Image courtesy of Raytheon.
“Can you imagine — a mechanical engineer managing a complex software development program?”
This was just one step in the unusual career path for Michelle A. Styczynski, who has spent 18 years at Raytheon Technologies, creating her own rotation program and trying out different areas throughout the organization.
While Styczynski was hired in “as a mechanical engineer working on the design of one of our subsystems for our APG-63 / APG-82 fire control radars,” Styczynski notes, she moved to Program Operations and then, after about five years, took her “chance at becoming a program manager and got the opportunity to be a software development program manager.” “I was given the chance and the opportunity to work with some very smart and supportive people that showed me the ropes and ran with it,” Styczynski reflects.
“This first program management opportunity is where I realized that I found my niche and really wanted to continue to be program manager, but I also wanted to continue to broaden my skill set. So, in addition to managing a software development program, I transitioned to managing a group of production programs and had an opportunity to make my mark on the organization,” says Styczynski.
Since this moment, Styczynski has gotten the chance to work within the F-15 Radar product line, Airborne Reconnaissance Product line and Space area. “It has really been quite a journey,” she says, “but I am living proof that Raytheon Technologies gives opportunities for its employees to jump around to explore and learn other functions, disciplines and products.”
Styczynski has been in her current role as the Vice President, F-15 Radar Programs for almost two years. She recently took the time to sit down with Fairygodboss to share her career journey, how she made her career pivots and the best lessons she learned along the way.
Pivoting can feel very overwhelming, and believe me it took some time to convince myself that it was the right move! I just had my second child and wasn’t sure if I would be able to handle all the change, but I also thought that making this move would really test myself.
A mentor once told me that if you are comfortable, then you are probably not really learning; to really learn, you have to be uncomfortable. So, with a three-year-old and a newborn baby, I got really uncomfortable! I decided to try something different and put myself to the test, all while knowing I was going into an area with a good support system.
I am the Vice President of our F-15 Radar Portfolio. We provide radars internationally and domestically for the F-15C Eagle and F-15E Strike Eagle. Our priorities are to make sure that the aircrew have the software capabilities and hardware to defend their countries and bring themselves home after each and every mission.
What excites me about this role is that I am basically the CEO of my own business, and we do things that are very important to our country, which I have a lot of pride in. We follow all of our radar configurations through the overall product life cycle: development, production and sustainment. As a result, every day is different when it comes to tackling problems to get our important capabilities out to our customers.
On a personal level, my other role that I take seriously is “Mommy/Wife,” and I am the lucky mother to a two-year-old boy and a four-year-old girl. My priorities are to never miss out on the moments in their lives, even with a fast-paced career.
When I was in college, I knew very early on that I wanted to work in the defense industry. When it was time to job hunt, I got invited to a Raytheon Technologies College Day on the company campus. That event literally changed my life as I left that day with three offers to be a mechanical engineer. I remember a panel discussion that day where an employee said: “every day is different, and I have had the opportunity to do so many different things here at Raytheon Technologies.” That immediately attracted me to this business.
After almost 18 years with the company, I can definitely tell you that every day has been different, and I have had the opportunity to rotate through engineering, operations and eventually end up in Program Management. Opportunities have never been slim! In addition, Raytheon Technologies has such a flexible work schedule that even though I have a pretty demanding career, I can still be there to pick up and drop off my kids and for their important moments. This flexibility definitely helps with being a mom and an executive.
My first week at Raytheon Technologies was a little bit crazy! I graduated on December 13th and started on December 16th. And, at Raytheon Technologies, the end of December is the year-end shutdown, so there were a lot of people out on PTO. What made me comfortable was that the team I hired into were all at work and welcomed me with open arms. They got me started with training and showed me the ropes. I really look at those first years and the team I was with very fondly. As an early engineer who had no idea what she was doing, I was so supported and well looked after, no question was ever a dumb question.
Onboarding in a virtual working environment can be tough, especially when you’re working on complex designs and problems. It surely makes things more challenging to get your point across and to be effective. It really has made me and my team work on our effectiveness and our communication in order to be agile and adaptable as a team.
I was only four months into this new role when we went virtual and that really tested my ability, especially with my kids not going to daycare. I gave myself and my team a lot of grace in dealing with the new normal of working together to get messaging and direction across when there were so many external factors that were now in play (e.g., children at home, people who had to take care of elderly relatives, dogs barking, etc.).
The most memorable piece of career advice I’ve received is something that I’ve really just started to grasp recently — “You are not perfect, and we are not asking you to be.”
As women and especially women of color, we are taught that we have to be perfect so that we are good examples to our families and externally. We are taught unknowingly that we shouldn’t take a leap and go do something if we’re not certain that we won’t get it perfect. Men don’t think that way — they take on opportunities and rise to the occasion instead of being 100% ready. I think women need to start adopting that same mindset. Nobody is perfect. What we should be striving for is always growing and learning about ourselves and those around us.
Another memorable piece of career advice is, “Give yourself some grace”. As mothers and as women in leadership positions, we have such high expectations of ourselves and those around us, and sometimes we just need to give ourselves some grace that what we are doing is good enough.
What I would share with my peers is, if you are working in a virtual environment, please use your camera. There has been a lot of discussion about folks missing daily human interaction; however, on 100% of the zoom calls that I’ve been a part of, only a small percentage of people have their cameras on! These are tools that we are given to help us be successful and get visibility in this virtual situation, so please take advantage of it.
Also, this goes in the virtual or in-person environment, if there is somebody that you find interesting and that you want to have a mentoring relationship with, do not hesitate to reach out to that person directly and ask. There is nothing that you can lose by asking, but if you never ask, you’ll never know if that person could be a big force in your career moving forward!
I know you want to be 100% ready but, frankly, we will never be 100% ready, and if you are ready, then it’s probably not the right role to challenge you. Jump headfirst into the role, but make sure you have self-awareness about where your gaps are. Be honest with your leadership about those gaps, and do not be afraid to ask for help. With transparency and honesty, I don’t think you can go wrong in taking on a big career change.
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