From Missiles to Pizzas – How I Got My JobFeatured

I am a systems engineer, aka systems analyst, aka data scientist, aka solution architect, aka technical product manager, aka manager, aka . Wouldn’t it be nice if job descriptions came neatly packaged in all of our college degrees? Someone should make that map.My first job was at Lockheed Martin where I worked on radar and missile systems. Defense contracting is an obvious choice for a newly minted systems engineer, so when I landed an internship through a connection I met playing pickup volleyball, I happily took the opportunity. I never imagined two summer internships would transition into 6 full years at the company.The nice part about massive companies (and amenable management) is the ability to move around between projects. I spent the majority of my time on radar simulation analysis, but slowly sought out research & development projects instead. Although the work was interesting, the funding came and went with government priorities and career advancement was slow. After 4 years, I started interviewing and even considered an MBA or another branch of Lockheed. I felt stuck. I craved a smaller company and a faster pace of work.Although I was ready for a change, life happened and my job search commenced in earnest in April 2016 (1.5 years after it started). My strategy? Spend an ungodly amount of time on Indeed and scouring the Internet for “systems engineering.” It was both painful and unsurprisingly, not successful. Most of the jobs were unrelated to my skill set (many were actually IT jobs). The ones I did find were all in defense. Boeing, Raytheon, you name it. Not exactly the change I desired.Later that year, Lockheed announced a voluntary layoff at my site. I signed the forms on the last possible day and promptly kicked my search into high gear. I had 2 months to find a job.Fast forward three years and now I lead the systems engineering team at Grubhub. So how did I go from missiles to pizza delivery?1. I Built My Story. How was I relevant outside of defense? I tapped into my network to figure it out. One thing I learned? People are unbelievably generous with their time. I researched companies on local job boards like Philly and cold-messaged a few. People responded! I unabashedly asked my LinkedIn connections for introductions to interesting companies. I spent hours on the phone for informational interviews with data scientists, designers, product managers and even a few directors to understand the startup job market in Philly - all from my car over lunch hour.Two Philly based VC partners responded to a friend’s social media post and offered to walk through my resume with me. One invited me to a startup event where most of the philly startup scene would be in attendance. My rocket science role confused everyone there, but I had my story locked down! It turns out, managing former marines and naval captains as stakeholders is quite the conversation starter.“Passionate Systems Analyst with 5+ years of stakeholder interaction, data visualization, and process development experience with emerging military technologies.”2. I Didn’t Settle.One well known meetup coordinator, after hearing my story, introduced me to Zoomer, a stealthy Philly startup in meal delivery. The COO there built a simulation tool and might be in need of a simulation analyst for logistics (perfect!).At that point I had received and declined two job offers: the first at a university defense research lab because the office was essentially a bunker and the second because the offer letter was misleading! Other positions fell short of my salary requirements.So, I left Lockheed July 26th, 2016 without a job offer in hand.Persistence was key! I followed up on every lead and my efforts paid off:I interviewed at Zoomer one week later.The team was amazing: curious, positive, friendly, and extremely motivated. It just felt right. Before leaving, I had a frank conversation with them. I had another offer on the table but if they were seriously interested, I would wait to see their process through.I could not believe when I got the job that evening ! I negotiated a slightly higher base salary, schedule flexibility (I coach volleyball in my spare time) and a delayed start date, which I used for extended travel.3. I Got After It.September was go time as I became Zoomer’s only Decision Analyst (add that to the title list). On day one, our COO walked me through the simulation tool and I realized that missiles and pizzas weren’t that different. Simulation is simulation and math is math. The framework is the same. Thanks engineering, you’re awesome :)For The First 90 Days, I focused on getting quick wins despite learning new tools (R and Python) and adjusting to a new culture. More than half of my time was spent working from home, but it didn’t feel isolated. Zoomer was highly distributed and someone was always on to answer my questions (good and bad). Three months in, I had informed our dispatch algorithm settings with our sim tool.Just when I felt a routine forming, I found out our simulation studies were supporting acquisition talks with Grubhub. Our COO asked me to fly back from a mini-vacation to meet them in person and we were acqui-hired that February. New job mode started all over again.Two and a half years later, I now manage 8 completely distributed employees in 3 different time zones that design and improve complex logistics systems using analysis, models, and simulation. Systems engineering now has a home at GH.So, my advice? Technical careers have infinite trajectories, draw yours.“Solving problems, one system interaction at a time.”Carolyn leads the Systems Engineering team at Grubhub. Her team designs and improves complex logistics systems using analysis, models, and simulation. They support Grubhub's business objectives from concept development through roll-out analysis, ensuring that emergent system performance meets their modeled expectations. Carolyn previously worked at Zoomer, a small meal-delivery start-up and at Lockheed Martin on ballistic missile defense simulations . She holds her Bachelor’s in systems engineering from the University of Pennsylvania and still works in the Philadelphia area.
A great reminder to take control of our future. Too often, people become demotivated in a stagnant working environment and don't seize the opportunity to make positive changes. It was great to read your experience and see a prime example of how persistence and hard work is rewarded with professional fulfilment.
Thank you for sharing your experience, Carolyn! We're excited to feature more public posts written by Elpha members.If you're down to share your story on how you got your job, lessons learned, and surprises along the way, submit a public post and we will feature it.