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Woodburn advises career 'path,' not 'plan'


Maddie Yang

David Woodburn
David Woodburn

David Woodburn (BSME ‘87) was the last of 12 guest speakers this semester to give a presentation to ME 290, the mechanical engineering seminar course required of all undergraduate students in the MechSE department. He currently works for bio-Growth, a consulting firm for businesses in the agriculture, pharmaceutical, and biotechnology industries. Woodburn’s presentation, titled “Start-up vs. Corporate,” discussed his personal experience in industry, and what he liked and disliked about working for different-sized corporations.

He began by polling the class to see what sort of company they were interested in working for. Most people answered that they would either like to work for a large company or that the size of company didn’t matter. Fewer stated they would like to start their own company or work for a small one. Woodburn then discussed his own career path. He admitted it was less than traditional: “Notice I say ‘path,’ I didn't say ‘career plan,’” he said. There's no way anybody would ever come up with a plan like this. And if they did, they'd be crazy.”

Right after graduation, Woodburn worked for a company which provided him solid project engineering experience. Despite enjoying his technical role, he didn’t enjoy working for that particular company so he moved on to Baxter Healthcare. There, he was able to work on a project which he described as “essentially a start-up within the corporate environment … it [had] the excitement and fun of building a brand new business, but the checks didn’t bounce [and] we had great benefits.” Later in his career he was able to work for some smaller companies, eventually leading him to bio-Growth.

Woodburn compared people’s conceptions of working for small and large businesses to his own experiences in both. He emphasized the “nimble decision making” that start-ups require and compared it to the job-security of larger businesses. “Making payroll is a big deal, and it doesn't always happen.”

Overall, Woodburn encouraged students to keep their options open, and to look carefully into what different companies might have to offer, because it might not be what you expect. “Keep an open mind and open eyes, because things aren't always exactly what you think they are. And, you know, don't stereotype just like you shouldn't stereotype people. Don’t stereotype companies, because they may have some pretty neat opportunities within them, even though they might seem really boring on the outside. And there's also the converse of that, you could have something that looks really exciting, and ends up not being very fun either.”

Woodburn emphasized that although his job doesn’t require many of the technical skills at U of I, the critical thinking he did here greatly helped him. “That's the most important thing that I came out of the U of I College of Engineering with, is critical analytical skills.”