Suzie has always been curious about the way things work. It’s this curiosity, she says, that makes her job at Apple such a good fit. As the manager of the Acoustics Hardware Prototyping team, her role requires brainstorming new initiatives, embracing “crazy ideas” and leveraging her team to help create the new product features that excite Apple consumers.
Suzie’s decision to accept a role at Apple was a no-brainer, but the path that brought her there was a little less straightforward. From dropping out of a prestigious university to purchasing a one-way ticket to the United States, Suzie’s career journey is proof that not all paths are as linear as expected.
Though she has a demanding job, Suzie also manages to prioritize her family. She admits it can be challenging to balance these roles, but she has some juggling hacks that help her make it all work. Recently, she shared those strategies with Fairygodboss and filled us in on her no. 1 piece of advice for job seekers.
How long have you been in your current role, and what were you doing previously?
I’ve been leading my team in the Acoustics organization for the past three years. Prior to that, I spent four years as an individual contributor and prototyping engineer with the team of acoustics engineers responsible for designing the custom speakers for Apple products.
What’s the first thing you do at work every day?
When I get in, my first priority is coffee. With that, my brain can officially concentrate, so I review my calendar and prep for the day’s meetings and conversations.
What’s the most unique or interesting aspect of your job or company?
It’s not uncommon for me to be in a meeting with people from cutting-edge research institutions and expert material scientists excitedly refining their novel product concept — then on the same day, talk to some of the world’s most talented manufacturing and environmental engineers to figure out together the best way for us to build it. If you enjoy learning from inspiring world experts, this is the place to be.
What’s something you’re especially good at in your role?
Most of my work involves developing ideas, so I’ve become pretty good at creating the groundwork for new initiatives — from building engineering prototypes, to accurately demonstrating innovative hardware concepts and organizing teams of people who can drive change.
To do this well and give the ideas a solid foundation for development, I often need to dive deep into unfamiliar technical areas and quickly acquire expertise in new skills and engineering disciplines. This role is a good fit for someone like me, who from a young age has always questioned the way things work.
What about outside of work?
My teenage daughter just said, “Well, you’re a good mum” — I’ll take that! Balancing parenthood with my career has always been challenging. I’ve learnt that the balancing point tends to shift unpredictably over time. With practice and with support from my husband, a stay-at-home dad, I’ve become better at recognizing these shifts and self-correcting to make sure I focus my energy in the right place at the right time. What I’m aiming for is to be able to be fully present in any situation — at work I focus on work, at home, it’s family.
Our girls are both very independent and ambitious. I like to think that being a working mum is setting a good example for them and their future.
What are you trying to improve on?
Public speaking is something I’m continually working to improve. I had a debilitating stuttering speech disorder in my early twenties (I hardly spoke to anyone for a couple of years), which drove my anxiety levels for that sort of thing through the roof. I’ve come a long way since then, but it’s still a work in progress. Defining a personal exposure ladder, then gradually and consistently climbing upward, has been key.
What’s your favorite mistake?
I was good at Physics and German in school, so when the time came to pick a university degree program, I opted for… Physics with German. I didn’t do much research into the hundreds of programs available, as I should have. I was completely unprepared for the intensely theoretical Physics classes that were taught at the prestigious university I enrolled into (which I’ll admit, I applied to primarily because the city had a great music scene).
It didn’t end well — I dropped out after 18 months of struggling to keep up and felt like an absolute failure. But, I stayed in the city, supported myself with a couple of part-time jobs and thought more seriously about my further education path. I found my true calling at a nearby university offering a Bachelor’s degree program in Audio Technology — a blend of Sound Engineering, Audio Signal Processing, Acoustics, Maths and Physics. I graduated from that program with First-Class Honours. So, although my first university experience felt like a big mistake at the time, it was an even bigger stepping stone toward my current enterprise.
What’s the one career move you’ve made that you’re most proud of?
Accepting an offer from Apple before I’d ever visited the U.S. I was happy in my job in the U.K., but an opportunity to move to California to join an engineering team in the biggest tech company in the world was impossible to ignore.
The enormity of that decision didn’t hit me until a couple of months later, on a plane as it was taxiing toward the runway. I was sitting next to my husband and two young daughters with a couple of suitcases of belongings and four one-way tickets to San Francisco — that was a surreal moment!
What was the best quality of the best boss you’ve ever had?
The best bosses I’ve had have taken time to really understand their individual team members. Everybody’s different. People have their own motivations and unique needs to be able to do their best work, and great bosses understand this.
What do you love most about your job or your company?
I love that we are all trusted — and expected — to do the right thing for our particular areas of focus at Apple. Oftentimes the right thing stems from a single crazy idea or some seemingly insurmountable cross-functional effort. Either way, we stay focused and work together, and our teams make the impossible happen.
What’s your #1 piece of advice for women who are looking for jobs right now?
I would recommend building and leveraging your professional network. This is much easier than it used to be, with social networks like Fairygodboss and LinkedIn. Your network should include folks from different sources — present and past colleagues, fellow students from training courses, people you meet at professional networking events and so on.
Stay in touch with people you connect with and don’t be afraid to reach out to ask for advice or for personal introductions from their extended networks to get you to your next step.
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