Certain in Uncertainty

By Zach Fairman
Operations Manager at Intel; IIE Young Professional Chair, Western Region
B.S., industrial engineering/business and entrepreneurship, Oregon State University Honors College, 2010

The strength of industrial engineering is the skill set it provides.  Those skills lead to opportunities.

Upon graduation last year, I was unsure what I wanted to do right out of school.  While others were frantically scattering around trying to determine what their first job would be, I sat back and enjoyed the last few semesters of my undergrad collegiate career.  Around graduation when desperation mode set in for those that hadn’t landed something I accepted my diploma in pleasant tranquility.  For the first time in my life I didn’t have “the next thing.”  Be it school, a summer job, an internship, etc…I realized my entire life had been scripted.  Not now.  I could do whatever I wanted and it felt great.

So I embarked on an adventure I had played out in my mind countless times.  I always pictured a grand traveling experience upon graduation.  Although I admit now it had a purpose.  I traveled the country partly to determine whether I wanted to leave the great northwest to experience different scenery for a while.  My idea was that I would spend a couple years in another city.  What ensued was a 3 month trip that covered more states than I can remember.   I realized temporarily living somewhere else would be great, but it also reaffirmed my desire to end up in Oregon.  So if I were to move somewhere what happens in two years or so when I want to move back?  Most likely I would have to sever ties and start over.  Not my ideal scenario.  So, I determined I wouldn’t stray as far from home (Oregon) as I once thought, effectively limiting my job prospects exponentially. What now?

I spent the fall living the exciting life of a college student with none of the drawbacks as I passively looked at jobs.  I had faith.  My underlying dilemma was that I am very fastidious.  I was looking for the ideal opportunity.  Sure enough, I happened to stumble upon it one afternoon.  I ran into a man I had met while hosting an industrial engineering event a couple years prior.  We had the standard “what are you up to” conversation which led to me describing my interests in a job.  This random reunion is the reason I work for Intel today.  He talked about the Operations Management position and it aligned perfectly to not only my interests but my skill set.  It involves a mix of technical and interpersonal challenges, which is exactly what I was looking for.  I had always enjoyed the technical aspects of past internships, but I would become bored with the repetitiveness and lack of stimulation.  My role now includes not only having a firm grasp on the operations within the fab, but also managing people as the first-line supervisor.  People management adds that x-factor.

Industrial Engineering prepared me perfectly for my current position.  On my first day at Intel, an older Ops Manager new-hire asked me how I got this job with so little professional experience.  This gave me a great sense of pride in industrial engineering.  I could confidently answer that though I may not have the experience, I felt a degree in Industrial Engineering had prepared me perfectly.  The balance between technical concepts and business theory I received is exactly what I need to be successful.

So wherever you are and whatever you’re doing take pride in the fact that you have the most applicable and versatile background imaginable.  It’s refreshing to know that I’m equipped for any job; I can really let my passions guide me through my career.  I ran into an old high school classmate this summer at a wedding.  He went to MIT and now works at what he feels is a dead end job in Manhattan.  He talked about how he was envious and impressed that I had a much more fun college experience at a state university and still landed such a great job immediately out of school.  I’m impressed too; thanks industrial engineering.