It was in high school that Judy Lee decided to go into engineering. But for the longest time, she wasn't sure exactly what engineering meant. "My biggest problem was figuring out which aspect of engineering was right for me. I was really unsure about it. If any student asked me for advice today, I would tell her to relax. If you don't pick the right discipline the first time, that's okay, you can always change to something else and your time is never wasted. I learned a lot of important stuff, even though I didn't find my niche right away..."
Searching for a Job She'd Love
Judy eventually found her "niche" in a most remarkable way. In graduate school, and still undecided about her career direction, Judy attended a talk given by an engineer from Sweden. "I noticed she was a mechanical engineer and I thought, hey, I'm a mechanical engineer. I also noticed she designed children's products, which is what I wanted to do, and that she worked for IKEA, and I love IKEA! Instantly this woman became my idol. Her talk was inspiring and I made sure to meet her afterwards. I just wanted to hear more about what she did and how she got there..."
The Perfect Combination of Creativity and Problem Solving
Judy's enthusiasm paid off. A few months later, the IKEA engineer asked her to design a children's play mat. Judy was thrilled and soon found herself in IKEA headquarters in Sweden, where she worked with a team of engineers and product developers. It was at this moment that she realized her ideal job was one that truly offered a balance between creativity and problem solving.
Designing for IKEA
Judy began her new project by thinking about the way kids play. "I realized that kids today play indoors a lot. Maybe because the world seems a little more dangerous and parents are more protective. So I knew that this mat had to incorporate some kind of physical play element..." Rather than a static mat, Judy designed one resembling a giant lazy Susan that kids could spin around on. "Once I had the concept, the mechanical engineer in me took over. I needed something simple. Simplicity is awesome. My mat is basically two injection-molded pieces of plastic that spin on a set of interior wheels..."
Judy will never forget the experience of seeing her mat in an IKEA store. "It was incredible," she recalls, "and it was such important validation for me that my ideas matter, they're good, and they're marketable..."
Dream Job at IDEO
Today, Judy has found her dream job in Palo Alto, California, at a company called IDEO, one of the country's most innovative design firms. IDEO hires engineers, designers, psychologists, and businesspeople who work in teams to develop cutting-edge products (they created Apple Computer's first mouse, for example). Judy designs children's toys, pet products, and packaging for over-the-counter drugs and food. "I feel pretty lucky to have such a creative and interesting job. I'm surrounded by brilliant people. It doesn't really seem like work. It's just plain fun!"