Why Work-Life Balance, Technical Expertise, Teamwork and Mentors Are the Keys to Career Growth

Sponsored by Sandia National Laboratories

Karla Morris

Photo courtesy of Sandia National Laboratories.

Sandia National Laboratories
Sandia National Laboratories
April 14, 2024 at 3:51AM UTC

Karla Morris started her career at Sandia National Laboratories in 2011. Drawing upon her mechanical engineering background in her position as a software developer, she created a scalable, open-source framework for novel programming models that apply computational fluid dynamics to multiphysics flows. 

When reflecting on her time at Sandia, Karla says, "There is always something new and exciting to learn — an idea or concept to explore. Sandia gives me the opportunity to collaborate with the best scientists and engineers in bioscience, climate, microsystems, and combustion."

Karla has found that work-life balance, technical expertise, teamwork, and mentorship have been valuable resources that have helped her to achieve growth in her career. We caught up with Karla to learn more about her role and ask what career advice she has for women who are seeking to grow in their careers. Here’s what she had to share. 

Tell us a bit about your job. What’s your current role, how long have you been in this role, and what were you doing previously?

I am the Formal Methods Lead for a weapons program. My job is to ensure that the software in our system is doing what it’s supposed to do. I came to Sandia in 2011 with a background in mechanical engineering, doing computational work. I worked in different projects funded by  the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory and Laboratory Directed Research & Development (LDRD) Program within Sandia. My areas of expertise are in direct numerical simulations (DNS), computational fluid dynamics (CFD), and formal verification of high consequence systems.

What are the most rewarding and challenging aspects of being in your field?  

The big plus for national labs is that if you are a technical person, they give you the ability to play with “big-kid” toys. When you are able to leverage more resources and expertise in any given technical area, small ideas can turn into big ones!

What advice do you have for someone new to the industry?  

The mission space that I work in at Sandia is important. We want nuclear devices to work well when we need them to and to be safe. I want those who choose to work in this industry to know that their work makes a difference and it matters!

What people, resources, and tools do you rely on to attain work-life balance? 

My family members are the cheerleaders in my life that make sure I have work-life balance. Church is another driver outside of work that I look forward to. I also make sure I include exercising, hiking and rollerblading. At Sandia, we have an onsite gym and I’ve worked with our health educator to set up an exercise routine that specifically meets my needs. 

I also like being by myself sometimes in order to center myself and find peace so I can deal with what’s coming next. This is a great way to reflect on my actions and get ideas for whatever problem I’m working on.  

How has your company (via culture, programs, benefits, etc.) helped you start and grow your career?

Since I started at Sandia, management has always supported and encouraged me to be matrixed into other departments, in order to grow my career. For example, I knew nothing about formal methods a few years back; but I was given the chance to learn about the department by spending some of my time working within it. Eventually, I made my way into other departments. You’re allowed, even encouraged, to have a second career at Sandia. There’s no reason to be bored; you always have the opportunity to do something new!

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

Spend today trying to get ready for what faces you tomorrow or new opportunities that may come your way. Carve some time to learn something new that will create new opportunities for you. We learn and succeed as a team; it’s extremely important to the success of a project to identify what people are good at and align tasks and responsibilities with people’s strengths.  

How do you suggest candidates prepare for an interview at your company? 

The technical talk is the key. You are the expert in the work you’ve done. This is the opportunity for the interview committee to see your technical depth. Showcasing the relationships that you’ve built and having the ability to team as part of your technical work is important. Women especially are modest in talking about their own work. So, you must toot your own horn in an interview!  People like talking about the work they do, so finding a connection with others you may work with is important. Show your interest in what they’re doing and show that you are aligned with what they are doing in terms of technical depth and the work the employer is doing.  Talk about things you want to learn but haven’t had the opportunity to do so yet. At Sandia, you can find a new project aligned with new interests and the opportunity to make an impact in other departments.  

Have you used either mentorship or sponsorship to grow your career? If so, how did it help and what was your experience like?  

I have had many different mentors at Sandia. For a successful mentoring relationship, it has to be organic. In the last six months, I have established a relationship with my first female mentor. All others have been male. It’s important to have a variety of mentors, not just one. In order to grow in your career, you’ll need advice in different areas.  

What is your top tip for women who are moving into or want to move into leadership roles?  

It’s important to find out what makes people tick, so they can be more productive when they are happy. People at Sandia are very smart, willing to go above and beyond, and part of a supportive team. Life gets in the way, trying to be understanding of that is important. There is no one approach that works for everybody. You must take the time to learn where people are coming from and listen to different perspectives and experiences.  

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