Tami Newcombe ’88 on Engineering a Fulfilling Career in Tech

January 11, 2016

When Tami Newcombe ’88 was earning a dual major in biomedical and electrical engineering at Syracuse University, she was also captain of the volleyball team. Today, she captains sales at Cisco, a major multi-national technology company.

Newcombe returned to Syracuse University this fall as the “Engineering Meets Business Lecture” speaker in the College of Engineering and Computer Science to share her experiences with our students. In doing so, she painted a picture of her path from an undergraduate athlete to a vice president, and provided advice that can be applied to a multitude of fulfilling career choices.

Before her presentation, we interviewed Newcombe about what it takes to begin a career in the years right after graduation, and her thoughts on the current state of careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

Q. Beyond having a deep understanding of engineering or computer science, what skills are important for STEM graduates to possess or develop?

A. It’s important that engineers are well rounded. Everything in life ends up being about communication and people. Students should have interests and commitments outside of their classwork. Mine was playing volleyball in the Big East. It can give you another whole set of skills. As captain, I had a responsibility to look out for people on the team.

Also, an engineering education is a testament to having a strong ability to learn. Technology moves so quickly that you need to keep up with it. This has always been true, but the pace of change is accelerating.

Q. What advice do you have for students that don’t consider their communication and people skills to be as strong as their science and mathematics skills?

A. These skills need to be developed just like any other. Take public speaking for example. The first thing to realize is that there are very few people that it comes naturally to. It’s just practice. Your first presentation is probably going to be bad, and that’s O.K. Just try to get a little bit better every single time. You’re not born with it. Most people stand in front of a room and they are pretty nervous. That’s a pretty common feeling. Whether you’re in college or whether you are 15 years into your career, it can still be intimidating. Put yourself out there and try again and again.

Q. Syracuse University recently hosted a program about STEM education and the scarcity of STEM graduates in the U.S. at large. As someone in industry, what can be done to encourage more young people to choose these fields?

A. The scarcity of engineers is a huge problem. There isn’t just one thing to address it. Kids are growing up in a world where things like reality TV are popular. You have to expose kids to how cool it can be to be a part of the STEM programs that are available. Cisco is extremely involved in getting into the high schools and getting more young people, especially girls, involved in science and math. Some of the robotics programs in high schools that start in third and fourth grade are a great example of teaching kids STEM. There’s such a breadth of amazing things that engineers can do, I just don’t think kids are exposed to enough of it.

Q. What should our young alumni know about their first years in the workforce?

A. Early in people’s careers they tend to get pretty amped up on the money they can make and there’s been study after study done that the things that motivate people aren’t money. Like Daniel Pink says, it’s autonomy, mastery of your craft, and having a purpose. When you are recruited, it’s important to understand if it’s really going to be the right fit for you. You can make a lot of money and not have a very satisfying career.

Go into a job and do a good job. Be vocal about the parts of the job you like and the parts you don’t. Other opportunities will come up. Don’t get too wound up about your first job. Just go. You’ll find out what you like and what you don’t like.

You have to write your own highlights reel. You’re not going to do what I did or what your friends do. What’s your story going to be?