find a career you love: tips from kaitlin
Starting your career can be really intimidating! So. Many. Decisions.
Get to know Kaitlin and hear her tips on finding a career you’ll love.
First and foremost, even if you don’t feel like it or don’t know, trust yourself.
You are going to be able to do more than you know you’re capable of. You just have not yet been put into some of those situations.
So if it’s looking scary, easier said than done, but just jump, go start something. And it might be wrong, it might be completely the wrong thing, but the wonderful thing about doing something, even if it’s wrong is maybe it’s perfect.
Read the full interview
Christie: 00:00 So tell us your name, tell us who you are – let’s start from there.
Kaitlin: 00:05 Alright. My name is Kaitlin and I work as a human factors and usability engineer for Stryker medical device company. I am currently at their orthopedics division here in New Jersey. I got this opportunity, they have reached out to me and asked if I wanted to come on board in their quality engineering department, specifically with a focus in human factors and usability engineering, which is something I absolutely love. And actually that’s how I ended up in the medical device worlds. I was not originally in medical devices. In fact, I have my degrees in civil and environmental engineering, so building bridges and infrastructure. I never saw myself in health care, not because I didn’t like it, but it just wasn’t the path that I started on.
Kaitlin: 00:56 It was actually kind of funny how I stumbled into medical devices. It was super unconventional and discovered usability and human factors. Cause something that I’m really fortunate to do is that one of my passions is connecting with people. So even though I’m a little bit introverted, it’s really important. I love technology and I love people and I’m not super technical but I’m also not super outgoing. So that happy medium gray area is where I thrive.
Christie: 01:23 I’m sure a lot of people that have a strength in one or the other really struggle to do the other half of that equation. So it’s a nice skill set to be able to go pretty deep on both sides.
Kaitlin: 01:33 Yes. So I love it when those two interact and ended up doing some research on empathy in the context of engineering and graduate school and that’s where I learned about design thinking and human centered design. I fell in love with that, didn’t want to go work for a civil engineering firm, ended up in the startup world and Phoenix, which was phenomenal. It was a crash course in learning about myself and all sorts of new things very quickly and rapidly. That’s how I started in healthcare.
Christie: 02:06 That’s a fun jump start to a career. It’s interesting. And you’re happy?. You enjoy what you’re doing at work?
Kaitlin: 02:14 Very much so. Yes.
Christie: 02:16 Good, good. So tell us a little bit more about you. Like what are your off hours filled with? What types of things do you enjoy in your rest of your life?
Kaitlin: 02:25 So especially right now since I just moved across the country, I’m learning more about myself. I’ve been living alone as me and my fiance make the transition, he’s still out of Phoenix. And so that’s given me, I mean I’m sad, I miss him a lot, but it’s given me a really cool opportunity to get to know me and learn a little bit more and do stuff that I like.
Kaitlin: 02:50 So right now a lot of my evenings are still filled with new activities. I’ve been taking a lot of time to make sure I’m taking care of my health. So I’ve been doing a lot yoga. I started rock climbing recently and that’s been crazy cause I’m not good at it, but it’s fun.
Christie: 03:09 You know, it’s funny when I used to teach dance, people would always be like, Oh, I would never try dance. I’m terrible at it. And I’m like, Hey, do you think that people just start good? At what point do we not allow ourselves the opportunity to be terrible at something for a while and keep trying until we actually get good. So kudos to you. That’s cool.
Kaitlin: 03:30 Exactly. So definitely like taking care of my health, doing the active stuff. But I’ve also on the weekends I’ve been taking some coffee classes. I’m learning how to do more Homebrew techniques. I love coffee. I drink it every day and I figured why not learn a thing or two on how to prepare it because the different brew methodologies change these flavor entirely, which is really cool. I’m learning more about the history of coffee. There’s so many variables and like me being as nerdy as I am, like tweaking the water temperature or adjusting the time or the size of the grinds and all of this is like very relaxing and very cool. I’ve been doing some of that as well.
Christie: 04:19 A big part of why I am having these conversations is that I think that finding happiness in life is not an arrival and it’s not black or white. To me it’s when we can create pockets of life where we have a new sense of peace and balance and that’s what I like to consider happiness. I think that that’s something that we need to recognize and something that we can really celebrate and then try and reverse engineer for our own learning as well as other people. So tell me is there an area in your life that you feel like you have created that sense of balance or peace or happiness in?
Kaitlin: 05:00 Absolutely. One of the areas that I feel very competent in right now, especially given my recent move is my career. I have done things a little bit untraditionally and that’s worked out really well for me. So I feel very empowered that each step that I’ve taken has been very consciously. I’ve put myself into it in some capacity and I’ve been able to be successful in that. Not doing it the way that I thought. I originally thought I was going to go to school, get my degree, go work, get my PE, become a civil engineer and do that, which is totally fine. I have a lot of friends who are amazing, but that wasn’t my, that wasn’t my path.
Christie: 05:51 So let’s rewind a few years. Place yourself back into your shoes a few years ago when you were earlier on in this journey. What kind of steps do you think you took right to give yourself the opportunity to be so happy with your choices now?
Kaitlin: 06:06 One of the main things is that I’m very, I guess stubborn. I want to say persistent. Maybe that’s the correct word, but I think stubborn is a little bit more like it. So I went into engineering because I wanted to impact the world in a really positive way. And then of course you get into your sophomore or junior year and everything gets really difficult. And I thought about quitting. I can’t tell you how many times I actually looked up like the direct comparison of my credits, how many would transfer to other degrees. Cause I was like, how many credits can I get for doing? But I stuck it out.
Kaitlin: 06:44 I had a lot of help, I didn’t do it alone. I had a lot of support from my family and friends. They were just kinda like, you can do this. It’s totally fine. And I was like, shoot, I don’t want to, I don’t want to throw in the towel. So I think the persistence to just finish that part of what I started was really important for my success. But also I’ve always been a little open to new ideas and allowing myself to see other opportunities. So I’m focused but I’m not so dead set on accomplishing things and I don’t exactly, so been able to identify new opportunities that are a little bit different then what I originally would see for myself. But go, you know, it looks like fun or this I could learn totally new set of skills. Let’s give it a try. And that’s actually paid off really well for me.
Christie: 07:34 And so it was while were you in school that you first started dabbling in startups?
Kaitlin: 07:41 I was probably in my junior, senior year of my undergraduate when I started, but I got into it more in graduate school. I had a bunch of colleagues and my professor and advisor at the time was very supportive of that kind of environment. And honestly, it was the perfect timing because I also had just come out of my shell, so to speak. I had been quite and introvert in all of this and then I went through a pretty powerful, personal transformation. I took a improv class at ASU as well, and I competed in pageants for a year. And that surprisingly, it was one of the best things I could have done for myself. I’ve never thought of myself as a pageant girl, I would never have characterized myself as that. And before I competed, I didn’t even own a curling iron. That was so out of my league. But one of my friends like tricked me into going to a meeting.
Kaitlin: 08:58 She was like, we should go get coffee. And I was like, absolutely. I love coffee. We walked in and there were tons of people there and I was like, Oh, I wonder what’s going on. She’s like, Oh, we’re at a meeting for a pageant coming up. And I was like, wait, you’re taking me where?
Christie: 09:15 How did that fit in as a part of your journey? What did you learn from that?
Kaitlin: 09:22 That was really a powerful year for me. I gained a lot of confidence in myself because one of the things that I had realized late in my undergraduate career and early in my, graduate career was that I really wanted to impact the world in a positive way. I wanted to connect with people and I wasn’t confident enough in myself to do that. And I wanted to make sure that I had the ability to communicate with people and be able to be persuasive, even if it was just in a way that I could get to know somebody or to get out of my shell more or whatever. Anything I could do so I could actually build my dream of wanting to leave a positive impact in the world. That was the entire reason I went into engineering.
Christie: 10:08 Girl, that was wise of you to consciously realize that.
Kaitlin: 10:13 So when the opportunity randomly presented itself at a Starbucks one day, I accepted it. It was one of those things where I saw an opportunity. I was like, this is kinda weird. I dunno. Why not.
Christie: 10:32 Famous last words, I like it.
Kaitlin: 10:38 To my surprise, I ended up winning a title that year as Miss Phoenix 2015 and my platform, it’s through the miss America organization. So the miss America organization has a service platform attached to it. I did STEM based work, so science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Kaitlin: 11:05 If you would’ve asked me before I competed what I thought of pageants, I would’ve said all the stereotypical things that are sexist. The women don’t know what they’re talking about, et cetera. I couldn’t, I was so wrong because these women are some of the hardest working, most motivated women that I’ve ever met and a good majority of them are in my bridal party, now my best friends.
Christie: 11:31 I love it when you can find a pocket of something going on where women are supporting women. It’s really worth a lot. So back to the career then. You made it through school and got involved in startups and, and played around with that for a little while, did a bunch of good solid work there and then decided to take the risk to move across the country. That could have turned out really good. It could have turned out really bad. I’m sure it’s still bag of mixed emotions, but you seem to be pretty happy with your choices. Tell us a little bit about that too.
Kaitlin: 12:17 I love the startup environment, so I should give tribute to that because it gave me my wings so to speak. It’s where I learned about the career path that I wanted to do. That’s where I discovered usability was an actual thing I could do. So not only could I take this thing that I studied in college and my personal passions, but I could actually apply it in a career setting, which was really awesome. And I love the flexibility of wearing multiple hats and being involved in a lot of things and having and learning and having to know a lot.
Kaitlin: 12:54 I was really scared when I first accepted the job with a striker, cause it’s a big company.They have facilities all over the country, very different. So I was actually a little nervous cause I was like, Ooh, I’ve always stayed away from that, I guess subconsciously. But I’m really happy to take this leap right now. I’m really enjoying my job. I really appreciate the culture that they’ve created there because even though it is a big company culture, they have a very small company feel from site to site. The sites aren’t too big. Your teams are really interconnected and it’s really what you make it. So that’s been really good. I think the big pull for me to do this is that, it was a great opportunity too.
Kaitlin: 13:47 It was something new. I’m learning all about orthopedics. I never knew about that before. So I’m having, of course similar to the startups, put myself in a new environment, learn a lot of new stuff. But I also had the opportunity to move to a different state, which is something I’ve always wanted to do. I love Arizona so much. I won’t be mad if I ended up back there someday, but I’ve always wanted to try something different and prove to myself that no matter where I end up, I am capable of thriving in different environments and adapting to my new settings. So that’s been a ton of fun. Weird, but really good.
Christie: 14:31 One of the components in my perspective of confidence and self esteem is being able to actually prove to yourself that you could do something or being able to validate that you did it right. I like to use the example of when someone’s learning to dance. Like I was saying before, it’s one thing to get right. I can watch a video on how to dance and I may not feel like I know how to dance yet. I can have some experience. Like I can actually try the moves in the video, do them repeatedly for a while, start feeling like I’m moving, like I’m kind of getting it right. But it’s not until I like see myself in the mirror and realize that I am actually doing the moves and I don’t look like an idiot that I kind of seals the deal in my head. Okay, I got this right. And that’s when that kind of foundational level of confidence is felt. I think what you said is interesting because proving to yourself that you could do this and you did it and now you get to look back and be like, yeah, I got this.
Kaitlin: 15:32 And that builds kind of a new step inside of ourselves in my opinion, that helps us kind of feel like we have a new platform to take the next step off of, you know, so.
Christie: 15:41 Absolutely. All right. So then last question. Tell me about like, you know, I mean, you’re still pretty young. I’m always impressed with you with all that you’ve kind of done and created for yourself. Imagine you are in the shoes of someone that is in their final year or two at school and you know, looking ahead at that daunting landscape of where am I going to go, what am I gonna do? How am I going to create something? How am I going to find my home? What will be the next or the launch of my career? So what would be a couple of tips that you would have for someone?
Kaitlin: 16:19 First and foremost, even if you don’t feel like it or don’t know, trust yourself because you are going to be able to do more than you know you’re capable of. You just have not yet been put into some of those situations. So if it’s looking scary, easier said than done, but just jump, go start something. And it might be wrong, it might be completely the wrong thing, but the wonderful thing about doing something, even if it’s wrong is maybe it’s perfect. If you go into something, you choose something and you’re like, Oh, I don’t know, I made a mistake. Did you actually? Because you learned so much from that experience. You also know what you don’t want now. You probably learned a lot about yourself and what you do want. So trust yourself, make a decision. Don’t, don’t wait around and think, Oh, I have to find the right decision. There’s no such thing as the right decision, the right choice is whatever choice you make in that moment, because that’s going to lead you down the path that you’re supposed to be on.
Christie: 17:32 Thank you so much for hanging out with me. I really appreciate it. I really appreciate you sharing your story too. I think it’s a good one. Thank you.
COFFEE NUT + ENGINEER
What do coffee beans, design engineering and pagents have in common? Kaitlin. When it comes to designing a career to love, Kaitlin did it right.
In her own words:
I have a passion for empathy driven design – especially when applied to products and processes that improve people’s lives. As a human factors and design assurance engineer in the medical devices industry, I am fortunate to work in a space that prioritizes people’s health and strives to make a positive impact on their lives.