Non-traditional paths after Olin - by Joe Kendall '09
Pedal Brain was a start, but it wasn't enough to keep me busy so I kept looking for other work. Through Olin's President's Council, I met Sung Park and managed to get an unpaid internship with his company. That internship led to a contract job as an innovation consultant for a boutique product marketing firm. The firm had won a product innovation contract and Sung and I were pulled in to help generate new product ideas for an international client in Asian markets.
Thanks to my experience with ethnographic research in Olin's design courses, I was sent to Asia for three weeks to research the target cultures. Presenting and defending that research to Senior Vice Presidents of a multi-billion dollar company gave me enough confidence to stop applying and interviewing for other jobs. Shortly after the project ended, I made up my mind to start my own company.
In the spring I started looking for partners and told everyone my plans so I would be held accountable. Then I discovered a place where I could create new products alongside a wide variety of people during what I had decided would be my last interview before starting my own company. After that interview, my plans changed yet again and I moved out to New Mexico where I am now the Product Line Manager for Regen, Noribachi's solar-powered consumer electronics startup.
Each one of my plans taught me something new. Applying for a Fulbright scholarship, even though I didn't receive one, forced me to succinctly define my goals and plan a path for getting there. Working an internship post-graduation gave me the chance to explore a potential career without committing myself to that role. Looking for work in the design industry taught me enough about the design industry that I realized I didn't want to be a part of it. Working with Pedal Brain and Sung showed me it was possible to find my own work and that I didn't need a big company or an office to have a job. Being on my own forced me to develop negotiation and self-motivation skills because otherwise it was impossible to find a paying job. Every experience was a step towards being able to design and create products in same way I had while in school.
As much as it may sound productive, all of this work was very hard. With each attempt I made at finding a career path, I was turned down or time ran out. With each interview I left without a job, I felt more and more pressure to stop being so picky and simply take anything I could get my hands on. I learned how long a day can be when you don't go to class or an office every day. The flames that fizzle out are the worst of the difficulties. Nothing was more frustrating than a great interview where they say they'll definitely follow up or be in touch and then never respond. One Olin parent told me it's a roller coaster when you are under or self-employed, and there is no better way to describe it. You're as high as a kite after one interview, then barely keeping together after another.
Overall, it really was fortunate that typical jobs were in short supply when I graduated. It's been a difficult path, one I didn't expect to be taking when I entered Olin, but it's been rewarding. Through not giving up and following my passions, I developed materials testing procedures, built cycling computers for Lance Armstrong, did ethnographic research in East Asia, and slept a lot in between those times.
I know my experience is not unique among Olin graduates, especially among those in my class. Many of us have found ways to follow our own passions outside of traditional desk jobs and graduate schools. It's not easy and there will definitely be difficult times and changes of plans. But in my experience, if you keep at it, you'll come out happier in the end.