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2024 Virtual Return to Work Conference, May 14-16

EP 264:Electrical engineer relaunched her career 4 years ago and is going strong with Tcheula Lienou

Tcheula Lienou headshot

Episode Description

Tcheula Lienou, a Senior Controls Hardware Engineer with Trane Technologies took a ten-year career break to raise her three children before relaunching her career in 2019. Tcheula participated in the inaugural cohort of Ingersoll Rand’s ReLaunch career reentry program, which is now run by Trane Technologies following a 2020 corporate restructuring. Her focus is in new product development, life cycle engineering, quality and supply chain. We will speak with Tcheula about her career path, career break and her career progression since participating in the ReLaunch program.

Read Transcript

Carol Fishman Cohen: Welcome to 3,2,1 iRelaunch, the podcast where we discuss return to work strategies, advice, and success stories. I'm Carol Fishman Cohen, CEO and co-founder of iRelaunch and your host. Before we get started today, I want to remind the relaunchers in our audience who are actively looking to resume their careers to look up on the iRelaunch.Com website our Job Board, and register, and post your resume there because that is where employers go specifically to find people who are returning to work after a career break.

Now onto our conversation for today. Today we welcome Tcheula Lienou, a senior controls hardware engineer with Trane Technologies. Tcheula, an electrical engineer, took a 10 year career break to raise her three children before we launching her career in 2019, in the inaugural cohort of Ingersoll Rand's Relaunch Career Reentry Program, which is now run by Trane Technologies following a 2020 corporate restructuring. During her career break, Tcheula ran a food business called TTRU B, which we're gonna talk about in a little bit. And professionally and technically her focus is in new product development, lifecycle engineering, quality and supply chain. We will speak with Tcheula about her career path, her career break, her career progression since participating in the relaunch program and a few other topics too. Tcheula, welcome to 3,2,1 iRelaunch.

Tcheula Lienou: Thanks, Carol, I'm so glad to be here.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Well, we're thrilled to have you, and maybe we can start by learning a little bit about your career background prior to your career break.

Tcheula Lienou: Sure. So hello everyone. My name Tcheula Lienou, like Carol said, prior to having the 10 year career break, I came into the US from Cameroon to study electrical engineering. I did, I was going to study engineering, which I did. I had a bachelor's and I had a master's degree. I finished my master's degree in 2009.

During that time I worked as a research assistant, teaching assistant, and I worked at Burns and Mark as well in an internship program with the, their energy, energy group. And when I graduated, when I finished my masters in 2009, the economy had changed. A lot of people were losing jobs, As an international student at the time, I required Visa sponsorship to work in the US.

And because of that, not being able to get that, I stayed at home. I stayed on my husband's visa, an H4 visa that allowed me to live in the US but not work. And during that time, I took care of our kids, and did some food sales.

Carol Fishman Cohen: All right. I, so it's almost as if you were very highly educated. You had a little bit of work experience, but you really, it was almost like a launch, as opposed to a relaunch, would you characterize it that way? Or no?

Tcheula Lienou: Yeah, I'll characterize it that way. I think I'll characterize it that way. The difference I see in it is what I brought to the table being a new person in the US and dealing with all the changes and staying through school and working through school in the technical field and, also out of school. So not necessarily with the company, but within the school structure and research and, the internships I did during that time.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Right. That makes sense. So, I guess I will edit that to say it is truly a relaunch that, that you were doing, after that career break. And that was a 10 year career break. It was a long time to be away from a technical career. But before we get into that piece of it, I want to know if you could tell us a little bit about the food business that you were running during that 10 year period?

Tcheula Lienou: Sure. So my, I have three boys. they're really close in age and about the time the oldest and the middle one could go to kindergarten, I would do some West African snacks during nighttime and, got a cottage food license that would allow me go to the farmer's market while they're in school and sell those.

And then by the time they're getting out of school, I would pick them and then we'll continue to our day. That's one thing I did. I also, maybe during the evenings we go out with people who paid for my service, really teach them how to use coupons to shop and reduce their grocery bills.

And, sometimes people would just order food for me directly and then I would make that for them and they'd pay me for it. I kind of kept myself busy the best way I could. I enjoy cooking, so it was neat to use that even though through it all, I knew what I really wanted to do was to be back using my technical skills.

Carol Fishman Cohen: So tell us a little bit more about how you remained connected or didn't remain connected on the technical side of your engineering profession while you were on career break? Were there, any, was there anything that you were doing to keep up or was it pretty much a break during that time from your professional focus?

Tcheula Lienou: Yeah. So because of the work, the desire I'd always had to be in the technical field, I'd never let go of the technical side. I read journals, [unclear] magazines. Another thing that worked for me was the, is the fact that my husband is also an electrical engineer. So I had that exposure with his own community, and I think I was very blessed because most of the ladies that worked with him, knew I was also knew I was an engineer and they would bring me into events and conversations like, let me be part of it.

So I had a lot of support from the system around me that for the most part, they saw me as still doing engineering. I was one who had to tell myself every time that truly, I might not be working right now, but I'm still in this place. So I really had that support in my community.

Carol Fishman Cohen: That is so unusual and really interesting, and great that you had that support in your community where people were treating you and respecting you as the professional that you, you were when you went on the career break.

And even though your perception of yourself might have changed during that time, their perception had not changed. And the idea that, it sounds like you're making an effort to stay current and constantly learn, and then you're also having the opportunity to have these conversations.

Tcheula Lienou: That's right,Carol, I think I had a lot of support, people believed in me more than I did in myself about even the possibility of returning. They would ask for my resume. They would send me jobs, they would talk to people about this person and all along I'm like, but you all know I've been out for some time and this is the statistics.

if you've been out this long, you probably can't get back. But somehow it didn't, and it really encouraged me because they were in the field and sometimes that's what I used to say, if there is anyone now that still believes that I can do this whenever the time comes, maybe I should not give up on myself.

Carol Fishman Cohen: So important. That, that's amazing. And, and a really, critical piece of the story. People are sharing with you jobs on a consistent basis, having these conversations with you, at what point did you decide that it was the right time to actually act on this and look at some of these roles?

Tcheula Lienou: Just because I never left the space, and it wasn't voluntary, when my youngest, I applied for jobs here and there. But when my youngest started kindergarten, It was clear to me that I gotta find something to do with myself. And yes, I was doing a business, but it's still, it still felt like there, I need to really put myself out there in terms of going back into the into the technical space.

And that was the time I took the FE exam, the electrical engineer, electronics FE so fundamentals of engineering. Passed that and I, it was a booster, I think it was a booster on my resume, cause usually it's a preferred requirement on most jobs and, but I still had a few, some few months went by after I passed the exam, in terms of even getting interviews or getting

Carol Fishman Cohen: Can you tell us a little bit more about that exam? I am thinking it's a very challenging exam and I think I have heard about other engineers taking it. What kind of preparation did you have to do for that exam and. How did you approach taking it?

Were you nervous going into it or of the way you studied? Did that make you feel confident? How did that part go?

Tcheula Lienou: So, one thing I like to say is like, if you know how to ride a bicycle, a career break is like you get off the bicycle and then you get back on. So I really had that, first of all, the support system around me that throughout the years, made me realize I can still do this, but for anyone in a technical field, just any field that you are in before you take a break, you have given time to do stuff.

You've studied it, you've learned it, you know these things. A break does not take it away from you. You've just taken time away from it. So when it's time to study, the biggest thing was to quit time as a parent to study. But I knew if I could go back to my books, these things would be, they'll come back to me because I studied, I got my, no one did it for me. So what I did at one point I had my parent and my aunt and my mom visiting so they could watch the kids for me during the day. I would go to the library. Yes, it's a challenging exam Carol, it's everything like the whole four, four year degree programs, mathematics, chemistry, physics.

I'm doing the exam for electrical engineering. But you do, you just do everything science you need and mechanics of it. I think maybe chemistry, ethics. So it's a broad range of topics, math that you need to go into and, know those fundamentals, and then show up into the exam. Yeah.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Wow. What a credential for you to have coming back in, not only the credential itself, but all that preparation you had to do to study for and then take the exam.

I'm guessing, did that feel like a critical and relevant skills update, or are you covering topics that you wouldn't normally be using in the job?

Tcheula Lienou: I'm covering topics I won't normally be using in the job, but it's topics that you did at school. So it's critical. There are people, in different levels of engineering, even most advanced, that haven't still done the exam.

So it's, it's an exam that people are encouraged to take right after they graduate, like right after you studied, you were working on those subjects. After that, the probability of making it just keeps going down.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Okay. And then do people take it twice? If you had taken it right after you graduated, but then you wanted to use it again as a reskill or upskill? Would you have taken it? would you have still done that or do you, would you only have, say, I already took this and got this credential?

Tcheula Lienou: I would've taken it again, cause it would show in currently that it's not 10 years ago. I still know this. Cause the next exam after that, there was a PE you get a PE license.

But you need at least four, four years of work experience as one qualification to do that exam, which I didn't have. If you have the exam before your gap, there's still room to, to, take it. If you are considering going back to work it, it, having that exam or passing that exam, having on my resume, it opened more, I did more interviews, I had more calls after that, not job offers, but there was a little bit more traffic in terms of response to my applications.

Carol Fishman Cohen: I just want our audience who's listening who might be, in a similar field to think about what Tcheula is saying here about taking or retaking this exam and what it represents on your resume, how it, he helps you be more confident and gets you more up to date.

There's a lot packed in there with taking that exam. All right. Well, that's very interesting. So, okay, you've taken the exam, you've passed it, you started to be, you started applying. and how did you go about applying? Were you applying to traditional roles and career reentry programs?

Did you know about them or did that happen later? What was the timeline there?

Tcheula Lienou: I mostly applied to the regular jobs. They were not career reentry programs. At the time, I didn't know of a career reentry jobs. But like I talked about my support system. I found out about the career reentry program at Ingersoll Rand,.

because I have a dear friend who was just a support, she's also a senior chemical engineer. But she saw it on another friend, on her friend's LinkedIn profile, that Ingersoll was doing the career reentry program. She had never heard of it before. And I was just coming off an interview that seems it was really gonna work out, but the job go, the job got canceled after that interview. So she was a little bit concerned, didn't know if I would go take her up on that again, but she sent it to me. And I said, okay, I'm gonna apply to this and we'll see how it goes. That, and when I received that, knowing that it was career reentry, I did my resume at the time to include in the business that I worked on.

Because I knew, okay, talking to the interviewers, HR, at this point, they know there's a gap on my resume and I can speak to it in terms of what I did at that time and not necessarily try to cover it up.

Carol Fishman Cohen: So you made some adjustments, which we recommend now in terms of even more like calling out career break and then putting some of these, whether it's a, an entrepreneurial venture, whether it's a side job to bring in extra income, volunteer work, or, any skills updating to put it under that heading, this was a few years ago, so you're doing an early version of that. And obviously you, your resume and your background took you to the top of the pool there and you got interviewed.

What was it like to be in that interview situation and was it a technical interview or what were some of the questions you got asked?

Tcheula Lienou: Yeah, it was both technical and just be aware and just also trying to know my story. And that was the first time out of my friends I was hearing that I'm strong. My, my story, I have a powerful story. Like there were, those interviewers were feeling inspired and I was like, okay, I think I need to understand what they're saying because I was used to that in my circle, but I didn't know it for myself that there's value out of not working all this years in the technical space will see it or connect with it.

So I, it was very emotional for me. I really tried to not cry through some of it. Cause they, yeah, they had me go to some of those places where they were intrigued and and I heard people say stuff like, this is inspiring, it's your time to shine. Like, people out of my circle believing, so I really can't speak to what they saw, but that was the nature of the interview.

I interviewed with eight VPs at the time of engineering programs throughout the Ingersoll Rand company, HR, and just had different people talk to me. And I also remembered someone highlighting the fact that I had just done the FE also and passed it like in that conversation. I had questions about the things that I've done to stay, the journals I read, things I have done to stay up to date in the technical field.

Not really much that some electronics, cause I did move into electronics at the time when I joined Ingersoll Rand. But for the most part, it was a whole picture. The whole journey. Yes.

Carol Fishman Cohen: And I can just hear in the way you're expressing this, that it was probably like surprising and refreshing to hear people talk about how this was such a, an important part of your progression at career dev, your development as a person, but really validating the career break, whereas before you felt I can't talk about that.

Tcheula Lienou: Exactly, Carol, that was it exactly. It felt like career break, don't talk about it. Why? It should be a shame. But that was a space where it's no, you should be proud of yours. In fact, I am proud of. Yeah. Yeah.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Actually we can talk about that. do you carry your relauncher identity with you and be someone who's willing to have your story featured in the public domain?

So how has that evolved for you?

Tcheula Lienou: Oh, I carry it with me, because I know that there's so many people out there, I even have them in my life, people were still close to me and still don't feel they can start something they thought years ago, before whatever break. They can't just go back to it because of the break.

So I carry my story with me 'cause it's my story, and I feel like people can benefit from me. And I, the fact that it's been embraced also helps me to share more about it. So in most settings I will introduce myself with the fact that I had a 10 year career break before returning to work.

Carol Fishman Cohen: And, we'll talk a little bit about your, what your role is with the Trane Technologies Relaunch Program now as someone who's been, was in the inaugural class and has been back at work now for a number of years. But before we get into that, can you remember back to the early days of the program itself, like maybe the first couple of months, and talk about what kind of support you got on the technical side, and how did that feel to be back in that technical role? And when did you feel like you got your sea legs, you were comfortable and ready now to move to the next level. Tell us a little bit about that period.

Tcheula Lienou: Sure. Ingersoll did a great job with that first call in the structure.

We had executive sponsors, managers, mentors, and these were people we interfaced with, like maybe weekly or biweekly basis. And they're very aware, these people have worked with interns and just worked as people leaders. They were aware of where we're coming from. We had a 3% group at a time. We were very close.

We were all on the David campus, almost like the same story, a break and the same feelings, the same, I might not get back into this and we find ourselves, and that was really helpful in the program itself. And from the managers, they tried to, the, I can speak about my mentor, they tried to put you at ease.

It, for me in particular was, you are looking at that book, the difference between what you're studying and what you have to do. Don't leave the mommy skills behind. Don't use, leave the whatever skills you've been using. That's it's, you use those here also. So don't get lost in maybe integration or differentiation like the science of it, but high level, can you understand?

I remember my director at the time saying, just know our product.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Oh, interesting. Know, so know your product.

Tcheula Lienou: Yeah. Know our product. Know our product line. And a lot of the support I found out throughout that work and a lot of work I did, really stemmed from knowing the product, the variations between one product line and the other.

That was where value really came from at the time. And for me, I remember overthinking was a problem at the beginning, just overthinking and, just knowing I'm just one minute away from falling on my face here. Yeah. But my mentor was awesome. I remember her telling me also, so there was overthinking and another thing I, my mentor helped me with was owning the program, not just waiting for what's next.

So she kept it in me. She said, you have to drive this as a 12 week program. What do you want? You have to ask for what you want. I had some managers at the time and he said, okay, you need to be clear about your deliverables. What does success look like? What does a win look like?

So without that coaching, I think I would've just been dancing around the leadership about what you want me to do today, what's next? But she made me say, Hey, this is a chance you have right now. Only, do not be afraid. You can't be afraid right now, step into it. It's an amazing opportunity. And you want a full-time position after.

So she was way, she was kind and a female, she was kind, but she just stayed by telling me about owning my relaunch experience.

Carol Fishman Cohen: This is one of the unique parts of being in a career re reentry program is, what's put in place to, for that transitional support. You talked about your cohort.

You had a very small cohort for the first time, out which we often see even with very large companies. But this is a life transition on the personal and professional side, and you form bonds with your cohort members like, that are, can be lifelong.

Tcheula Lienou: Yeah. And it, technical space is fast paced. Everything.

I joined a group where I think a week, the week after I joined, a senior engineer left the group. I, I remember being in the conference room one time and we needed to do some testing out in Boston. And everyone's just too busy. And my manager at the time looked at me and said, will you go?

Wow. Yeah, that's, and because of the coaching in the program, the structure of the program for my mentor, the manager's, executive sponsor, people telling you, I believe in you have this. So you stepping? Yeah, I'll go.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Tcheula, can you mentioned know your product, can you just give us some examples of some of the products that you have worked on?

And maybe just a little bit about what Ingersol Rand and Trane, what kind of products are produced there? What do the companies do?

Tcheula Lienou: So with Ingersol, I work with the power tools group. We, build precision wireless tools. So they use this in the car industry to assemble cars, just position exactly, safety is key. So we have electronics in this tool that can tell to [unclear] when, if a bolt is tightened in the car, we know exactly what date it was done, what [ unclear] was on it. So if there was, if there's a requirement and it's missed, we have that record. So I worked with the power tools group, where we worked on the tools and the controllers.

When I joined Ingersol Rand, one of the projects I worked on joining was adding Bluetooth capability to our tools. So at the time, most tools were coded, or wifi was zb, but we had to change a microcontroller in the display board to enhance due to capability and people could walk around the factory and use drills and get their data in their system.

And then I also worked on the wireless side of it. So there was a progression, adding Bluetooth capability, and then we moved to also adding wifi capability on our, on the position fastening tools. So I worked on that and that was within a year of Covid hitting. And when Covid came, a lot of stuff became about supporting production.

Cause we had the patch shortages. And that was really my main focus, my last few couple of years at, with the group, which is also technical because you have to validate new components, the contract manufacturers can find the parts that they're used to getting when they get there. There's just the shortages, long lead times on these components.

So as an engineer, you have to now say, okay, what's available? You look at the schematic, you look at its own properties, and I make a suggestion for an alternate. So that was constant between technical working with the contract manufacturer, procurement, buyers, just all that picture to keep production going.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah. Wow. Okay. And then now that you're wor, actually, can you talk about the, transition that you made going from Ingersol Rand to Trane? We talked earlier that there was a corporate restructuring, where there, the, there was a spinoff and a split. When you moved to Trane, were you changing the kinds of, and it's pretty recent, would were, are you changing the kinds of products that you're working on or is it something related to be what you were doing before?

Tcheula Lienou: Yes. I've changed products, so now I work on thermostats, but still electronic boards. But before I work with tools, electronic boards in drills now working with electronic bots in thermostats, the thermostats you have in Okay. Yeah. we're just launching. I've just been part of the program. We're just finished.

I'm launching a new set of thermostats that we have to qualify new microprocessors on because there's a shortage with the current microprocessors we're using on that thermostat. So different product, but I stayed in line with hardware engineering. And yeah, the move to Trane, just a few months ago was mostly to stay in the technical path and have a big, a better opportunity to work with my team.

My team at Ingersol Rand, really amazing people. My team was in New Jersey. I worked from Oklahoma. And we were all worked from home for some time and then we returned to the office. So I, my, I wanted to, wanting to stay with technical and just seeing that gap in terms of growing in it made the switch to Trane.

Carol Fishman Cohen: So now you're in a place where you can get together in person with your team, like periodically.

Tcheula Lienou: Yes.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Interesting. that, that is amazing that you were able to make that transition and stay with the related company and, now apply your expertise to this different group of products, but with I guess some commonality because you're using, you're working on the board, the printed circuit board assembly that goes inside.

Tcheula Lienou: It's a, Trane has a, it's a different structure. It's H V A C, so I'm still learning the whole system, cause all those come together from the outdoor units to the thermostats inside, the furnaces they all have boards in there. They all work together. I am coming up to speed with that.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Got it. So from the power tools to thermostats and h the H V A C world, product world? Interesting. can you tell us a little bit about what your role is as someone who has graduated or you're an, you're part of the alumni group of people who've gone through the relaunch program.

Do you have any, contact with the people who are currently in the program. And what is that community like?

Tcheula Lienou: Oh, we have joining Trane, so Trane continued with the relaunch program. So when I joined I found out there was a alumni community. It's it's really special because we've all gone through the same things, just trying to come back to work after. And that, that was amazing cause a lot of people who helped me through my relaunch program, I think what they asked was paid forward. Cause there's no way besides thank you, I can really thank them. So I just put it in mind to give back. So when I joined Trane and I saw alumni community, I was part of it.

And fortunately for me, a new cohort started just about the time I joined Trane. And they were taking volunteers for mentors and people to help with mock interviews. Just some amazing things they do with the program. And I signed up for it not knowing if being a new person would Trane, I'll get a chance.

But I happen to have gotten a mentee in this cohort that graduates next Friday.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Oh my.

Tcheula Lienou: And. And the coolest thing is my mentee got an offer, a full-time offer this week and shared that with me, and I was so happy. It felt like when I got my own offer.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah

Tcheula Lienou: I was so happy for him, he did the work, but to be part of some other person's journey to relaunch into full-time. Oh, Carol, I love it.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah, you just think about, where you were when you were at the beginning of that journey where you are now, and then you're mentoring someone who's at the beginning of their journey, it's, I can see how that there's something just really emotional about it.

Tcheula Lienou: So, yes. Yes. And they get to see it. They get to connect with, I've been here every feeling they're having, you can relate with it, and you just coach them through it and ask a lot of questions. Don't beat yourself up too much. Give yourself grace, Ask questions.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah. Tcheula thank you so much for sharing all of this with us.

I wanted to close by asking you the question that we ask all of our podcasts guests, and that is, what is your best piece of advice for our relauncher audience, even if it's something that we've already talked about today?

Tcheula Lienou: Oh, that's a good question. So what I'll say is be hopeful, there's a job out there for you if you're looking for a job. Keep applying. Use this platform. Don't lose hope. And if you're already in the job. Be strong. You have what it takes to get it done and exceed your company's goals. So believe that of yourself. Believe what is told you. Even if it's not good, use it. But don't beat yourself up. You got the degree, you've worked. You can do this again, even if it's been 30 years.

Carol Fishman Cohen: I love that advice. I love that you have advice for people who are looking to relaunch and people who are already back on the job. So thank you, Tcheula. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Tcheula Lienou: Thank you, Carol. I have enjoyed this conversation. Thanks. Thanks for having me. And it's been good seeing you again.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yes, you too. And thanks to our audience for listening to 3,2,1 iRelaunch, the podcast where we discuss return to work strategies, advice and success stories. I'm Carol Fishman Cohen, CEO and co-founder of iRelaunch and your host. Make sure those of you who are actively relaunching, go to iRelaunch.Com to take advantage of all the tools and resources we have there. And make sure if you are looking right now to return to work to register on our Job Board.

Thank you so much for joining us.

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