Name: Bounmy Phouthavong
Title: Associate Consultant
Company: EDS (Electronic Data Systems)
Department: Enterprise Solutions division
Education: Industrial Management, Carnegie Mellon, '97
Graduating Engineer: Is this your first job after school?
Bounmy Phouthavong: Yes, this is my first.
GE: What was your process for getting hired?
BP: My senior year there was a lot of companies coming to our campusrecruiting and interviewing. My junior year, however, I participated in a case study that EDS host every year. Through that I made some contacts within the company and then when they came to the campus they got me an interview for [Enterprise Solutions]. It was pretty exciting because the group had just started.
They offered and I accepted the job back in March, so the rest of my senior year was really nice. So it was actually through some prior experience with them, with this case study, and then just keeping in contact with the people that I met during the case study.
GE: What exactly did you do during this case study?
BP: EDS hosted a "Case Challenge." They brought schools from all over the country. That particular year they brought in students from Canada and Mexico as well. Each school nominated four people to go to this Case Challenge. They give you a two to three page business case, you read it and then interview people to get more information about the case.
GE: And the case is basically a problem that you're trying to solve?
BP: Exactly, it's a business problem with an IT spin on it. Once you do your interviews (and they judge you on your interviewing as well) you come up with solutions to the problem and present it to their executive team. We came in second place that year.
GE: Does EDS still do that sort of thing with college students?
BP: They do, and they publicize it within the campuses that they want to recruit from. Within those campuses, the schools pick they students that they want to represent them. Everything is hosted down in Plano, Texas; everyone stays at the corporate apartments. They also have events at night, kind of like a career fair where each division of EDS is represented. It's a good way for everyone to get to know each other.
GE: Sounds really cool.
BP: It is. And they have all the executives there to meet all the participants. They really let you get to know the company. I think they still host one every year.
GE: Can you give me a brief job description of what you do?
BP: Right now I'm working on implementing Oracle software for a utilities company in Kentucky. We're basically putting in a whole new computer system for them. Right now I'm in charge of Oracle Financial Analyzer and I'm also on the budgeting side of project accounting.
On any implementation, when you first get there, you get to know the company and how they run their business. It's a lot of interviewing, reading, and talking to the clients. You document all that and the next step is to find out how they want to run their business and how they can accomplish that through the new software. The challenge is filling gaps between how they run now, "as is," and how they want to run, "to be." We find solutions that will enable them to fill those gaps, and then configure the system accordingly.
GE: How many sites have you worked on?
BP: This is my second site. I've been here a little over a year.
GE: How long do consultants usually stay at one site?
BP: The norm is usually around ten months to a year, depending on your role.
GE: What is your favorite and least favorite part of the job?
BP: My favorite job is working with the clients. I've gotten to meet so many people, and it's kind of like instant gratification. When you do something goodyou hear about it immediately. It feels really good that something that you're doing is being appreciated.
I like the technical side as well, seeing how everything works together.
I love the traveling but it can get lonely. You're away from your home and your friends, and from all familiar surroundings for most of the week. And you're always jumping from project to project, so once you get used to something, the project comes to an end and you have to move on to the next thing.
When you commit to this job, the first thing they tell you is that this job is 100% traveling. If you're not up for that, then it's not a job for you.
GE: EDS has a lot of young people doing your job for just that reason, correct?
BP: Yeah, a lot of young people... I think the oldest person on our project right now is probably thirty-something.
GE: You've been working for almost 2 1/2 years, have there been any situations where you felt you were at a disadvantage being a woman in the work place, or were there any on-the-job situations that rubbed you the wrong way?
BP: I've had really good experiences with EDS. Right from the start they gave me a really good role. I led a small part of the implementation of Discover in Virginia. No one else on the project knew Discover; it was a brand new product that had just come out. I was the only person who knew it and so I had to take the lead in implementing for the company. It was such a great challenge and a great opportunity. Directly from that I got the lead for Oracle Financial Analyzer and a supporting role in Project Accounting. So thus far, I don't have too much to complain about.
GE: Mentoring has become a pretty big thing in the workplace for young engineers and computer science majors, especially for women and minorities. Has anyone taken you under their wing?
BP: We're not in Plano [EDS Headquarters] too much, but we do have a mentoring system in place for our group and that's helped a lot. They used to be a big part of our evaluation process. You'd get to know each other and they'd guide you through your career path and introduce you to people.
We still have that in place but I also have a mentor on site, one that I found myself, that has been even more beneficial than the actual mentoring that takes place in the company. This person on the project-she's been working with her company for five years, she has had tremendous experience, is extremely knowledgeable, and that's the person I'm working for on this project. She has the lead role. I've just learned so much from her. What's really great is that anytime I have a question she takes time out of her schedule to answer my questions. She'll sit down with me in front of the system and shows me the things I need to know. She's really involved me in her part of the implementation (even though it's not my role) so that I can learn it, and perhaps next time I will be able to do her role.
I think the most important thing is the mentors you find for yourself during your day-to-day situations. It has really come in handy.
GE: It sounds as if your experience has been pretty positive overall in this job...
BP: It has been. But I know a lot of people have not had very positive experiences. EDS has undergone a tremendous amount of change just this last year. A new CEO had come in and they totally reorganized the whole company.
GE: Overall were the changes for the better?
BP: I think they are for the better. I do see an improvement, and I see it in the future too that all these changes are going to strengthen the company, but just going through it can be rough. One day someone says they're your manager and the next someone else calls you and says 'I'm your manager now.' Being on project kind of shields you from these changes though.
GE: Any idea what the future might hold for youwhat you might like to do?
BP: In the future I think I might like to get a lead role on a few of the modular implementations and then eventually lead a full implementation. I really enjoy consultingthe travel, and the Oracle technology.
Right now is such an exciting time to be here, especially as a new person entering the workforce. There's a lot of opportunity. The technology we consult is something you can learn very easily and then develop expertise in because not many people know it.
GE: From what I hear it's a great job to have just because of the amount of stuff you get to learn.
BP: And you learn so much too. Even if you don't want to get deeper into the technology, there's so much that you learn on the job that you can use on any job. There's so much interaction with the customeryou need really good communications skills, leadership skills, presentation skills, organizational skills. You can apply all these things to anything else. I think it's a great starting point. I don't think I could have done any better.
GE: Is it true that after your four-day workweek, EDS will fly you wherever you want to go?
BP: Yeah, if it's comparable to your flight home, they're usually pretty flexible. That's the good part but then it can get lonely and tiring too.
GE: What is the biggest surprise you've encountered in your first job in the workplace?
BP: I always thought IT departments were always full of men. Even back in school, we had a really big, well-established computer science program, but all the people were men. So I always thought this is just a man's field, but it hasn't been that way at all. The majority of people on my project are women. I think when I first started the majority of leadership roles were men, and now with all these new changes going on, I'm seeing a lot of new women move up into these leadership roles. I think that's a pretty positive thing that I'm seeing and it let's me know that there may be a position for me up there as well. I wasn't expecting it but it's good to see they accept women and that it's no longer a man's world anymore.
GE: You're saying that the amount of women in leadership roles is a result of the recent organizational changes at EDS?
BP: I don't know if they specifically came with it, but I'm now seeing more women in higher roles. Actually the leader for our organization is now a women, whereas it was a man before.
GE: When I think of EDS I think of a historically conservative company. Like an IBM-clean white shirt, tie, etc. Very old school.
BP: Yeah, very old school. It was very strict back then, but they've undergone a lot of changes. Before you had to wear your jacket in the cafeteria. There were also certain shoes that you couldn't wear. Very structured, but just last year they came out with an overall corporate policy where it's casual now. It's kind of funny but just two years ago women were finally allowed to wear pant suits. There's lots of changes coming for the better.
GE: When you say you're "on the bench," what does that mean?
BP: "On the bench" means that you're in between major projects. There are multiple things you can be doing during that time. You can get trained on a new technology, you can help out with internal projects within EDS...
GE: Or you could take a little time off and relax...
BP: Yeah you could do that too.