Catapulting Your Career with Professional Development
We’re excited to share career insights from Cooke Scholar Alumni as part of our Cooke Conversations blog series. This post features career insights from Cooke Scholar Modupe Adepoju, who is a Senior PMO Manager at INTEGRITYOne Partners, a small consulting firm in Washington, DC. Modupe completed her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at Duke University, and her Master of Engineering (MEng) at The Johns Hopkins University. Modupe entered the Cooke Young Scholars Program in 8th grade, and went on become a Cooke College Scholar and a Cooke Graduate Scholar. In this post, she shares advice on maximizing professional development for recent graduates and people changing careers.
What are you up to these days?
I recently started a new job at INTEGRITYOne Partners, working on a government contract. I decided to leave behind the fast-paced commercial world of the Big Four accounting and professional services firms, in lieu of something a bit more stable. The Monday-Thursday travel schedule was starting to wear on me and I wanted to get some federal experience under my belt. I’m still working in the field of program management, but this new project also allows me to pull from my experience in process improvement.
How has being part of the Cooke Scholar community inspired or supported your career?
I’ve been with the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation since the 7th grade. Honestly, I can’t even imagine the trajectory my life would have taken if I hadn’t become a Cooke Young Scholar. It’s been such a domino effect, with each opportunity provided by the Foundation catapulting me into yet another opportunity. The connections I’ve made have been invaluable. I mean, here I am 16 years later, still in touch with some of the people I started this journey with. Seeing the amazing things other scholars were doing helped me to realize there were absolutely no limits on what I could do if I really wanted to, and I had a family at the Foundation to help encourage and support me along the way.
What can a person do to test the water before making a career change?
I made a pretty big jump from engineering into program management (PM). At the time, I didn’t have much experience in PM, but from the little bit of it I had encountered, I knew it was something I was very interested in. The first time I applied to jobs in program management, hoping to leave the world of manufacturing behind, I didn’t get much of a response. My background just didn’t match what companies were looking for in those roles, despite how competent I might have been.
To build up my skills, I started taking on extra responsibilities at work – things that weren’t technically part of my role, but allowed me to learn more about the work I was more interested in. I took every chance I had to sit down with those from the PM group at my company and ask about their day-to-day responsibilities. During my master’s program, I took courses in program management, despite my degree being in mechanical engineering. I also did quite a bit of self-study on the side. Jumping careers like I did, you risk moving into a completely new area and finding out it’s not what you had imagined. Test the waters first, in a safe space, and then follow your heart.
What do you find most challenging about your current position or industry?
Frankly, in many spaces, I don’t feel like program managers get the respect they deserve. The fact of the matter is, many professionals are acting as program managers, even though it isn’t their area of education or experience. Oftentimes, these positions are filled by professionals with the technical know-how for whatever project/program is being run. The thing is, program management is a skill. There are methods, systems, and processes in the work that we do. There are certifications and standards that we follow. Companies often feel that anyone can do the work we do – that it’s just managing a schedule and documentation. However, that’s one reason a majority of projects fail and almost all high-performing projects are led by a certified project manager.
Over the past few years, it seems more and more companies are starting to realize the importance of program management as it relates to their businesses, especially in IT. Hopefully this trend will continue and trickle down beyond senior management and beyond the IT space.
What advice would you give students looking for their first professional work experience after graduation?
Network. Make connections and tap into the network you already have. Also, your first job will not be your last, but it’s still a great time to jump right into your field of interest. This will be the time to learn as much as you can and establish your position as a professional in (insert field here). As a college graduate, people expect that you’ll have a lot to learn on-the-job. Take advantage of this.