In our series “Jump-start Your Job Search,” BU Today brings you short interviews with BU alums who are leaders in their fields, such as banking, advertising, tech start-ups, journalism, or nonprofit organizations.
They talk about how they got to be where they are and what they’ve learned from their mistakes. They tell us what they look for when hiring and offer advice for those just embarking on a career.
Jose Calderon (ENG’94,’97) manages the multimillion-dollar General Electric Aviation F404 Hornet customer programs that provide engine parts for F/A-18 fighter jets to the US Navy as well as to militaries in Canada, Australia, Spain, Kuwait, Malaysia, and Switzerland. (Yes, even the officially neutral Swiss will defend themselves if necessary.)
“We enter into a yearly contract with these countries, and we agree on a number of engineering programs and continue to improve the engine, either developing new parts or continuing designs or improving existing designs,” Calderon says. “Three-fourths of my job is overseeing those engineering programs. So it’s a little business-focused and a little technical as well.”
Managing the program is his fifth job at GE since joining the company in 2001. Over the past 15 years, he’s worked in a number of areas, from helicopters to jets to inspection technology, furthering his lifelong fascination with flight. As a BU undergraduate, he studied aerospace, aeronautical, and astronautical engineering, then earned a master’s degree in mechanical engineering.
When not at work or with his family, Calderon spends much of his time running. He’s run five marathons, including three Boston Marathons.
BU Today: What’s important to consider when contemplating a career in this field?
Calderon: Have a solid technical background. Even if you’re working in the business side of it, as I am now, it’s made a lot less difficult by having the technical knowledge. I may no longer sit down and do a strip analysis of my computer, but having that background when I meet with the strip analysis folks—I understand what they’re saying. When you’re dealing with the customer, having a solid technical background is very important.
What qualities do you look for in people you hire?
We look for someone that has exhibited either leadership or a decision-making role. That doesn’t mean they have to have been the boss necessarily, but they had to have analyzed data—something that lets us see how they think. We also seek folks that have a lot of practical experience. That doesn’t mean they know how to run a drill press, but that they have done more than just their book knowledge. Maybe they have worked already in industry, in an actual work environment—internships or summer jobs.
What kinds of questions do you ask during a job interview?
We ask them hypothetical questions: “If this were to happen, how would you do it?” We most always ask them from their personal experience: “Tell me about a time you worked on a team. And what was your specific role? And what was your deliverable?” I always ask them to tell me about a time that something didn’t go according to plan: “Tell me an experience where you dealt with a difficult person. How did you try to make ends meet and move forward productively?”
What advice would you give to a new engineer or new engineering businessperson their first day on the job, and again in six months?
I think it’s applicable to both of those times, but especially the beginning: Do not be afraid to ask. You’re surrounded by knowledgeable people who have been doing this a long time, and they understand that you’re just starting. Six months from now, when you’re a little more knowledgeable, it’s still OK to say, “I don’t know” if somebody asks you a question and you don’t know the answer.
What mistakes have you made during your career, and what have you learned from them?
GE was giving me my first team leader role. You oversaw the people that fed into the program, so I needed their technical output to generate what I was going to do. I was a little too lax and gave a little too much benefit of the doubt, not really checking up on them as much as I should have, assuming it would be done on time. There were a lot of early delays that I could have found out about, had I gone and had more frequent discussions with the people doing the work. It was pointed out a couple of times in my own performance reviews. It’s great to trust your people, but it’s also your job to make sure they stay on task.
Who has had the greatest influence on your career and why?
His name is Steve Leary. He was my second manager at GE. He influenced me by giving me a lot of high-profile work that really helped me. He definitely showed me how to treat employees and recognize them for their work. He did the same with customers. At the same time, I saw him get tough. If someone didn’t deliver, he made sure they knew about it as well.
When you were at BU, did you have any idea what you wanted to do for a career?
Not the specific job description. I really wanted to be in the aviation or the space field. I was always fascinated by flying things, be it planes, or rockets, or even birds, so my degree was in aerospace engineering. It took me a long time to get into the field, almost 10 years after graduation. The Berlin Wall fell down, the Soviet Union broke down, all the aviation contractors either started going out of business or started merging, so the job pool shrank immensely while I was in college. I did a job working for an air filtration company my first four years.
Are you an alum who would like to be interviewed for BU Today’s “Jump-start Your Job Search” series? Email John O’Rourke at email@example.com.
Read other stories in our “Jump-start Your Job Search” series here.
December 11, 2019
November 25, 2019
October 21, 2019