Gaining the Confidence to Take a Seat at the Table
To celebrate Women’s History Month, we recently sat down with Marta Asack, MSEM ’10, to discuss her experience in the On-Campus MS in Engineering Management program, her impressive career path, and what it’s like to be Sensata Technologies’ Director of Program Management and Global Business Operations.
Could you tell our readers about your career trajectory thus far?
When I was at Tufts Gordon Institute, I was working for GE as an individual contributor (Turbofan/Turbojet Performance Engineer). The MSEM program gave me confidence, but also gave me a really good foundation to start exploring what else is out there. That’s when I took my first step outside my comfort zone and went into program management. Program management was something I would never consider before, especially because I was always shy and I would have to talk to customers all the time.
When I went into this program management role, I enjoyed it and I was good at it. Through the MSEM program’s focus on personal leadership strategies and humanistic perspectives, I learned how to read people, how to influence them, and help them see my point. From there, I stayed with GE for another four years then went to Sensata Technologies. Changing companies felt like a fresh start and I could be anybody I wanted to be. I could be a confident person and know what I’m doing.
In the last five years, I’ve had five roles. In any role I’ve held, I’ve asked myself, ‘What new can I bring to this role?” so I use the foundations I got at TGI every day in my work from working with people and leading teams to finance and marketing. During my career, it’s been being in the right place at the right time, taking the right challenge, and not being afraid to fail. When somebody says, ‘Would you like to try this?’ I just say ‘yes’ even if I don’t know. Before TGI, I never would have done that.
I started from nothing and now I have a global team with people in China, Mexico, and the Netherlands. [As the Director of Program Management and Global Business Operations,] our goal is to double my business in the next five years.
What about the On-Campus MS in Engineering Management program originally caught your eye?
I was looking for leadership skills because I was an individual contributor four years into my career. I didn’t want to get a business degree and completely lose engineering, so I looked for something that blended engineering with leadership. I wanted to learn something different, to learn how to stand out. This may be cliché, but especially as a woman in a man’s world, for me, it was how I was going to differentiate myself. And that was, for me, basically connecting with people and finding a way to lead them.
As a woman in STEM, has your professional experience been shaped by gender?
It’s easy to be dismissed or just stand in the shadow. I continue to learn. I read a lot of books. I go to different talks and conferences to learn how to find my place. I don’t need to be the CEO, but I want to be comfortable in my own skin. If I’m comfortable in my own skin, then I don’t question myself.
Before I did [the MSEM program], I would have a good idea, but I wouldn’t say it because I thought maybe it was stupid or I didn’t know what I was talking about. Now, I’ll raise my hand and I’ll speak. Before, I’d sit in the back of the room during meetings even if there was an open seat at the table. Tufts gave me the confidence to take a seat at the table, and it’s really shaped me into the leader I want to be.
When I first started at Tufts, having to go in front of the classroom made me feel like I was going to die. I wouldn’t sleep for weeks, but I did it and it wasn’t that bad. The more you do it, the easier it gets. Leadership is something you have to keep practicing. Some people are born with confidence, but to be a good leader, you have to keep trying new things.
Why aren’t technical skills enough in the workplace?
I think one thing that’s missing just from having technical skills is interaction with people. How to interact with people. How to get them to do what you need them to do without having authority over them. Learning those skills is important. It’s how to look at a problem differently and break down difficult problems.
One thing that’s been helpful for me is learning from other people. I may have an A+ in math, but if I’m always surrounded by people who have that same A+ in math, we might be solving the problem the same way. TGI helps put you in a place with people with different experiences so you can see how they solve the same problem. It teaches you problem-solving skills that you can apply for the rest of your life.
If you want your ideas to stand out, even as a technical person, how do you do that? Getting leadership skills will teach you communication, presentation skills, marketing your ideas. I feel like, as an engineer, you’re stuck in showing a problem and how you solved it, but you’re not always looking at other ways that may break through.
How did you handle time management and getting it all done while you were at Tufts?
When I was a prospective student, I was like ‘Oh, it’s two years, can I do it? Can I find the time?’ But, two years go by very fast. I graduated 10 years ago, but I feel like it just happened. It’s definitely worth the investment and the time. It’s something I would do over and over again even though, at the time, I was so nervous about the commitment. When I did the program, I already had one child at home and wondered when would I find time to do homework. You learn how to manage your time really well. I can do a lot of things in the 40-hour workweek because I’m able to think that way. Not only are you committing that time to get your education, you’re also committing that time to learn how to manage time.
It’s just a matter of being creative. It’s just like how you have to break down a problem. You really become a master at that.
When you think of ROI from the MS in Engineering Management program, what does that mean to you?
Since I’ve graduated Tufts, I’ve tripled my salary in ten years. Return on investment has been huge, but the program is also a confidence builder. I’m not afraid to ask for more. I’m not afraid to go talk to our VP or the CEO. The CEO knows who I am. If I need more of a challenge or need something different, I’ll say, ‘Hey, what else is out there for me?’ I never would have done that before. I think that’s the biggest difference. I’ve grown as a leader because of the foundation I got here. For me, it’s been the best thing I did.