Advancing Your Career in Tech: Lessons from Self Growth, Success and Experiences

Three MSEM alums, currently senior leaders at top companies in life sciences, pharmaceuticals and specialty chemicals, came together for a discussion on how they accelerated their careers.

Advancing the possibilities of life sciences, pharmaceuticals, specialty chemicals, and industries beyond, graduates of the MS in Engineering Management program have made life-changing technologies a reality. In a recent panel, three MSEM alums – who have accelerated their trajectories to lead top, global companies – shared insight into their journeys and advice on how to make an impact while furthering your career.

The webinar, “Advancing Your Career in Tech: A Panel Discussion with Industry Leaders,” was moderated by Sarah Stockwell, Manager of External Relations & Lecturer on Career Development at Tufts Gordon Institute, and featured:

  • Sean Hemingway, MSEM ‘01, Senior Vice President – Global Head of BioLife Plasma Services at Takeda
  • Carl Long, MSEM ’04, Global Quality Director at Cabot Corporation
  • Lisa Wyman, MSEM ’08, Senior Vice President of Technical Operations at Acceleron Pharma 

“Every aspect of everyday life is touched by technology, creating a demand for a new kind of leader, a technical leader who can see the world with fresh eyes,” said Kevin Oye, Executive Director of Tufts Gordon Institute and Director of the MS in Innovation and Management program. “Carl, Lisa and Sean are great examples of transformative leaders with heart.”

Defining Moments as a Leader

It was 2 a.m. on a Monday in 2008 when Carl’s phone rang. Moments after getting that call, Carl was driving to the plant he managed, responding to an accident that had taken place overnight. With little clarity at the time, Carl vividly remembers that day over a decade later. 

Rallying around his colleagues and those affected, Carl helped lead the team forward from the situation. While it has become a moment he’ll never forget, it showed him how leaders may not be able to prepare for specific situations, but they prepare to be prepared – embracing the unexpected.    

As Carl says, he “didn’t have any idea of how [his career journey] would unfold.” But more often than not, increased responsibility comes with time.

“When I had the opportunity to be a plant manager … that role was both complex and challenging because I still had a lot of growth to go through myself as a leader,” said Carl, whose work now focuses on quality and continuous improvement for specialty chemical company Cabot. “For anyone who’s ever run a plant or lead a facility like that, the buck stops with you. It all stops at your desk and there are so many different things going on.”

He added, “It’s also an important role because you get to shape the path. You have influence and ability to make things better and to make your mark. That’s also, I think, quite empowering.” 

When Sean was starting his career, there wasn’t a question about his work that he didn’t have the answer to. Early on, his strong technical foundation helped him land an international project with several hundred people under his responsibility and budget oversight of several hundred million dollars. 

But as his colleague told him, he needed to see beyond the technical. 

“In essence, what he told me is if you’re managing this job this way you’ve managed every other job, you’re never going to make it. You’ve got to get up on top of it instead of being in it. You know every detail about this job, you know everything that’s going on. And that’s not your job,” said Sean. 

Sean, who now runs Takeda’s plasma collection business, walked away from that conversation with a greater appreciation for peer feedback. 

Undoubtedly, real-world experiences are formative for leaders, enabling them to learn from the trials and tribulations they face. Lisa suggests that growing leaders can look inwards, too, to find transformative learning moments. 

An estimated 70 percent of people will experience imposter syndrome at least once, according to studies. Contending with imposter syndrome itself is no easy feat, but rarely does it exist in a silo. Compounded with a company acquisition, imposter syndrome can have wide-reaching effects – a reality Lisa experienced earlier in her career.

Reflecting on that time, Lisa said, “[For] people at my level in the organization, all of our jobs were at stake and we had to reapply for either our existing roles or a new role. I really had to dig deep, get out of the negative and highlight my accomplishments to date, but also think forward about what I could contribute to the new organization moving forward.”

“Once I battled that imposter syndrome, I was able to move out of an engineering role and step into a global, corporate quality compliance role,” Lisa continued.

Taking Control of Your Trajectory

For the three, their career journeys are reflections of lifelong learning. Despite every curve ball thrown at them, they’ve been in control of their career paths at each step of the way – tackling new challenges, taking on lateral assignments, and leveraging skills gained from the MSEM program. 

According to Sean, advancing your career might mean shifting your perspective to see the bigger picture. Moving up the ladder or taking the next step professionally is a by-product of the journey.

“One thing that I’ve done for quite a while, and I see a number of others have as well, is separating this idea of career advancement from career development. A lot of people will initially talk about, ‘Well, I want to get a promotion’ … and that’s important, but that’s an outcome,” said Sean. “They tend to focus more on the things that they can take action against and those two things sort of work in two separate pieces.”

No matter what job function they have, or how senior they are in the corporation, the career process centers around the individual. For Lisa, over the last 20 years, whether stepping in, stepping up, or moving across roles, a continuous theme has been believing in herself and pushing for more.

“Take risks, choose growth, and never lose your passion. Once you feel like you’re getting complacent or you don’t have that fire in your belly, it’s time to move on. And just don’t be afraid. That’s how I have navigated my career over the last 20 years,” said Lisa.

In response to an audience question on changing roles to an area that differs from their experience, the panelists noted that it’s about a combination of transferrable skills and aptitude. 

“You have to educate [the hiring manager] what you think you have to bring and what you think will make a difference in this particular job,” said Carl. “It’s not really just about qualifications.”

The panelists also offered several tactical measures young professionals can take to further their own career development – networking on LinkedIn, reaching out to mentors and seeking advice from colleagues. United by the experience of the MSEM program, the alumni journeys of growth are far from over. 

“There’s always something more to know and oftentimes, it’s about yourself,” said Sean, urging attendees to find their passions. “Move forward fearlessly. You know you’re going to make a mistake. Learn from it and keep going.”

Watch the full panel discussion: