Question: Discuss a recent leadership experience. Briefly outline the situation and then describe your role, how you were effective, and what you learned. While my primary responsibilities are in computer-aided modeling and design, I am also involved in a number of other activities. This particular project gave me an opportunity to both work in Business Development and to demonstrate my leadership abilities.
One of my managers decided that we could assist our company's Technology Integration efforts by exploring the innovative projects funded by the Department of Defense. We were particularly interested in emerging small business ventures with promising ideas.
I was designated the Project Lead and my job was to develop a searchable database that would include all the potentially relevant research awards. In order to do that, I had to collect an enormous amount of information available through various government Web sites. Then, I was to use our company's standard business pursuit processes to select the particularly compelling technologies.
Obviously, such a large effort could not have been completed by one person, so I delegated certain responsibilities to others. Two people who worked for me were database experts with prior experience writing data parsing scripts. I also collaborated with our legal department while drafting non-disclosure agreements. Finally, the PR office assembled information that I could use when contacting other companies with proposals for potential joint research efforts.
Eventually, I ended up with over 5,000 award abstracts that had to be matched with almost 200 keywords. However, the hardest part was to make sure that all the Engineering Managers from different locations around the company would work with me to select the particular projects that were most practical and directly applicable. As it turned out, only a few of them were truly interested in the innovative ideas that would allow them to expand their Business Areas with new and improved products.
To my surprise, even after I demonstrated the capabilities of the database at a special presentation, and received a lot of positive feedback on its usefulness, only a minority of those who could potentially benefit from it showed significant interest. This was when I've learned first hand how difficult it is to "manage" people who are actually senior to me on the corporate ladder.
Still, several others jumped at the opportunity and asked me to research topics as varied as Biological Detection, Electrostatic Atomization, and Microfluidics. And, even though the project is officially complete, I still get occasional calls and e-mails with requests for awards information applicable to particular product lines.
Question: What are your three most substantial accomplishments, and why do you view them as such? A true accomplishment is rarely something that needed to be done as part of regular job responsibilities. Rather, in most cases, a personal achievement can have a lasting impact only if it stems from ambition and has a real life inspiration. Oftentimes, we influence people and organizations by acting in ways that are not expected of us, simply because we feel that it's the "right" thing to do.
In my work, I'm most proud of those projects where I saw an opportunity to make a difference and took initiative. For instance, when dealing with a large-caliber gun model, I realized that there was no way to effectively present the complex computer simulation results to our customer. Certain types of ballistic data are inherently difficult to visualize by simply looking at a graph, so I proposed to develop a custom application that would show the results as an interactive animation.
My manager got excited about the idea and approved the project. However, although I had some experience in visual programming, this was the first time that I had to design a standalone Windows application. Another challenge was to take all the various concepts that we had and to integrate them into one coherent, easy-to-use interface.
For a while, this effort consumed all of my time, including many nights and weekends. I viewed this as my chance to prove that I can take a complex project from conception to completion. And, in less than three months, having gone through more than half a dozen revisions, we could indeed deliver my application along with our modeling results. Needless to say, the customer was both surprised and pleased.
However, not all of our achievements have something to do with work. Oftentimes, it is our ability to help other people make the right choices that allows us to leave a mark. As a graduate student at the University of Illinois, I saw various opportunities that open to those who hold advanced degrees. Subsequently, I was able to persuade a college friend of mine to pursue a Master's, even though he already had a reasonably good job.
For months, I guided him through the intricacies of the application process, while also trying to alienate his fears of leaving a comfortable lifestyle behind. But eventually, this ended up being a life changing decision which allowed him to land a Senior-level position with one of the largest Silicon Valley companies. And to this day, he rarely misses a chance to thank me for my persistence.
Yet the most important choices are those that compel us to defy conventional wisdom and to follow one's heart. At one point, when our business venture didn't work out the way we hoped (more on that in Essay #6), my life was in disarray. It was then that I decided to pack my bags and move to New York, which I've been wanting to do ever since I first visited the Big Apple four years earlier.
Even though I realized that my educational background was not something that had much application in a big city, I knew that this was my chance to experience living in New York. And, in spite of the fact that initially I had to settle for a mediocre job, I eventually found a great position in the neighboring New Jersey, only an hour away from the City.
In all three cases above, I took risks or responsibilities that I didn't have to. But ultimately, that's the only way to make things happen.