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Growing from a Shy Engineer to a Confident Networker

If you told me two years ago that I wouldn’t be working in a lab anymore and that I would be attending events and regularly meeting new people, I don’t know if I would have believed you. But in the last two years I’ve had two distinct days that changed my life.  The first was at the end of September 2015.  I was sitting in a small room at the doctor waiting to hear words that I already knew.  I was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 25.

The next two weeks were a blur of tests and procedures and more biopsies. I started preparing documentation so someone could do my job when I was gone because even though I tried to work through chemo, I only made it a month before my body couldn’t work in the lab anymore. That lab was a safe place for me.  I worked with the same people and we had common interests.  We all liked the same radio stations that we listened to every day and we weren’t so fond of branching out and talking to people that weren’t part of our little family.  I knew I was going to miss those people.

It was late March 2016 when I returned to work with a clean bill of health and a head with about a quarter inch of hair. I was a fundamentally different person.  I wanted to challenge myself to branch out.  In the days of weeding through emails, I noticed the Women’s Network was holding a volunteering event at the Baldwin Center where we served lunch to the hungry.  I signed up because it was a cause already close to my heart.  I thought I might meet some people too.

​​​​​​​This is where the second day that changed my life comes into play. We had finished volunteering and were eating a late lunch and I hadn’t really talked to anyone the whole time because I’m very introverted.  But I did know someone there, Kim Spinek, the executive assistant in my group, and she is so outgoing she knew just about everyone.  That’s when she introduced me to Janet Harden who, as it turned out, did a lot of fundraising for a charity that did research and provided support for people with the exact cancer I had.  I didn’t know it then, but this was the start of something incredible.

For the next few months I was able to find some great opportunities at work to try to keep branching out including offsite testing, learning how to support crash testing, and expanding my work with quality. I hadn’t talked to Janet for a few months and then I received and email from her about Women@Work. I wasn’t sure about going but she talked me into it.

Women@Work was a great event where I had to network with people. It turns out that I wasn’t as introverted as I thought I was and I did enjoy the entire event.  I was coming out of my shell and I didn’t even realize it was happening.  It wasn’t long after that event that I started a new job with Hydraulic Brake Systems as a test engineer.  This position was still in test, but it wasn’t in a lab.  I had to leave my comfort zone.  I was nervous, but thanks to all the networking I had done, which is how I came across the new job anyway, I knew I could do this.

Today I work as a test engineer in HBS and I am enjoying a year cancer free and having hair to cover my head during the winter.


This article was written by our employee.

Growing from a Shy Engineer to a Confident Networker

Heather Wilsher Dixon E-mail:


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