Today we’d like to introduce you to another side of STEM, through Mary Jo D’Angelis (MJ) – she’s VP of Technical Product Management with GE Corporate. MJ manages a team of 18 STEM professionals and has a background in education and working in STEM herself. And this is in addition to raising two children under the age of 5 while regularly travelling on business for GE!
Let’s learn more about MJ’s journey into STEM.
GE Girls: Hi MJ, thanks for taking the time to tell us about your STEM journey. Let’s start with how you decided to go into STEM?
MJ: My biggest mentor was my father. He was the one who pushed me into STEM, and I love it. I remember sitting down with my dad talking about college and we were going through what I wanted to major in. I love math and I love problem solving, I love trying to figure things out, I’m very analytical. So I remember sitting there and thinking, “Well, I could become a professor, or a math teacher.” I loved helping kids, I’d always wanted to be a nanny or a teacher as well, that was something I gravitated towards, but my dad was really hard on me. Not that he didn’t thinking teaching or supporting or being in that type of field wasn’t rewarding, he absolutely thought it was, but he really wanted to make sure that I was leveraging my potential to the most, to the highest level. We sat down and we started to look at what you could do with math, and that’s where we saw computer science. I was always the one in the family that people would go to, to try and figure something out, whether it was programming the remote control, fixing the computer, figuring out how to use a new toy, whatever it was, that always just came easily to me. I was really torn on whether I wanted to go down the math path or go down the computer science path, because the only computer type class that I had taken was keyboarding – how to type really fast. My dad said, “Why don’t you give a try? Let’s just go in there, put computer science as your major, and test it out. You like computers, and this is a good place to go and see where technology can take you”. I majored in computer science, and I minored in math and business studies.
GE Girls: What was it like for you starting out in computer science at the college level?
MJ: In all honesty I remember really clearly my first 6 months in computer science 101, I was breathing into a brown paper bag almost every single day thinking to myself, “what am I doing? Why am in this? I can’t figure it out to save my life!” I think we were learning C++ at the time, and I had never really dabbled in programming. I remember thinking this is so hard for me, everyone else in the class seems to grasp it, they probably took some classes in high school, they knew what to expect. And then I remember just one day sitting in class, and we were writing a line of code and trying to figure out what was wrong with it, and something inside of me just clicked and I figured it out. And I actually got it. It still doesn’t come as easy to me as it probably does to other folks, but I think that’s what I love about it, is that it forces me to challenge myself and challenge what I’m capable of. In high school and growing up a lot of things did come easy to me, and this doesn’t. I think that constant challenge just keeps my brain moving and a sense of pride comes with figuring something out that wasn’t as easy as I thought. I pride myself on pushing through and working for it – the fruits of my labor are extremely rewarding.
GE Girls: What kind of classes did you take in addition to regular schooling?
MJ: I gravitated towards internships during my junior and senior years of college that were in the technology field. I interned at Honeywell and helped them build an asset and inventory management catalog. Then I interned with the Providence Bruins AHL hockey team, which was really fun, helping them build their website. We got to volunteer at their games, work with the kids being honored at the games, greet the dignitaries who were there and show them to their seats, and meet some pretty famous hockey players in the meantime.
GE Girls: That does sound really cool!
MJ: Because they were related to the Boston Bruins I saw a lot of those players, anyone who was on the injured list would come and practice with the team or be in the games. I also got to ride the Zamboni a few times.
GE Girls: In general, what do you do day to day as your job in STEM?
MJ: There are multiple paths to take into STEM fields. You can go down a very technical path, you can do hands on development, where you’re really building the fundamentals of a video game, or a website or a core application that’s used by a company, that’s what I would call more of that technical engineering type path that you can go on very hands on. But there’s also a second path, where you love technology, you love changing the world, you love seeing what it can do, but you do it through information management, and people management. I chose the management side because I realize – I knew this even at a young age – that I love technology, but I also love helping people and I love surrounding myself with smart people. And that’s how I measure my success, by how successful my team is and how I’ve helped them.
On occasion I do really miss being hands on, but that’s the beauty of learning and the beauty of technology, there are so many resources available out there where I can still make sure I’m keeping up to speed on things like the new languages, the new technologies out there, and how I can apply it to GE. I can actively look and take courses.
I have some friends who went really deep into the technical path, and they love it. A few went into the gaming industry, and they work very closely with developers in building out video games. I also have friends who have gone into the government, and they do a lot around cyber security, which is another very fascinating path to go down, managing any cyber attacks on a daily basis, and things like that. I miss the hands on but I realize that where I really play a key role is in understanding technology and in mentoring and coaching, and helping to lead a team so we’re on the forefront of what we would call this technology revolution. Being part of a team that builds solutions, and seeing how we help our businesses, is extremely rewarding.
GE Girls: What would you go back in time and tell 14 year old you?
MJ: Don’t take yourself so seriously; don’t sweat the small stuff; relax, because you’ve got this; don’t stress. You’re smarter than you think, and there are no limits when you think about technology and where your career is going to take you. Don’t shy away from something that you feel could be very rewarding. Network as much as you can, every relationship is meaningful.