How to Perfect the Balance Between Corporate Stability And Startup Energy

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Katrina Sloma

Photo courtesy of Katrina Sloma

June 12, 2024 at 2:49PM UTC

Nowadays, switching jobs every two to three years is hardly uncommon. According to a 2018 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average amount of time that millennial workers stay at a job is 2.8 years, and in certain industries, high turnover is only becoming more of a norm.

Katrina Sloma might sound like she fits within this pattern, at least at first. Today a 3D Operations Section Manager at HP, she says she’s “moved positions every two to three years” throughout her career. What makes Sloma’s situation exceptional, then? For the past 26 years, these changes in positions have all occurred at the same company.

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In her nearly three decades at HP, where she’s worked within both the engineering and management spaces, Sloma has had ample opportunity to evolve professionally. One of her positions even took her to Italy, where she worked as a senior engineer for two years, and her current role as a manager within HP’s new 3D printing vertical was created especially for her.

“One of the things I love about HP is that I can continue to learn, grow, and find interesting and challenging roles without having to change companies,” she said. “I never expected to work for one company this long, but every time I have been ready for something new, there have been opportunities.”

Recently, Sloma shared with Fairygodboss just what it’s like to build a strong and varied career at a single company, plus her No. 1 piece of advice to women who’d love to be able to say the same.

 How long have you been in your current role, and what were you doing previously?

I've been in this role since August 2018. Previously, I was leading a team of R&D engineers exploring the use of HP's microfluidics technology for new markets and applications. I’ve had numerous engineering and management roles in manufacturing and R&D over the course of my 26 years at HP. 

What’s the most unique or interesting aspect of your job?

The most interesting aspect of my job is working in a new business for HP, 3D printing, which is growing and dynamic. My role as the Operations Manager in Corvallis is a completely new job that was created to evolve with the growth of our organization. I like having the opportunity to define the future and how we can contribute to make this new business successful. The “startup” nature of HP’s 3D printing organization is a great fit for me. 

 What’s something you think most people (perhaps even current employees) don’t know about your company that you think they should?

I don’t think many people know how much engineering capability HP has, or how much HP invests in the development of technology which goes into making our products. Most people think of HP as an electronics hardware company, but we do an amazing amount of development in fundamental materials and chemistry, which we then integrate into complex systems. Few companies have the capability to do what HP can do: turning ideas into reality, then manufacturing at large scale with high quality and reliability. This investment and the capabilities within HP Labs has enabled the development of HP’s wildly successful 2D and now 3D printing businesses. With our 3D printing technology, HP has a vision of changing how manufacturing is done in the future, and we can do it. 

 What’s something you’re especially good at at work?

I am good at what I think of as “bringing order to chaos.” I like to come into areas with ambiguity – we know we need to reach a goal, but aren’t sure how – where I can influence the objectives, develop a strategy and then lead a team to execute on a plan to achieve the end goal. I’ve done this multiple times in my career, both as an engineer and a manager, and it’s now something I seek out in new roles.   

What about outside of work?

I am creative and great at helping others access their creativity, as well. I’m a long-time photographer, and a few years ago I fell in love with creating artwork using an iPhone camera and apps. I teach workshops and wrote a book on the process of using iPhone photographs and apps to create art. 

  What’s your favorite mistake?

I’ve moved positions every two to three years throughout my career, and there have been some roles or aspects of responsibilities I did not end up enjoying. I couldn’t wait to get out of them, but in hindsight, the roles I considered “mistakes” at the time were invaluable. In some cases, they helped me clarify what I really wanted to do next, and in other cases I developed skills or experience that helped me land and succeed in future roles. 

 What’s the one career move you’ve made that you’re most proud of?

Ten years ago, I stepped out of the management track to take an international assignment as an individual contributor. Leaving management wasn’t my career plan at the time, but this was an amazing, once-in-a-career opportunity to live and work in Italy for two years as the senior engineer at a supplier site. Living and working in another culture stretched me in ways that a similar job in my home culture never could. I came back to the U.S. with a broader worldview and the confidence I can handle whatever situation is thrown at me. 

 What do you love most about your company?

One of the things I love about HP is that I can continue to learn, grow, and find interesting and challenging roles without having to change companies. I never expected to work for one company this long, but every time I have been ready for something new there have been opportunities. I’ve had multiple engineering and management jobs and have worked on multiple HP sites and in multiple HP businesses, in addition to an international assignment. And through it all I’ve had great managers and coworkers and worked in a great culture. 

 What are you currently reading/watching/listening to?

Reading is how I decompress. I just finished “Calypso” by David Sedaris and “Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine” by Gail Honeyman. I’m a big podcast listener as well; my favorites are “Reply All,” “99% Invisible” and “This American Life.”

 What’s your #1 piece of advice for women who are looking for jobs right now?

Look for the company culture you want to work for, in addition to the job. What seems like a great job can be miserable if the culture is not a good fit for you. Research companies and talk to current or former employees to learn more – especially other women. In interviews, ask questions that will help you understand the culture and management style. It’s important to remember to think of an interview in two ways—you are interviewing the company as much as they are interviewing you. 

  What’s the most memorable piece of career advice you’ve received?

Early in my career, I was unhappy with my job and was complaining to a coworker. “You can do something about that,” he said, reminding me that I wasn’t trapped in that role or working for that company. I had the power to change it. I may not have taken action that day, but have come to realize it’s one of the most important pieces of advice I received. We all own our career. It is what we make it, and so we have to do the work to define our own motivations and goals, be open when opportunities arise, ask for what we want, and make changes when needed. No one else can do it for us.  

What was the best quality of the best boss you’ve ever had?

 I love it when I’m given a big, business-critical goal and am then trusted to achieve it. The best bosses do that, while also staying connected and available to provide support if needed. Luckily, I’ve had multiple bosses with this quality in my career at HP. 

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