People, Person, Blonde, Female, Woman

Following the Yellow Brick Road: How I found my Dream Job (and Life)

By Parmida Borhani

9,739 miles and 21 hours. That is what lay between me and my destination: P. Sherman 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney. I remembered it again!

Just kidding!

In case you were wondering, P. Sherman 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney isn’t a real address. The Sydney part of the address is true, though. :)

On June 27th 2017, I showed up to the Washington-Dulles airport with eight suitcases in hand, ready to move across the world for my career (yes, eight suitcases — you read that right!).

I arrived at Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport two days later on June 29th (remember how I said 21 hours? Yeah, time zones are weird) with nothing but an Airbnb booking and the security of my job. In just a few days, I would be a Solution Engineer in the Appian Sydney office. One year later, I am still here in this beautiful country, writing this blog post…

My love of Sydney and all-things Australia began with one of the most memorable experiences of my undergraduate adventures:the study abroad program I did at the University of New South Wales. I spent the spring semester of my third year studying abroad at UNSW and, in these fleeting five months, I travelled to various parts of the country, scuba dived (see: Merriam Webster on dived vs. dove) experienced the Great Barrier Reef, made international friends from all over the world, ate kangaroo on the regular (it’s delicious and extremely lean meat, you should try it sometime), enjoyed frequent visits on my apartment balcony from rainbow lorikeets, and lived a short walk from Coogee beach. I won’t go into more details on my abroad experience (see photos below for a glimpse), but when I packed up to go back home at the end of the semester, there was a part of me that just knew I’d be back soon…

(“Maktub” I thought to myself, which means “it is written” in Arabic.)

When my final year of university showed up seemingly unannounced, I began to look for jobs. I studied Civil Engineering and, at the time, was planning on finding work more closely aligned to the field. That was…until the night that I attended an Information Session on this tech company called Appian. Who even are they? I thought to myself. The email said there would be free Chipotle, and as a broke college student, I didn’t think twice about attending this Info Session, regardless of whether or not it aligned with my intended career path!

Much to my surprise, that night turned out to be so much more than I expected. Thinking back on it, I remember so much more than just my delicious (did I mention free?) burrito bowl. I recall a captivating presentation delivered by a fellow Terp who had recently graduated and was working for Appian on some really cool technologies (shoutout to @AlisonCowley for conveying such passion for the company and the job!). The session ended and with my hunger satiated and my interest piqued; I stuck around to talk to the bubbly recruiter by the name of Courtney Connolly, who also happened to be a University of Maryland graduate. We immediately bonded; having recently come back from Australia, and she being an avid traveler herself, the conversation naturally drifted toward travels and Australia.

My face lit up as I listened to Courtney tell me all about Appian’s international offices, which included three offices in Australia! The gears were turning in my mind as I was already devising my long-term goals of moving back to Australia. I knew I had to work for this company! Modern and exciting technology, passionate coworkers, a culture that I could already feel, and travel?! Where do I sign up?

Quite obviously, I started my application process that same evening!

When Courtney called to give me my offer some short weeks later, I was walking to my next class on the University of Maryland campus. Walking quickly turned into jumping (and slight squealing); I couldn’t contain my excitement! My big appetite and love of Chipotle had landed me this opportunity! Again, kidding! The moral of the story here is that you should never pass up free food, because it might just land you your dream job!

(But seriously, though, College Students: it doesn’t hurt to attend many different types of Information Sessions — even for the free food — you truly may end finding your dream job!).

Here at Appian, having an Engineering/Computer Science/some other major related to analytical thinking equips you for many different types of opportunities — some of which, you may not even be aware until you join. I started with Appian in August 2016 as an Associate Consultant, but, after an opportunity presented itself, quickly moved into the Cloud and Community Services department to work as an Associate Solution Engineer. The Associate Solution Engineer position was a more technical role than I had signed up for initially, but as a true Engineer, I was up for the challenge. Just like Dorothy who was “no longer in Kansas,” I had left the world of Civil Engineering; everything was uncharted territory now.

Although the learning curve was steep, I remained a sponge throughout the training process, soaking up all the knowledge I could. You might ask, “What does a Solution Engineer do anyways?” The answer is A LOT.

The Role

Appian Solution Engineers assist every single one of our customers across the world and deal with a wide range of issues every day. Whether they are using Appian locally, or they are running in Appian’s Cloud offering, Solution Engineers are there to resolve any issue and keep our customers happy. Because of this, we have to know the inner workings of every layer of the Appian product. And we not only have to know Appian inside and out, but we also have to be familiar with many other technologies that Appian integrates with. Our customers challenges are our challenges. And we engineer solutions to those challenges!

Sounds pretty awesome, doesn’t it?

Besides providing direct support to our customers, Solution Engineers have many opportunities for project work that aims to better the lives of our team, the customers we support, and everyone who interacts with us. The very nature of the role hard-codes a propensity and creativity in oneself to finding solutions to any problems that might arise. This solution might manifest in an Appian application, a custom Java tool, or documentation. The combination of the Appian platform’s abilities to fulfill any business purpose along with the responsibilities of this role to constantly improve make a recipe for endless opportunities!

So, what are my favorite parts about the job? I’ll choose three — the Family, the Challenge, and the Customer Success.

The “Family”

I’m sure every group at Appian feels the same way about their team, but the Solution Engineering team is truly something special — we are a Family. While my friends are still complaining about their coworkers and looking forward to weekends away from colleagues, I have found the opposite to be true for myself. I prefer to spend the majority of my time (both personal and professional) with these people. From sunrise hikes up Old Rag mountain, to watching Bollywood movies, to playing laser tag, to enjoying Korean BBQ, to partying in D.C., to dominating Escape Rooms, to playing DND board games, to having kilo burrito challenges (I could go on) — I just can’t get enough. The bond that this Solution Engineering team shares is rare and special, and I am so happy and blessed to be a part of it.

Top photo: the DC-based team; bottom photo: the Sydney-based team!

The Challenge

Every day on the job brings a brand new challenge to solve. As the product evolves, so too do the issues we deal with. A day in the life of a Solution Engineer can really be compared to a snowflake or fingerprint: each (day) is different and unique. The work environment keeps me on my toes and constantly challenged. Personally coming from a non-computer science background, I feel even more rewarded when I solve a complex technical issue. I’ll be honest, though: sometimes, I feel like I am out of my comfort zone. But trust me, people: that’s where you want to be! No one ever grows by sticking to the status quo. Challenge also helps breed innovation. We are always looking at ways to make things better. I truly love how this role empowers me to speak up and use the tools around me to build upon what we already have… and make it that much better.

The Customer Success

Throughout my life, I have always been motivated by helping others. During my time at university, I was a peer mentor for my Scholars program and an ambassador for the Clark School of Engineering. I did these things because I was passionate about the path I had taken, and wanted to help guide others along a similar path. Both of these activities translate to my job today.

I simply enjoy interacting with and helping people. I guess you could call me a people-person. And like everyone else in this world (yes, I will make a blanket statement), I personally enjoy receiving good customer service. On the flip-side, it feels good when I can help someone with what they need. Hearing that, “Thanks for the quick turnaround” or “Much appreciated the phone call and follow up. You guys really try to help your customers and it shows,” or “Proactive service — really appreciate it!” just feels really good.

(And just in case you were curious, those are taken from real feedback surveys!).

Fast-forward to present day

Remember earlier when I said I knew that I would be back in Australia one day? Well, fate did “her thing,” and here I am, living and working in Sydney!

After one year of working as a Solution Engineer in headquarters, the opportunity arose to transfer to our Sydney office (Note: besides Sydney, we also have a Solution Engineering team in London!). I could not believe that only after one year of working at Appian, the company was investing in my career and moving me across the world. I felt proud of myself for accomplishing this milestone so quickly in my career, but it also speaks volumes about Appian. One year later, and I know that “past-university Parmida” made the right decision in choosing to work for this company who truly cares about its employees and their growth.

As of April 2018 I was officially promoted to Lead Solution Engineer for the APAC region. In just two years, I started working in an industry outside of my direct university studies, ramped up my knowledge of Appian, and achieved a leadership role.

Beyond the opportunities and experiences I’ve gained in my direct role, Appian has also given me the space to take on other initiatives that are not directly related to my role, but are equally as important. In May 2018, I expanded our AppianWOMEN affinity group to the APAC region. AppianWOMEN is a self-directed group that aims to increase mentorship and professional development opportunities, provide forums for internal and external networking and knowledge-sharing, and advance the role of women leaders within Appian and across the software industry. The program started in headquarters, expanded to the EMEA region just last year, and is now officially operating in APAC. We’ve only been up and running for a couple of months now, but leading this effort is something that I really value and enjoy spending time on. :)

This journey that Appian has guided me on is far more than I could have ever asked for. Now, as I reflect on my journey from being a Civil Engineering student, to accepting a technical role at a software company, to being an individual contributor, and then finally, to becoming a team Lead, I look forward to creating this space and opportunity for others.

And I can’t wait to see what else is in store for me!

Following the Yellow Brick Road: How I found my Dream Job (and Life) was originally published in AppianLIFE on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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Published on Aug 7, 2018

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