“Life is about the journey, not the destination.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Reported by: Annam Malik

My Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) journey has not been typical by any means. Unlike many of my technical friends, I was not in my elementary school’s math club and I did not take robotics workshops in high school. I did not go to college and graduate with an engineering or information technology (IT) degree and I did not go through the struggles of a newly graduated student hunting for jobs. 

I have loved computers and video games since I was young. I was an inquisitive child who always tried to understand how the computer worked or what made the television project its images. I always thought I would go into an IT-related field, but life has a funny way of readjusting plans. Situations arose and by the end of it all, I was forced to make some tough decisions that steered me away from pursuing a full-time degree. I needed to get a job and found myself securing an opportunity in hospitality. 

I like to think that this is where my STEM journey truly began. The company I worked for used an older DOS-based reservations system and because of my proficiency in using it, management sought to promote me. After a time, I decided it was time for a change and started exploring other opportunities. A friend that worked as a Quality Control Engineer at a company called SpinSys informed me that a position was open in the front office and suggested that I apply. I wanted to work for a tech company and SpinSys was looking for someone with a hospitality background. 

During my interview with the Chief Operating Officer (COO), he stressed the need to build strong relationships with the employees to ensure the best working environment possible. I stressed upward mobility to include mentorship. Hospitality taught me to listen, communicate, improvise, and respond promptly to guests and clients. At SpinSys I was able to bond with employees by using the same techniques. To keep up with their work and personal interest conversations, I started researching and learning about their roles and responsibilities within the SpinSys organization. I walked around the office with a notebook in hand, jotting down whatever I could. My co-workers gave me a plethora of knowledge and advice. I became more confident as I engaged in technical classes and training. Later, I started asking fellow employees to teach me things. I sought to support and learn as much as possible from every job role and department. 

In order to work on a SpinSys project, I needed to get a security clearance. While I was waiting for it to come through, I read, learned, and practiced my newfound skills. Around the time my clearance got approved, one of our military employees was deployed. I was given the opportunity to stand in her role as a help desk agent and Quality Analyst (QA)/Business Analyst (BA) on a SpinSys project team. In order to be a better QA/BA, I set out to get my Certified Tester Foundation Level (CTFL) certification from the International Software Testing Qualifications Board (ISTQB). 

I saw that a few employees were asked to attend an Amazon Web Services (AWS) conference and I asked to join in to take advantage of the opportunity to learn more about cloud migration. Attending this conference afforded me the ability to see the real-life application of state-of-the-art technology. I eventually went on to achieve my AWS Practitioner certificate. 

During this time I was introduced to compliance and process. My mentor at SpinSys suggested I join the SpinSys Engineering Process Group (SEPG). Previously, I assisted but now received the opportunity to really learn and understand it. I grew to love it. It was soon evident that SpinSys needed a dedicated team – Performance Analysis for Continuous Excellence (PACE). I was chosen to partake in this new team because of my thirst for learning and proven ability to achieve certifications.

Each day on the PACE team brings new learning and growth. This past year my team has showered me with advice and mentorship which has allowed me to grow exponentially. Now that I have stability in my professional and personal life, I am able to restart university and move forward in completing my Information Technology (IT) Management degree. 

My STEM journey has not been typical thus far, but no one’s journey has to be. Do what you can, when you can, how you can – and just keep learning and growing to meet your goals.