Mel Pratt’s life path has involved a lot of “firsts.”
After graduating college — the first in her family to do so — she packed up her car and drove 700 miles from the small towns she knew to start her first post-grad job in Austin, Texas, a city in which she had no connections. Today, as an Applications Engineering Manager at Mentor, a Siemens Business, she’s doing a line of work that diverges from the traditional path, too.
“The application engineering and engineering manager roles require not only technical skills, but also people skills and an ability to do sales,” Pratt said, adding that her days involve everything from relationship building with clients to resource management. “It’s a very unique career path for an engineer.”
Beyond the way her engineering work differs from the norm conceptually, Pratt also takes a less-than-typical approach to the way she manages her team.
“The majority of my team is remote and we don’t necessarily work in a traditional team environment,” she explained. “I’ve worked hard to try to find the right management style for each of the individuals, and to ensure that they have everything they need to be successful. I try to make certain that I know enough about what they’re doing to step in as needed while not micromanaging to get that information.”
Management may not have been a career turn she formerly expected for herself, she added. But it’s one that she’s found deeply gratifying.
“I absolutely love my job,” she said. “I have a fantastic team. I hadn’t always planned to become a manager, but I find it one of the most rewarding jobs I’ve ever held.”
Recently, Pratt shared with Fairygodboss what she’s learned from managing a remote team, her trick for expectation setting and how Mentor helps make it all possible.
How long have you been in your current role, and what were you doing previously?
I’ve been in my current role six years. Previously, I was an application engineer within the same group that I’m now managing.
What’s the first and/or last thing you do at work every day?
The first and last thing that I do every day is check my email.
What’s the most unique or interesting aspect of your job or company?
In my role, I not only manage people, but I also work with the sales teams to identify sales opportunities, do the resource management to ensure the identified projects and opportunities are adequately staffed, and prioritize resources across multiple opportunities across multiple clients. I also visit and interact with clients and maintain client relationships, as well. The application engineering and engineering manager roles require not only technical skills, but also people skills and an ability to do sales. It’s a very unique career path for an engineer.
What’s something you’re especially good at at work?
Advocating for my team by understanding how each person is motivated, how they like to be recognized, and what their career goals are. The majority of my team is remote and we don’t necessarily work in a traditional team environment. It’s very important to not only communicate and advocate, but also ensure that upper management is aware of the contributions and results of those individuals.
What about outside of work?
I’m an avid reader, reading over 100 books per year. I’ve also taken up loom knitting and make blankets and hats.
What are you trying to improve on?
I’m trying to improve my organizational skills. My desk is often cluttered and my inbox tends to have too many emails in it.
What’s the one career move you’ve made that you’re most proud of?
Accepting my first full-time, post-graduation job 700 miles away from the small towns I’d grown up and attended college in. I packed up my car and moved alone to Austin, Texas, where I knew no one.
What do you love most about your job or your company?
I absolutely love my job. I have a fantastic team, of which the majority is remote. I’ve worked hard to try to find the right management style for each of the individuals, and to ensure that they have everything they need to be successful. I try to make certain that I know enough about what they are doing to step in as needed while not micromanaging to get that information. I hadn’t always planned to become a manager, but I find it one of the most rewarding jobs I’ve ever held.
What are you currently reading/watching/listening to?
I’m currently watching Season 7 of “The Ranch” and just finished reading “The Island of Sea Women” by Lisa See.
What’s your No. 1 piece of advice for women who are looking for jobs right now?
Be realistic when choosing a job. It’s important to find something that enables you to do what you love, but you need to be able to make a career of it (if that’s your goal) and to support yourself well enough that you can bank some savings and not live paycheck to paycheck. Be sure to plan for the unexpected, because life happens.
Who is (or was) the most influential person in your life and why?
My dad. Neither of my parents has a college degree, and my dad worked very hard to provide for the four of us. We weren’t destitute, but we lived very frugally and within our means. I made more in my first year after graduation than my dad was making. It was always just understood that a college degree was expected. I was the first in our family to earn a college degree and my three brothers soon followed. He taught the four of us to always do our best, to choose a career path we not only enjoyed, but that would also enable us to live comfortably and provide for our families, and to always have as little debt as possible. And especially to “always have at least three months’ worth of money in savings.”
What’s the most memorable piece of career advice you’ve received?
Be aware of the expectations you set, and try to set them as realistically and transparently as possible. If you under-promise and over-deliver or vice versa, people will accept that to be the norm and not accept or expect anything different.
What was the best quality of the best boss you’ve ever had?
My managers have almost always been remote. The best managers for me are ones that find a way to know enough about what I’m doing to interject when needed and provide value while at the same time not micromanaging.
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