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What I Learned From Not Trying To Be The Smartest In The Room

Grace Evans

Age: 24

Job: Pan-EG Solutions Architect, Hewlett Packard Enterprise

Location: Chicago, Illinois

I connected with Grace through a mutual friend of ours, Kelsey. After telling Kelsey about the blog, she immediately suggested I contact Grace, a friend of hers from Clemson, and I am so glad she did. She raised a lot of important topics like stress, moving to a new city, and giving back to her community. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know her, even if just over the phone, and I think you will too.

Give us a little background and tell us how you ended up in Chicago.

So I work for Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) as a technical architect. My primary role on the team is focusing on our partners and training their engineering team to be able to design solutions from our portfolio and to really sell the value of our products. Being in the technology industry, things are always changing with so many startups coming into the mix and new ideas forming daily. So my job is to understand the nuts and bolts of our data center solutions and serve as an engineer who trains other engineers to be an extension of HPE to deliver solutions to customers that really bring value back to the customers and back to the business.

Did you know what you wanted to do while in school? I actually studied bioengineering at Clemson, which I loved. I was on the medical school track but was more of a math girl, so I studied bioengineering because it kind of defined what I thought I wanted to do as a career and what I enjoyed at school. I actually got through all of my applications and interviews for med school and decided that I was really burned out and was tired of studying all the time, and I didn’t really love medicine anymore. I know many people who went through this process and really wanted it, and here I was getting into medical school, and I wasn’t even excited about it. I knew so many people who wanted that, and I thought to myself, I may need a change of pace and need to be out working with people. Then, I got nervous that if I went and did more schooling, I would be miserable. So luckily, the Clemson Career Center helped me find my role at HPE in a nine-month training program that essentially prepared me to be in my current position. I lived in Alpharetta, Georgia, for nine months and then was placed in Chicago for my first field role last April.

There is so much to learn in my role that I don’t know that I will ever be able to say I am an expert, but that is also why I love this job. I love to continually learn, so I’d say it’s a great fit for me. I am constantly self-learning and meeting with people daily. It allows me to still have the mindset of a student.

Have you had any hardships in your young professional career?

I would say one of my biggest struggles was moving to Chicago. I moved here without knowing a soul, and I wasn’t really sure what my work-life balance would look like because I had previously been in a nine-month training program in a completely different city. My knowledge base was at least sufficient, but I really didn’t know what my real schedule would look like once I got to Chicago. And moving to a new city not knowing a single person and figuring out what work would look like was pretty overwhelming for me and proved to be stressful at times. Though it has been one of my biggest challenges, moving to Chicago has also been one of the most rewarding things for me because it has been a fun challenge and it has pushed me out of my comfort zone.

On the work side of things, to top it all off, I felt inadequate at times being a young person in my field working with people who have been in the same field for longer than I have been alive. I had to learn humility to be able to acknowledge that I have less experience and knowledge than a lot of my coworkers. I had to learn to be able to feel comfortable asking questions with coworkers and my manager. As long as you are willing to be taught and you are a go-getter and somebody who doesn’t always have to be the smartest in the room or the most knowledgeable or experienced, you are set. I know this because I’d lose that battle every day if I thought that way.

How do you deal with stress?

I would say I am stressed very often. It’s not always a hindrance to my capabilities or my lifestyle, but I am my hardest critic. I challenge myself, and I also like to be challenged by others, so those are typical situations that induce stress. So basically, I am my own worst enemy. I indirectly cause stress this way, but I think my life would be boring without it. I think stress is what drives me and is what makes me successful. In terms of how I handle it, I usually get less stressed when I figure something out, so by pushing through stressful situations, that’s how I make it better. I do try to take mental breaks and other things that create a respite for me from stressful work life. I’m probably not the primary candidate for the perfect work-life balance, but I do think it is important to give yourself mental breaks and to just surround yourself with supportive people also provides great relief. You need a good support system to get through life in general.

Tell us about the dynamics between you and your coworkers?

I don’t work in an office from eight to five every day, and my team is about ten people spread out across the country. One teammate lives in the suburbs of Chicago, and a couple people are in Ohio Valley, and the rest are throughout the central U.S. We only regularly see each other once a year at our annual tech conference, which is weird, to say the least. My manager is amazing, though, and he is not a micromanager, so it is not like I am in an office with him breathing down my neck all the time. The people I work with on a daily basis are our value-added resellers, or our partners. I’m either having lunch with them, visiting their offices, or facilitating technical trainings for them. I see them more than I see my own team, but we have weekly calls, of course, to see what is going on around the territory and they are super supportive. I wish I could see my team more because I have been surrounded by such supportive peers and I have been very welcomed by my team. I feel comfortable asking questions and asking for help when I need to. When it comes to my development and growth, I owe everything to my team because they have helped me get to where I am today in my career with HPE.

What leadership styles have you seen that have influenced your own leadership style?

Some of the traits I have seen in my managers that have allowed me to be successful are hands-off and supportive management. I am typically a go-getter. I am very type-A and borderline OCD, so I have my paper and electronic checklist of what needs to get done and when they need to get done by. It's nice to have a manager who will trust that I get my work done. I might get overwhelmed if I had a manager who was also type-A and followed up with me every day about what I'd done. Some people benefit from that type of direction and support. For me, it is more helpful when someone is hands-off and more trusting. I have noticed with my current manager that he continuously asks me in what ways can he continue to challenge me and help me grow. He'll go out and be my biggest advocate to figure out how he can help bring me into opportunities that will sharpen my skill sets that I am working on. If I wasn’t getting business done, I’m sure he wouldn’t be like that, but if I’m correct, I think he likes me on his team, so he is going to want to keep me sharp and provide me with what I need, and I really appreciate that about him.

What have you learned about yourself this year?

I have learned that I don’t have to be the smartest person in the room. First off, it would be impossible because I’m always surrounded by incredibly smart people. I’ve learned that the hunger for knowledge is so incredibly important and your willingness to learn is more valuable than just your knowledge level itself. I probably was not always like that. In college, I wanted to be the smartest, I mean, who didn't? But there is so much more to it than just your general knowledge level.

Another thing I’ve found to be really important is volunteerism and giving back to the community. Whether I'm giving back in a way related to my career or in my own time with a local project or charity, I think this heart for service has been one of the biggest changes I have seen in myself. Plugging into communities that I would have been uncomfortable plugging into beforehand is something that has really helped me get involved in Chicago. And it makes me more hopeful for our future, especially when you watch the news and see all that is going on in the world. Jumping in has made me appreciate what I have, but it also has made me see the good in others, and that has been the best and most rewarding piece of being in Chicago.

What do you do for fun?

Currently, I don’t have too much free time, but I am running a marathon in the fall, so a lot of my free time goes towards running or resting from running. I enjoy traveling, so I’ve got some trips planned, in addition to watching some football this fall! I love college football, so come fall, I’ll be cheering Clemson on!

The YoPro Know's Takeaways:

– I don’t have to be the smartest person in the room

– Hunger for knowledge is so incredibly important and your willingness to learn is more valuable than just your knowledge level itself

– Plugging into communities that I would have been uncomfortable plugging into beforehand is something that has really helped me get involved in Chicago

– I had to learn humility to be able to acknowledge that I have less experience and knowledge than a lot of my coworkers

– It is important to give yourself mental breaks and to just surround yourself with supportive people

Check it out: Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Clemson University

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