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Aalto students from past to present: Transition from student life to career life

As a student who is just starting to find his first steps in the industry, Aalto student Mcha Khamis was wondering what kind of skills were needed for him to fit into the job market.
Mcha Khamis and Liisa Åström

Although technical skills differ according to the job title, I was very interested in the mindset and what kind of personality traits would help me to dive into my career. As a student, I learnt a lot of things about science and technology, but in the end, I was just living the “student life”. I attended lectures, went to the student hub, studied long hours, did projects and attended exams. These were all normal things for any student, but that all changed when  I first started my summer internship. I began to see things differently, so to compare between my life back then and now, it has triggered the need for a transition into a career mentality. Knowing someone who has had the same journey and dealt with all the same challenges as me has been an excellent opportunity to get advice as it gives one an advantage of knowing the expected challenges to be better prepared.

Moreover, it also serves as an inspiration for seeing someone have success as a result. The person that happens to advise and inspire me is Liisa Åström, Vice President and leader of R&D and Product Management in Vaisala Industrial Measurements. Liisa also happens to be a  former Aalto student, so I reached out to her about career advice and give a comparison between when she started her career life versus now where I am starting mine. I got great insights due to her experience in hiring and managing people.

What was your major at university?

I graduated from the Aalto chemical engineering department with a master degree in 1998.

How would you describe your life post-graduation?

It was conflicting feelings! As I remember that I appreciated that I have free weekends that I didn’t have through my academic life. Also, I found my life more meaningful with career life than with academic life.

How difficult was it applying for a job after graduation?

I graduated in 1998, so it was easier finding a job at that time than five years beforehand as Finland was going through financial depression which made it very hard in the job market.  I started working my first job at Business Finland for two years which at the time was R&D public agency for innovation support and funding. Then I decided to work at a private company, which was Vaisala.

I started as an application engineer at Vaisala, so it was quite different than my study field, which was more interesting as I could learn and understand various fields.

Why exactly did you choose the managerial side in your career pathway?

I didn’t choose the managerial role when I came in to Vaisala as an expert in the application engineer role and then the managerial positions came later in my career as opportunities.

I feel more stimulated and connected to people as a manager, but I really appreciate the experts who choose to work only on the technical side. I started with a team of eight people, and now I lead one hundred and fifty people.

Becoming a manager, what was the main challenge for you?

It was mainly internal challenges, the feeling that I would not be good enough and with a team of more knowledgeable and experienced people. However, I managed it step by step, and built my confidence with time, and I ended up as a good fit!.

What motivated you to work in the same field?

It’s never the same field when you work at a company like Vaisala who come up with new products all the time,  so I never get bored with my job.

What do you think are the most necessary skills for graduates nowadays?

The most important skill is something that your generation has already, and that’s the willingness to learn!

What do you think is the key to success in your career?

I think it’s hard work, excitement and respect for others.

As woman, did you face any challenges in building your managerial career?

I have been lucky in Vaisala, as they have many women in leadership positions, so it was never challenging here. For other companies, it may be as it is not so common to have women as leaders.

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