Very early in my college experience, I sought out hands-on learning opportunities. Part of this came from my study abroad in Germany during my first semester of sophomore year. I took classes in entrepreneurship and innovation, and gained my first taste of case-based work. One example project was creating a startup pitch, including a business model, use case, and pitch delivered to 300 students across all class sections. Our project teams were so diverse, with students coming from countries like Argentina, Brazil, Japan, and Singapore. It was such an immersive group, with varying perspectives and experiences. Study abroad opened my mind for the rest of my time at Illinois.
Back on campus at Illinois, I became involved in organizations like the Association for Latino Professionals for America (ALPFA) and Illinois Business Consulting (IBC) that provided further hands-on experiences. These opportunities helped me know how I wanted to apply my Information Systems knowledge. We worked with teams from diverse backgrounds – both ethnic backgrounds and academic backgrounds. I learned that I thrived in the space between the business students and the engineering students. I was technical enough to understand what the engineers were saying, and I could translate it in ways for the business students to understand and apply. That’s my comfort zone. I am the glue between these groups.
I am now doing that exact type of work as a Technical Solutions Specialist at IBM. I landed this role because I actively started seeking experiences early. When I went to Germany as a sophomore, I observed that people were very ambitious, working for startups and interning. I wanted to get in on the fun. I made it my goal during the spring of my sophomore year to land a summer internship – and I did! I started with a marketing internship at Altria. It was 12 weeks of very immersive learning. They gave me my own small accounts, a good support system, and enough independence to learn a lot. As my interests turned to technology in my Junior year, I decided to try for an internship at IBM. I credit my previous summer internship for helping me make the transition. I understood the sales process and how to communicate with customers, as well as how to anchor this knowledge to industry experiences. The rest, I kind of want to say, is history. I interned with IBM the summer before senior year and then received (and accepted) an offer for a full-time position.
One of my favorite parts of working for IBM is the investment the company makes in its employees. They offer badges and certification, and have a “forty policy” which encourages employees to do at least 40 hours of continuous learning per year. I aim to never stop learning. The day you stop learning is the day you stop growing. I want to continue to expand personally and professionally. I don’t always know what will be next, but I know I’m taking great strides in a positive direction.
For me, when I think back on high school, college, and especially on quarantine while I was waiting to start work, I realize that I hadn’t imagined that I’d be here today. I just had to continue to push myself in a good direction. I had to remember to stay calm and play the cards I am dealt. And, I’ve realized that half the fun is the journey. Enjoy every moment of it – the good, the bad, and everything in between. Because once you get there, that’s it. You are off to find the next challenge to overtake.
So, be compassionate with others and yourself. Just focus on what you can control. And, there are a lot of things you have control over – your attitude, approach, ambition. All of those things can be worked on, even if it’s a tiny bit every day. Slowly you grow and become something more, and you are doing things you never imagined possible.
(Last Updated: February 18, 2021)