Why I Changed Careers

As far back as I can remember, I’ve always had a strong interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). When I was a child, I recall wanting to be a neurosurgeon. When you have Ghanaian parents, you career choices are mostly medical doctor, lawyer, or engineer (in that order). My father was hell bent on my becoming a physician. I’m sure all that had something to do with my choice. By the time I reached 7th or 8th grade, I recall changing my career choice to mechanical engineering. That decision was driven by the time I spent in my father’s robotics classes every summer at the college where he worked.

When I enrolled as a freshman at Tennessee State University in Fall 1999, I had finally settled on electrical and computer engineering as my major of choice. Throughout my time as an engineering student (undergraduate and graduate), I had gained five internship opportunities in the engineering industry. All of that set me up for a career in the corporate world. In the seven years I spent working as an engineer, I gained a wealth of experience in different industries and at different companies (see images below for systems I worked on):

  • Software Engineer, IBM — Austin, TX (microprocessor development)
  • Systems Engineer, Raytheon — DC Metro Area and San Diego, CA (military drones)
  • Technology Consultant, Booz Allen Hamilton — DC Metro Area (military intelligence)
  • Lead Systems Engineer, CACI Technologies — DC Metro Area ((military intelligence)

Approximately one year into my engineering career I realized that I would eventually move on to do something else. While I had enjoyed working in the corporate world up to that point, I always felt that my calling was to be an educator. With my parents both being college professors, I identified the academic path as a viable second career option. After three years of figuring out how to make the transition work, I finally began my career shift by enrolling in a business PhD program. After leaving the corporate world to tackle the first year of my PhD program, I later returned and worked full-time while also being in school full-time.

People ask me all the time about my switch from corporate engineer to college business professor. On the outside, it may seem like a random move, but business has always been at the forefront of my mind. During all my engineering internships, I was way more interested in learning about corporate/product strategy, competitive dynamics and industry phenomena. In addition, since my childhood, I spent a great deal of time in my family’s various entrepreneurial efforts. Learning about business has always been a passion of mine.

Despite my engineering background, business was what consistently captured my attention. I initially thought about getting an MBA and then a PhD in engineering, but after a conversation with my fraternity brother, Dr. Jeffrey Robinson, I learned about The PhD Project and the rest is history! At this point, my career transition is almost complete. I’ve spent a few years as a business professor at Tennessee State University and I can see the light at the end of the tunnel in my doctoral program at Morgan State University.

My engineering career shaped me tremendously, and I still rely on training and experience I received as I make contributions in academic, business and community environments. I’m thankful that I started with engineering because it gave me a great foundation and a mindset grounded in critical thinking and problem solving. The main thing that helped me make the transition was never giving up on my dream of getting closer to my calling. Although the transition was one of the hardest things I’ve ever endured, I truly believe that all of the struggles to get to this point have been worth it. While I never became a medical doctor, I know that my parents are proud (plus my brother is a doctor and my sister is a lawyer).

Yesterday, my newsletter was about understanding when to persevere versus quit. If you’re considering a career transition, don’t give up on your dream. Figure out exactly what’s required to make the shift, then get the process started. Folks may question your decision along the way. That’s totally normal. I had many folks wonder why I would give up an engineering career to become a teacher. Now I just say I’m a retired engineer and being a professor is my retirement job. LOL. Ultimately, I believe we all have a calling and it is our duty to discover it and find a way to live it. Go for it! Make the transition! You got this!

“I believe there’s a calling for all of us. I know that every human being has value and purpose. The real work of our lives is to become aware. And awakened. To answer the call.” ― Oprah Winfrey

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