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Q&A with Alumni: Joy Sim

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April 4, 2018

Meet Joy Sim, an MS&E alum who is an associate at Pace Harmon, a management consulting firm focused on IT and operational transformation.

She holds an M.S. in Management Science and Engineering from Stanford University and a B.S. in Engineering Physics from the University of California, Berkeley. She has experience building private cloud-based infrastructures, managing data center transformation projects, and conducting IT sourcing and negotiations.

“When you say MS&E alum, I think of it with pride. It means that I have gained a tremendous amount of knowledge from being part of the MS&E program here at Stanford. And now that I’m an alum, I should try to give back in some way.”

Why did you choose MS&E?

Completing a master’s in MS&E was a perfect option because it's catered towards engineers who wish to become managers and become involved in the business side of things. It brings forth the idea of “how can you be a good manager, using your engineering background.” Another incentive for joining the program was that I could complete my master's degree earlier. I actually finished in a year, and it was a great experience for me.

Also, I was an engineer before coming to Stanford. At Berkeley as an undergraduate, I consulted outside of classes in consulting clubs, which I was introduced to almost by accident because a friend of mine asked me to try it. I found out that I was really good at consulting. Essentially, it’s problem-solving, it’s working in a team to help real-world clients figure out a specific strategy to solve a problem. I was passionate about consulting and decided that I wanted to know more about it.

What does it mean to be an MS&E alum?

When you say MS&E alum, I think of it with pride. It means that I have gained a tremendous amount of knowledge from being part of the MS&E program here at Stanford. And now that I’m an alum, I should try to give back in some way. One way I’m giving back is to give a talk or workshop on my particular area of expertise to Stanford MS&E students. I think being an MS&E alum is not just about graduating and being done; it is about staying connected to the students, alumni, and community of the MS&E program.

How does your time at Stanford impact what you are currently working on now?

At Stanford, you learn how to communicate and present your ideas well. You learn not to be afraid of speaking up and standing up for what you genuinely believe in. I think Stanford as a whole encourages you to be different - that if you have an idea, go for it, don’t be afraid to fail or try. That mindset has helped me a lot over the course of my career, to become a more confident person. It helps me in my present work within the corporate world, where you need to sometimes fight for your standing, to be visible to the rest of the firm. It can be very difficult if you are too passive, especially in my field where majority of my coworkers are older than me and male. So, I would consider myself to be a minority, specifically at my company. I need to find ways to be heard, without coming off as being too aggressive. That is something that I realized while attending Stanford, and I found ways around it by becoming more confident, and now I am continuously learning. In this way, Stanford has prepared me well for the corporate world.

Was there a particular class or professor that really stuck with you?

My favorite class at Stanford was "CEE 251: Negotiation" with guest lecturer Stan Christensen. They only accepted 20 or 25 people for that particular class. I learned so much in that class that I can apply today in my everyday life, not just at work, but in personal relationships with my peers, family, and friends. That class probably made the most significant impact on my life. In my undergrad, I did engineering physics at Berkeley, and coming into MS&E I was focused on learning more about the business side of things. Negotiation was something I was always afraid of; I interpreted it as verbally and emotionally arguing with another person in order to win, and I would always be the one to lose. In that class, I learned that you can always create win-win situations and that sometimes is it not about losing, it is about “how can we expand the pie” to help everyone gain something. It is a lot about empathy, about what the other person is feeling, and what is behind what they are asking. Those are critical skills that I still use today.

What inspires you the most about your current work?

The people. I think that may sound a little cliché, but people are influential in everything I do. I accepted a position with my company because of the conversations I had with the people working there. The workplace culture comes from the people themselves, and it was very vibrant, very entrepreneurial, very diverse. They had people from all walks of life, colors and shapes. I liked that and the fact that the kinds of questions they asked showed how intelligent they were. They were the kind of people I want to spend time with, because they are the people I am continuously learning from, and even today I am still learning from them.

At any company, make sure you like the team that you are working with. I learned a lot about myself working with my colleagues. As consultants we fly almost every week, so we spend more time with each other than our own family and friends. Monday through Thursday we are on the road, we are on the planes together, at airports waiting out delays for hours, and we have breakfast, lunch, and dinner together. That is why it's so important to find the right people to work with. I like it, that's what makes it interesting.

What are one or two things that have made you successful in your career?

I want to say people again, but I don’t want to repeat the answer from the last question. I will say two things, number one would be the people around me, not just at work but from back when I was in school, they have always been very inspiring and continuously motivating me to learn and grow more. And I think that mindset has helped me throughout my career. At work, it is the same kind of people that I'm surrounding myself with, and they are constantly promoting and supporting me. Let's say I assisted a client in saving a significant amount of money, my manager would send a note to their superior or the CEO and say “hey, Joy pushed through this, and rushed this thing, and helped the client save x million dollars today.” He would also send this note to the people in our company, letting them know that I performed well. Things like that help me improve significantly and make me find worth and meaning in my work.

The second thing that has made me successful in my career is the ability to learn, which I think is a common theme. In any position today, you want to be able to re-educate yourself constantly. I think that's a key skill that anyone should have, and that's something that Stanford has prepared me for. How do you educate yourself on something you don't know about? How do you constantly retrain your skills? You have to be motivated to do it because if you're working long hours, you have to set some time aside at the end of the day specifically for learning. I set small goals for myself and think about what I learned from organizational behavior at Stanford--if you have a far-off goal or a reach goal, you're not going to do it. So if you want to get there, set smaller goals, smaller steps. For example, it's more than just saying I want to learn about cloud; it's about going to talks, reading an article or text on the subject. For me, I subscribe to websites about the technology I'm interested in; for example, security around cloud. I also subscribe to certain providers or vendors that publish white papers on those topics. They will send me updates, and I can skim through those newsletters. I also listen to podcasts on topics that interest me. At work, I interact a lot with brilliant people from different vendors, including AWS or Microsoft. So if I want to learn more about that technology, I send them an email and say, “hey, can you send me some of your white papers on this topic?” Sometimes they come in and present to the client, and we're there just to listen and learn as well. Hence I get a lot of opportunities to interact with people with knowledge and learn constantly.

So what advice would you give to a new Stanford student in MS&E?

Well, first of all, I think it's to figure out what you want out of the MS&E experience now that you're at Stanford. What can you do with your time here? In terms of studies, maybe you want to improve in a particular field of decision risk analysis. Or perhaps you're just exploring, trying to find concentrations and different classes and see what fits you best. In addition to your studies, do you want to make a lot of new friends? Do you want to learn more about a particular industry? Do you want to find a passion? Or are you trying to be an entrepreneur? You have to figure out what you want. In the end, it’s these three things that you have to balance - your studies, your friends, and other activities you might want to participate in. Whatever you're doing, make sure you balance it well with your social life and your other activities. Otherwise, you'll end up having an unbalanced experience, and leave Stanford feeling dissatisfied and burned out.

Can you offer some words of wisdom for MS&E alumni and students interested in pursuing a career similar to your own?

Make sure you talk to people who are in the industry because you want to understand consulting in its entirety. For example, when I say "consulting," most people don't understand what it is. They often ask "what is consulting about, and what are you doing day to day?" It's important to talk to someone who is going through or has gone through work in a consulting role, and the experience of transitioning from college to work life. They can share advice on what's important, and you can make an informed decision about pursuing it. The next thing I would suggest is to try doing some consulting projects or doing something similar even if it's not in a consulting field. Generally, consulting is about identifying a problem for the client and then figuring out a solution to it. I think that is something that everyone can do at Stanford. Everyone has a skillset, and my company hires from every major - my boss was a history major, for example, and another colleague was an art history major. The next thing I would suggest is reading books about consulting. One book I read a lot on how to prepare for case interviews is called "Case in Point." It is our handbook for anyone that wants to go into consulting. It prepared me well for the consulting interview and recruiting process. I would suggest constantly practice going through a case with friends, and make sure you walk through your assumptions and logical reasoning step by step.