Walker’s Legacy Profiles recognize unique women of color in business who embody the legacy of Madam C.J. Walker, the first female self-made millionaire. In this installment, meet LaKiesha Tomlin, CEO of Thriving Ambition, Inc.
For LaKiesha Tomlin, engineering manager at Apple Inc, it all started with mentorship. In high school, a mentor introduced her to the field of engineering and plugged her into the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE). Now, she owns a coaching practice where she helps engineers position themselves to be hired by large companies.
1. Tell us a little bit about your background and what inspired you to enter the engineering field.
I decided to get into engineering after being introduced to by a mentor in high school. I did an internship at St. Louis Metropolitan Sewer District and a mentor introduced me to the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE). From there I’ve participated in engineering programs and really got interested in learning how things work from a mechanical aspect. After joining NSBE in high school, I pursued a bachelor’s degree from Saint Louis University in Mechanical Engineering in 2009. During the summers in undergrad, I completed 5 internships at the Boeing Company in Saint Louis.
2. Even though you built business relationships through your internships in St. Louis, you decided to launch your career elsewhere, which proved to be a great decision. Talk to us about this journey and how it led you to your current position at Apple, Inc.
I rose from entry-level engineer to mid-level manager after leaving St. Louis in 2015. In 2015 I left St. Louis and moved to Palmdale, California to work from Northrop Grumman Corporation as a level 3 engineer.
I’ve always wanted to live in California. And although I had no professional connections and very few friends in the area, I believed it was worth it for me to give the opportunity a shot. I wanted to see if things would work out. The safe thing for me to do would’ve been to stay in St. Louis, but I enjoy taking calculated risks when I come to my career. Most times, I’ve found that when you take a chance and you’re determined to be successful, typically you’ll get exactly what you want.
In 2016, I was promoted to a Mid-level Engineering Manager in Quality. I believed in building relationships with senior managers and executives at Northrop Grumman. When I started at the company I immediately began to meet people and learned about all departments within the company. After getting promoted at Northrop Grumman I was contacted by recruiters which is how I landed my current Engineering Management position at Apple, Inc.
3. Your promotion enabled you to pay off your student loan debt and travel to a new city every month. Fascinating! Describe what impact this had on you and your perception of the world.
It felt really good to pay off $75,000 in student loan debt within 5 years of graduating from Saint Louis University. It was very liberating! My first international trip was to Madrid, Spain in 2014. It really forced me out of my comfort zone and made me creatively communicate with locals because my Spanish is limited and had not been used since high school. I realized that it’s important to adapt to different situations.
I want to be able to travel the world and see everything I can while I’m able to do so, both physically and mentally. This is my primary reason for traveling as much as I do. And by building my career so quickly, I’ve been able to afford trips to many different places with ease. It also helps that my current position allows me to travel internationally.
4. What advice do you have for those of us who may want to travel more, whether for a new job opportunity or for leisure, and get outside of our comfort zone?
In my engineering career coaching practice, I teach my clients that they can have it “all.” For me, travel is one of my hobbies. A lot of people tell me that they’d love to travel but they can’t afford it, can’t find the time to travel or they’ll wait until they retire to see the world.
I’m not a fan of these ways of thinking because being resourceful is a trait of a great leader. If you don’t have the money, is there something you can do to get the money? Retirement is not promised to anyone and there’ll never be a “right time“ to travel. Book that trip and plan everything else around it. Everything will fall into place.
5. Your company, Thriving Ambition, Inc., provides consulting services to engineers who want to move ahead in their careers, and firms who want to attract top engineering talent. What is the current landscape for engineering jobs right now?
This is a great time to be an engineer. Many companies are looking for engineers. However, engineers are not always positioned to get the offer. At Thriving Ambition, Inc. I help engineers figure out what the next steps should be in their career and how to overcome fear and nervousness while interviewing so they can make a personal connection with the interviewers.
6. What are the biggest challenges you face while working in the corporate sector? How do you overcome them?
Working in the corporate space is difficult. There are so many talented people competing for the same positions which makes it hard to stand out. When there are 100s of people applying for one management position at your company, how do you position yourself to be the ultimate candidate? The key here is to build relationships. This is the core of what I help engineers do with my career coaching services.
7. Are there any women of color who personally paved the way for you to get where you are? If so, who are they and how did you meet them?
Yes, there are some amazing women of color I’ve had the pleasure of meeting who have paved the way for me in corporate. In 2012, I met a woman of color executive who became one of my mentors. I enjoyed talking to her because I could be very candid with her and she was candid in return. During that time she was my mentor for almost 3 years before I moved to California.
8. You are a long time volunteer with the National Society of Black Engineers. Talk to us about the importance of mentorship.
I enjoyed volunteering with the National Society of Black Engineers. I believe it’s important to be mentored as well as mentor. Over the years, I’ve mentored a few engineers on a short- and long-term basis. It’s fun because I learn as much from them as they learn from me.
9. Where can the audience reach you to learn more?
I have some resources on my site to help people learn how to build relationships and improve their careers. You can find them on my website at: http://www.thrivingambition.com/
Outside of my website, I LIVE on LinkedIn. I love connecting with engineers. You can find me here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lakieshatomlin