Industry Insights: Karen Martinez

This week’s guest post is from Karen Martinez who works full-time at a consumer goods company. Karen graduated from Purdue in Materials Engineering and was formerly the Professional Networking Director for PSWE.

“You’re walking down an aisle in Target and decide to buy mouthwash; there are a couple of scenarios for what happens next:

  1. You don’t have a particular mouthwash in mind, you’re about to make a decision, and begin your selection process by picking up the first bottle that calls your attention
  2. You are a die-hard fan of mouthwash “X”. You fell in love with mouthwash “X” at first swish. You reach for the familiar bottle of mouthwash “X”. But, tragedy strikes! When you get home you realize that you’ve bought a mouthwash which comes in a bottle that looks exactly like mouthwash “X” but is actually a knockoff mouthwash. L.
  3. You never make it to the aisle in Target. You buy your mouthwash online and have it delivered right to your dorm room.

Whether it’s scenario a, b, or c that describes your habits best, they are all examples of how package design is actually a battlefield.  I am a packaging engineer at a consumer goods company and my work in upstream packaging technology is all about winning your business. The projects I work on are all about enabling: the creation of packages that surprise and delight you so that we win your attention as you glance across the shelf, the creation of packages that our competitors can’t easily copy, and the creation of packages that carry the product safely no matter the route between our plant and your bathroom shelf.

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On a day to day basis I work on a small team of engineers to invent new processing technologies which will enable us to make packages that win your business, use less material and simplify our company’s cost and supply chain. I am the youngest engineer on the team and by chance I am the only female engineer on our team. I started in June and the biggest non-technical challenge I’ve faced so far is lack of self-confidence from my inexperience. The people I work with have been working in this field from 18-25 years. I have asked stupid questions. I’ve made a few mistakes. And, I’ve come home sometimes thinking wow did I even contribute anything useful today?   But, the truth is that everyone at some point had a first job and had to start building their experience too. The most useful things I’ve found after 3 months on the job:

  1. Be humble & be yourself: I had great grades and 4 internships heading into this job, but from Day 1 I realized that this was basically nothing compared to the experience of my peers. I heavily rely on my team as I learn the technology and begin to build experience. You will be asking people for help and they’ll be more eager to help you if you relax and are forthcoming, and if try your best to be helpful and independent where you can.
  2. The learning and the homework aren’t over yet: Keep studying, and keep working hard! The faster you can become knowledgeable in whatever it is you’re working on the better you’ll feel about your job each day. The industry I’m in moves quickly and can be technically rigorous, so I take every chance I get to read relevant journals, to sign up for technical trainings and to read reports written by my peers. The all-nighters aren’t over my friends – the first few months are your chance to make a good impression and to gain trust so if it takes some extra elbow grease to improve your first big presentation, report, experiment, or design don’t hold back!
  3. Be open minded: My degree is in Materials Engineering and I’m actually working in a sort of non-traditional field for my degree. Most people don’t find packaging interesting. Sure, I’m not revolutionizing our infrastructure or designing rockets (which would also be super cool) but I’m working on interesting problems, and I’m working on packages that loads of people come in contact with every day. Don’t go for the traditional engineering jobs, go for the job that makes you truly happy, especially because if you don’t like your job then it’s really hard to get up at 6 am on a Friday when a free SWE bagel and a crisp walk across Purdue’s beautiful campus are no longer involved.”

-Erin, your editor.

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