Getting Ahead

This Mechanical Engineer is Proof That Building a Strong Network Can Lead to Career Success

Careers in art and science don’t often intersect, which typically means people interested in both often have to choose one path. Not Jazmin Silvestri—she was able to pursue her dual passions by studying mechanical engineering. Today, she’s a solutions automation specialist at Siemens.

“I’ve always been interested in the sciences and how things work, but for a long time I really wanted to pursue art,” she says. “My dad was a museum exhibit designer at a small museum, which included putting up the walls and building the cases and mounts. When he brought those skills home to projects around the house, I was exposed to this cool intersection of creativity and practicality that has stuck with me ever since.”

In high school, Silvestri took science and math classes, and in college, she chose to major in mechanical engineering because she felt it would give her the flexibility to flex both muscles. “I would get to do practical STEM-based, hands-on field work with behind-the-scenes creativity in design,” she says. “I used to joke that I was majoring in becoming an inventor.”

Here, Silvestri shares what led to her job at Siemens, her favorite part about the company culture, and why having a strong support system is important for women in tech.

What led to your job at Siemens, and how did you know the company would be a good fit for you?

I was introduced to the opportunity to be an automation specialist by a friend from college. I went to the California State University Maritime Academy where, alongside majoring in mechanical engineering, I was trained and certified to be an engine plant operator on commercial shipping vessels. Having this exposure to large mechanical systems, their operations, and their automation really trained my brain to think about how much everything systemically interlocks and can be streamlined for efficiency with remote controls.

Before interviewing with Siemens, I did some research and found that the multinational company has ties in every industry a mechanical engineer could be interested in! The diversity of opportunities and clear interest in system efficiency and sustainability was enough to make me want to get a foot in the door. Plus, the tagline “Transform the Everyday” spoke to my inventor dreams.

What are you responsible for in your role?

As an automation specialist, I go to job sites to verify the proper wiring and installation of our devices and sensors; program the local controls and data collection control panels; and then network them back to the building or campus servers. On the server, I create graphics for the user interface, collect trends of data, schedule equipment run times, program machinery sequences, and integrate third-party devices.

I also coordinate with project managers and general contractors on the job site to start up, functionally test, and commission the systems, as well as provide solutions to any issues that arise along the way.

What are you working on right now that excites or inspires you?

I have a project coming up for a full chiller plant and cooling tower system replacement at a large hospital campus. It will be the first time I’ve done a complex project with intricately cascading program sequences like this and at least a few third-party integrations to keep track of. It’ll be exciting to lean hard into the logic with such tight clearances.

Why is having a supportive network so important, especially as a woman working in engineering?

It’s important to know that you have a place where you can safely ask questions about anything from simple sanity checks to mentorship through a new procedure. Knowing you have support from people who want you to succeed builds confidence in your ability to grow outside your comfort zone and push yourself to try new things.

There are always going to be unforeseen obstacles, people are not always going to be available, and things are not always going to work how you expect. So to have a network of people with different experience to reach out to is invaluable to being self-sufficient, finding creative solutions, or just having access to nuanced insider knowledge.

What are some other ways women in engineering can grow their network?

I was briefly a part of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) in community college, which gave me a relatable reflection of what my career could be and ways to navigate the different stages to align it more with my interests. Being a part of it helped me in a more personal way to stick with my major in the early days.

I also joined a few other professional societies to get a better understanding of what different career opportunities would look like and network with people already in those industries. Going to the local chapter dinners, though awkward at first, was a valuable way to get face-to-face time with professionals who could speak on the inside experience of where they work and offer real-world assistance in making career choices.

As you meet people that you work well with or admire throughout your career, get their contact information, add them on LinkedIn, and let them know what kind of opportunities you’re interested in. Someday you may be able to reach out to them again, or they to you, for advice, support, or to be a part of something that aligns with your passions.

Other than that, I would say keep in touch with your college classmates. Join the alumni boards on social media and check in occasionally. They know what your training is and may be on a similar growth path, which means they (or you) are probably a pretty good sounding board.

What do you like best about the company culture at Siemens?

What has really helped me thrive at Siemens is the combination of autonomy in my day-to-day work to build and refine my own methods and how high you can aim with the vast amount of information at your fingertips. If you’re thirsty for another side of what you’re working on or to dive into a specific facet of it, you can find a database of documentation and plenty of training courses that will fill that cup right up. It’s broadened my horizons and enticed me to push myself in so many ways.

What advice would you give to other women who are just starting out in their careers?

Although it’s intimidating, the more you take responsibility for your journey, the better. When I started taking ownership of my work instead of complaining about circumstances or players that made it difficult, it really cut back my fear of failure. Building up a reasonable expectation for what I can deliver and how I want the finished product to perform means that I can offer consistency, communicate when I foresee needing help, and buffer the blow if someone tries to diminish my work.

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?

If you get into something that doesn’t suit you, you can always pivot. Every industry has a hundred more facets behind the scenes. Lead with your curiosity in trying things that are adjacent to what you’re doing and keep an open mind about new introductions. Everything is a learning opportunity even if it’s not your life passion.

Be patient with things that are difficult, and do your homework for both the technical issues and the interpersonal issues.

And, of course, whenever you’re on a team, communicate, communicate, communicate!