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Explore. Improve. Repeat: The Life of an Industrial Engineer

April 29, 2015

About Me 

Christina Kach is an Associate Consultant at Liberty Mutual Insurance in downtown Boston. In this role, she helps implement and coach for process improvement within the different lines of business at LMI. Prior to this job, Christina worked at Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems, starting out in an Operations Talent Development rotational program and then as a Continuous Improvement Leader. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial Engineering from Northeastern University and is currently at NU part-time pursuing a Master’s in Engineering Management. Outside of her work responsibilities, Christina is a member of the Institute for Industrial Engineers, is the president of Liberty Mutual Young Professional Network and enjoys blogging about life as a young professional. 

Life as an Industrial Engineer

Most 4th graders don’t map out optimal routes around Walt Disney World for a family vacation. I suppose as a future Industrial Engineer, I wasn’t an ordinary nine year old. Growing up with the mind of an IE you may think you are going a bit crazy! How does no one realize this process could be improved? This queue line could be moving faster? You don’t put ‘make to-do list’ on your to-do list? Then you get to college and find there is a perfect major for you entirely focused on process improvement. What you may not realize until later, and what I’ve learned on my IE journey, is that the tools and skills sets of an IE can be so versatile.

The journey started in 2004, months before I stepped foot into my first engineering classroom. A tour of the contemporary urban campus, located right in the heart of a bustling and exciting city, immediately got me hooked on attending Northeastern University. The strong engineering curriculum and the unique co-op program had me quickly accepting my offer letter to be part of the class of 2009. Through the guidance of professors and researching classes and jobs, I went into sophomore year declared as an Industrial Engineering major and have not for one moment looked back or second guessed that decision. The list of interesting and engaging classes commenced and led me right through to graduation; simulation, supply chain, human factors, engineering economy, lean and six sigma, and facilities planning. Each topic was applicable to any work environment with a process. From manufacturing to health care to supply chain and small businesses. Where would I end up?

Thankfully for the co-op program, I landed a great first assignment with General Electric Aviation in Lynn, MA. There I fell in love with the concepts of lean and continuous improvement as applicable in the world of manufacturing. Even outside of work and the classroom, I continued to educate myself on those topics. After GE was Gillette (of Proctor and Gamble) in South Boston, culminating in a 3rd co-op at Raytheon, again in manufacturing. Upon graduation, I landed a spot in Raytheon’s Operations Talent Development Program, getting to apply my fresh classroom learning in operations, engineering, and supply chain within the Integrated Air Defense Center in Andover, MA. I worked in a variety of different areas, in different roles, with different teams and products. I earned my Lean Bronze Certification through the Society of Manufacturing Engineers. It was a great feeling being able to apply my college learning in a real world hands-on environment.

After five years, it was time to think about what was next in my career journey. While I wasn’t quite sure where I saw myself when I “grew up” I knew it was important to continue developing my skills. An opportunity arose to take my education and shop floor experiences and turn that knowledge into a unique new position at Liberty Mutual’ s Strategic Services group. The team was for Continuous Improvement, working to instill a continuous improvement culture and structure throughout the company, at all levels.  In this role, I travel the country (and sometimes abroad!) to different offices to help roll out process improvement programs. My career was able to take its next step by being in a consulting and coaching role. Not to mention, applying IE principles to a field that typically isn’t populated by many engineers.

As for my Master’s degree, I never thought I’d go back to school after undergrad. However, over time, I missed learning; the challenge of being presented with new material and making sense of it all. I realized that I am, at heart, a student. Not just of engineering, but the world. I love to travel and learn about new places, try new restaurants, cook new recipes, and sign up for new activities. Early in my career, a mentor told me not to go back to school until I knew what I wanted to study. For a long time I thought I’d do an MBA (still might) but when I thought about my career and where my passion was, it truly lay in IE. Knowing that I wanted to develop a bit of a business mind, a strategic thinking skill, I decided to go for Engineering Management; combining my desire to learn new skills backed by my passion for engineering.

What’s Next?

As for what’s next, that is still a bit unknown. I’ve been enjoying the life as a consultant and can imagine continuing to pursue that. For my love of learning, a PhD is also possible; ultimately looking to become a professor and continue to share my experiences and knowledge to develop the next set of Industrial Engineers. What I do know is that the best things in my life have been the ones that occurred when I kept an open mind, accepted opportunities, took initiative, continued to learn, and got outside my comfort zone. Wherever my path may take me, that attitude combined with my knowledge and skill sets will take me far. I look forward to continuing my journey for many years to come.