From Engineering to HR — Advice From a Leader Made Who Made This Major Career Pivot

Sponsored by Molecular Devices

Victoria Cowthran. Photo courtesy of Molecular Devices.

Victoria Cowthran. Photo courtesy of Molecular Devices.

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Fairygodboss
July 17, 2024 at 12:38PM UTC

“A career pivot is almost never instantaneous, and anyone who says it is is lying,” says Victoria Cowthran, HR Business Partner and Global Talent Attraction Lead for Molecular Devices, a Danaher Company. Victoria knows firsthand how much time and effort can go into a career pivot since she’s made one herself. 

After achieving a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering and Master of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering, Cowthran kicked off her career at Ford Motor Company in 2015 as an Engine Test Engineer. From there, she continued to excel in various engineering roles, before assisting the DE&I team at Ford in an ad hoc capacity. Ultimately, she created the largest employee resource group (ERG) there, the Ford Next Generation Employees Network — confirming the initial thought of making a  career switch into Human Resources. However, the transition from Engineering to Human Resources turned out to be less practical than she thought it would be. 

As she faced roadblocks making the pivot into HR, she decided to stay in her original career lane and aspire to gain a leadership position in engineering. “After reaching much success over the four years at Ford, I aspired to become a manager,” she tells Fairygodboss. So, Cowthran went on to work for Alarm.com as a Program Manager, while there she started their first Affinity Group ERG at Alarm.com, Black at Alarm. But, after a year there, Cowthran discovered that her passion lay in hiring more underrepresented associates, which she couldn’t do as a manager.

“It was at that point I started applying for more roles in HR; however, because I had two degrees in engineering, no company would hire me without tactical Human Resources experience,” she explains. “Therefore, my mentor advised me to pursue an MBA to get the business knowledge a true HR leader would need to be successful.” Using this advice, Victoria went on to gain her MBA at Rice University and interned at Cisco in a Global People Consultant role. 

Then, in June of 2022, Cowthran made an important career leap — she shifted gears to start her career at Molecular Devices. While she began as a Business Partner for the North Americas Sales and Service Organization, after just six months, she was given her first stretch assignment as the Global Talent Attraction lead for Molecular Devices.

“Within this role, I have been able to significantly influence how we hire women and people of color,” she now says.

Here, we caught up with Victoria to learn more about her career change and the advice she has for other women looking to make big moves along their own journeys.

Can you tell us more about what inspired you to make a career change?

As a program manager at Alarm.com, I will never forget being empowered to hire three engineers and my only options were men and no people of color. After that experience, I aspired to go into HR to truly influence the candidate pool so that it was more representative of the world around us. I wanted to ensure that women and people in technical space have more of an opportunity to interview for technical jobs

What are your best pieces of advice for other women who are thinking about making a career pivot?

Just do it! And find a mentor. It will be discouraging when the results take longer than expected (For instance, It took me a total of three years to pivot in Human Resources). So, having a mentor who was supporting and coaching me along the way was important. He encouraged me to pivot when I found myself happier doing the extracurricular work that fits my dream job instead of my real job. I worked on four to five different DEI projects annually and realized the joy I experienced when working in those roles superseded my job as an engineer.

How have you benefited from the skills and experience that you’ve gained in your career journey?

I have benefitted tremendously because I can now apply my 10+ years of problem-solving engineering problems to solving people's problems within the sales and service organization. 

This is important because, as a Business Partner, everyday is unique and different. Some days I am helping managers solve complex people's problems, and on other days I am a coach, mentor, and strategic hiring partner. 

Looking back on your career, what would you say has been your most valuable career mistake?

My most valuable career mistake was when I was placed on a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP),  and I decided to leave the group rather than truly provide my worth in a particular organization. 

However, due to that experience, when I am now faced with associates who are at risk for being on a PIP, I always tell my story to encourage them and help them to focus on keeping their job and repairing their relationship with their manager. 

Finally, what is your favorite thing about working at Molecular Devices?

I love the people! I support 35 business leaders ranging from sales and service directors to supervisors. They always have unique stories to tell and rely on me as a true business partner. 



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