Fifteen years ago, Bryn Miyahara joined the team at Sandia National Laboratories as a summer intern. Today, she’s still at Sandia as a Research and Development Manager, leading a team of design engineers — the same department she was first hired into. But even though she’s worked for the same company since entering the workforce, Bryn says she’s experienced a greater-than-average amount of career growth.
“Over my time at Sandia, I’ve been lucky enough to work on a wide variety of projects — this is something Sandia is big on!” she explained. “Each project or role has helped me learn something new, grow as a leader and engineer, and build relationships with numerous people around the site.”
One of the leaders she was most able to learn from, Bryn recalls, taught her a lesson she carries with her to this day.
“I had one manager who was very big on emotional intelligence and empathy,” she said. “By demonstrating high emotional intelligence and empathy to his staff, he fostered a healthy work environment. I’ve found that focusing on this, even in our technical line of work, helps build high-performing teams.”
Recently, Bryn shared with us what it’s looked like to center empathy and humanity in her work as a tech leader, as well as the most memorable piece of career advice she’s ever received. (It’s an especially helpful adage for anyone who struggles with the thought of making mistakes at work!)
How long have you been with Sandia?
I’ve been with Sandia for 15 years.
What about it made you first want to join?
I met a Sandia recruiter and student intern at a University of Washington career fair. Both spoke about the cool projects, state-of-the-art facilities, skilled mentors and the fun of living in California for the summer. After interning that summer, I was excited to return full-time.
Tell me about the roles that you’ve held at your company, as well as your current one. What about this role most excites you?
I started as a summer intern. At the end of the summer, I was hired into a Sandia sponsored master’s program. Following that, I spent about five years as a mechanical design engineer, where I designed, built and tested components. After that I moved on to a systems role and focused on requirements development and system integration.
Currently, I’m managing a team of design engineers (the same department I was hired into originally!). What really excited me about this role is the ability to support other engineers. This could be clearing the path to make their jobs easier, talking through issues at work or providing my insight on a particular project. It’s been fun to come full circle!
What’s something you’re especially good at, at work?
I like to believe I’m pretty good at forming strong teams – identifying the right mix of backgrounds and expertise and helping the team have strong communication.
What’s the first (and/or last) thing you do at work every day?
I try and give myself 30 minutes at the beginning and end of the day to review my to-do list and check my calendar. I look for any meetings that I need to prep for or change and identify the priorities for the day. This is easier said than done, but it always helps things run more smoothly when I’m able to do this.
A lot of people believe that developing your career means changing companies, and not infrequently. What has enabled you to develop/advance your career without job hopping?
Sandia values career mobility. I see this flexibility as a quick way to learn new skills and then apply them to the next job. Over my time at Sandia, I’ve been lucky enough to work on a wide variety of projects (without job hopping) — this is something Sandia is big on!
Each project or role has helped me learn something new, grow as a leader and engineer, and build relationships with numerous people around the site. The knowledge gained and relationships built have been instrumental in helping me approach and solve problems. I’ve been able to build onto each new project or role, which has allowed me to advance while staying at Sandia.
Ultimately, what has led you to stay at your company?
The work and the people. I get to work with a diverse group of awesome engineers solving problems that impact our national security. This has been very rewarding.
What was the best quality of the best boss you’ve ever had?
I had one manager who was very big on emotional intelligence and empathy. By demonstrating high emotional intelligence and empathy to his staff, he fostered a healthy work environment. I’ve found that focusing on this, even in our technical line of work, helps build high-performing teams.
What’s the most memorable piece of career advice you’ve received?
On my very first test for my very first project, something major broke. I was defeated. My lead’s response, without missing a beat: “It broke? That’s great! This is how we are going to make the design better.”
I’ll always remember how those words made me feel; we didn’t focus on the failure. We focused on how to make things better. I have tried to pass along similar sentiments on every project I’ve worked on. Learn and keep going.
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