Life after Delft: Airbus in Alabama

Joyce Tan, a 1986 industrial design engineering graduate, was born in Indonesia but moved to the Netherlands with her family when she was thirteen years old. Today she lives in Mobile, Alabama, where she works as a project and technical leader for Airbus North America.

“My life after Delft was definitely initially affected by my father passing away just a few months before I was set to graduate. Because I was needed to help my mother with her business, after graduating from TU Delft I spent two years running my family’s import-export business. But I always knew I wanted to go back in the marketplace to do what I had studied for. My graduation project was about finding other industrial applications for a new composite material that was developed for aircraft cabin interiors.
“I didn’t really set a certain direction, because industrial design graduates have so many possibilities. My dream was to work abroad in an international, multi-cultural environment.

When I was finally able to leave the family business, I had to actively search hard for a job. It was a difficult time finding a job in those years. All companies wanted young but experienced people, so there weren’t many chances for recent graduates to find jobs. When I saw the job position from Fokker Aircraft for a cabin design engineer, it was a perfect fit for me. I was fortunate to get the job, and I’d also say my graduation project helped me get my first job at Fokker, where I subsequently worked for nearly seven years.
“After Fokker went bankrupt, I struggled, as an industrial designer, to find good positions in other branches outside the aviation industry. At interviews they’d tell me that my work experience as an aircraft cabin design engineer was ‘too specific’, so they could only hire me as a junior design engineer.

“In contrast to this, soon after Fokker’s bankruptcy, an American head-hunter agency hired by Boeing came to the Netherlands to interview ex-Fokker engineers. Many received offers, including myself, but ultimately I decided to work for a Dutch company founded by ex-Fokker managers, and they sent me to work for de Havilland, an aircraft manufacture, in Toronto. This was followed by working at Fairchild Dornier, near Munich, where I worked for about five years before joining Airbus in Hamburg, Germany.”
“Today I work for Airbus North America in Mobile, Alabama. The company is linked to Airbus in Hamburg, where I’d worked for the previous six years. Airbus designs and manufactures commercial aircraft.

“In my current position, I’m developing a new galley system for the aviation industry, called ‘Spice’ (SPace Innovative Catering Equipment), which started as a research and technology project but is now in the transition phase to enter industrialization. I was the Project Leader for the past two years in Hamburg, and since moving to the US I’ve become the Technical Lead for Spice Product Development.

“I’m also responsible for the project management of other new cabin product development projects. My work is a mix of project management and leading a design engineering team. With Spice, I’m also involved in defining the strategy for how best to enter the market with a new system that will change today’s worldwide standard.

“My daily duties involve lots of emailing, telephoning, meetings as well as preparing internal presentations and reports and reviewing technical documents. In short, all that’s necessary to push the projects forward.
“My job’s very dynamic, which I like. I’m always in contact with people, with new product designs, and challenged within the project goals. I don’t like the bureaucracy that comes with large companies, though, the slow decision-making processes and too much paperwork. In that respect I miss the agility of a small company.”

“Looking back I’d say that my TU Delft experience definitely helped me professionally. My degree opened the door for me to get my first job at Fokker, where many TU Delft graduates held management positions. Because they already knew the quality of Delft’s education, you didn’t need to prove yourself: your TU Delft diploma ‘spoke’ for you.

“One important lesson I learned at TU Delft was that you’re responsible for your own destiny: nobody tells you off for not going to class; it’s all up to you. You must learn to manage yourself from the very start. I found that quite hard back then, but now I’m grateful for this approach, because living abroad and working in a large organization means you must take the initiative.
“Although I didn’t really take any special steps while still studying at TU Delft to land a job after graduation, during my career at Airbus I’ve seen many interns who, after their internships ended, were able to relatively easily get jobs within the company. It’s such an effective system. Interns get to know the company from the inside. They get to know if it’s the right company for them, and vice versa for the company.

“As for my future outlook, I’ll spend the next three years at Airbus North America. Long-term, as I enjoy living in the US, I’m considering settling here. I also want to finish my MBA degree – if not to further my career, then simply for my own satisfaction and growth.
“My motivation in pursuing an MBA was to learn the academic background of business management. While doing management work with my technical background, I wanted to understand management perspectives from a different angle. It’s fascinating how different the outcome of an approach or management style can be when driven from a technical academic or business academic background. A healthy combination of both is best.

“As a design engineer working in the male-dominated aviation sector, surprisingly, I’ve never experienced extra difficulties being a woman. One big difference though for a woman is that you’re more noticeable than men. This can work extra positively or negatively, depending on if you deliver a good job. When I first started taking a leading position in projects, then yes, I felt I had to deliver extra good results to convince my environment and win their trust in my abilities. Perhaps that’s also partly why I want an MBA qualification. It’s much more ‘crowded’ at management level; you must fight to earn your place, just like any man.
“I’m happy with my life after Delft. But I consider that only a small part of my success has come from my effort: the rest is just a blessing. Ora et Labora. Pray and work.”

 Om die koffer draait het. Daarin zit haar bestuurskleding. Maar de koffer zit op slot. Om de cijfercode van het slot te kraken, moet zij nummers achterhalen. En een van die nummers staat op een bootje dat een eind verderop in het water ligt. Met haar geroep probeert Anne passanten te bewegen voor haar te gaan kijken wat het nummer is.

Eindelijk – het is inmiddels kwart over acht – heeft Anne beet. Een tamelijk jonge man is bereid naar het bootje te kijken, maar kan tot afgrijzen van Anne geen nummer ontdekken. Of hij dan even bij 3mE binnen wil gaan kijken, probeert Anne. Hij doet ‘t. Zo haalt ze het eerste cijfer binnen.

“Ons doel is haar in elk geval tot kwart voor negen te laten zitten, zodat mensen die naar college komen haar zien”, meldt een van haar vriendinnen. “En dan halen we haar er misschien wel weer vanaf.” Het wordt voor allemaal een beproeving, want een kwartier ervoor geselt een regenbui het Mekelpark.

Editor Redactie

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