Monday, July 3, 2017

Career Conversations with an Anderson Alum




Embrace the Jungle Gym

By Terri Nikole Baca

It was more than a few years ago when I first read Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In: Women, Work And The Will To Lead, but one of the book’s themes has resonated with me since.  Sandberg thoughtfully shares that it is better to think in terms of a career “jungle gym” rather than a career “ladder.”  Ladders have traditionally been a metaphor to describe career growth, but this is 2017, and I can assure new graduates that success will come from a jungle gym of career turns and leaps.  These maneuverers may seem risky in the moment, but will guide you to success as long as you do your part by always demonstrating excellent work ethic, integrity, and a willingness to learn. 

When I graduated from UNM with a BBA in 2005, I felt pressure to interview with companies in my field of training, which was finance.  But the truth is, I was 22 years old and my “field of training” in the real world had largely been working student positions at UNM and waiting tables on the weekends for extra cash.  I had no idea what my next step on the ladder was supposed to be—so I decided to keep going to school and enrolled at the UNM School of Law in Fall of that year.

I graduated in 2008 with no job offer in sight and unsure whether I was interested in practicing law.  Between studying for the bar exam and worrying about my future, I was too anxious to calm down and enjoy my last summer before summer breaks no longer existed.  I took the bar exam in July and was waiting for the results when I got a call from then Public Regulation Commission chairman Ben Ray Luján’s campaign staff.  Chairman Luján was in the middle of a campaign for the U.S. Congress, for the seat formerly held by now Senator Tom Udall.  His staff was looking for a campaign field director to help, and they had heard of me through some campaign volunteer work I had done in law school.  “Sure,” I said.  Maybe knocking on doors and making call lists had nothing to do with a law degree, but I needed a job and this sounded fun. 

Beth Comstock, Vice Chair of General Electric, has said that she likes to hire people who can “Figure it Out” (FIO).  These are people who can successfully handle tough situations or working outside their comfort zone—like those who have served in Peace Corps or Teach for America.  Campaign work was my “FIO” and the skills I learned in those months---though I didn’t realize it at the time—certainly prepared me for my future jungle gym leaps.

Five months later, my first “real job” out of school landed me in Washington DC, working for newly-elected Representative Luján as his Legislative Counsel.  I dove right in to the legislative process and federal government, focusing on technology, energy, education, and telecommunication policy.  I took these skills with me to my next job in the nonprofit sector as policy director for a national education organization, then shifted to managing public policy for a local chamber of commerce.  Finally, I landed in the private sector at AT&T, my most recent turn on the jungle gym, a position I was only able to secure because of the broad experience I had gained through my jungle gym of career moves.  I hope that as new or recent graduates, or as professionals looking for a career change, you will embrace the jungle gym and not be afraid to take chances with your career path---even if it means taking a pay cut or making a lateral move to get somewhere better in the long run.   



As Director of External Affairs, Terri Nikole Baca manages government and public affairs for AT&T in New Mexico. Terri Nikole joined AT&T after serving as senior vice president of public policy at the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce. In this role, Terri Nikole managed the development of the Chamber’s policy positions on a variety of issues impacting the business community. Terri Nikole also oversaw the Chamber’s government relations strategy and execution of city, county and state advocacy plans. Terri Nikole's professional experience includes project management, public relations and government affairs, and state, federal and tribal government policymaking. Prior to joining the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, Terri Nikole served as policy director for a national education nonprofit, where she advanced policy initiatives to support STEM education and workforce development. Before her work in the nonprofit sector, Terri Nikole spent several years on Capitol Hill serving as legislative counsel to U.S. Congressman Ben Ray Luján where she worked on telecommunications, energy, science, technology, and education issues.

Terri Nikole was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico and holds a BBA in Finance and a Juris Doctor from the University of New Mexico. Her professional memberships include the State Bar of New Mexico, New Mexico Hispanic Bar Association and New Mexico Women’s Bar Association.

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