Project manager Chau Hegg, OMBA ’15, knew her Smith School online MBA program would be challenging. But she got an extra surprise during the first week of classes. “Right after the opening residency, I came home and discovered I was pregnant,” says Hegg, who also has undergraduate and graduate degrees in industrial engineering. “Suddenly it made sense why I was so hungry when they fed us steak.” She already had three children at home, plus a new job at Fannie Mae in Reston, Va. But the working mother didn’t panic. Instead, she sat down with her husband and figured out a path forward. By the time she graduated in September 2015, she had a 1-year-old daughter and a new position lined up at Fannie Mae managing software testing for a high-profile initiative. “I had kids, but I still kept going,” Hegg says. She shares four keys that have guided her career to this point.
SEEK LEARNING: Hegg preaches to her children about the importance of education. But she also models the behavior. “Going through the MBA program was a life lesson for my kids,” Hegg says. The passion for higher education started earlier in her career at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. After earning a spot on Caterpillar’s leadership rotation in 2002, personal commitments took Hegg to Seattle. To give herself an edge in the new environment, she enrolled in a graduate program at the University of Washington. Her new skills led to assignments at Microsoft and then Boeing, where she worked on the factory floor with mechanics building wing-to-body joins on the massive 777. “I love learning,” Hegg says. “It’s just more tools in my back pocket.”
RAISE YOUR HAND: The same passion for learning carries over to the workplace for Hegg, who welcomes stretch assignments. “I don’t turn down offers,” she says. “I say yes.”When she returned with her husband from Seattle to Washington, D.C. — near where they both grew up in Ellicott City, Md. — opportunities in manufacturing were limited. So Hegg challenged herself to try something new. “I jumped right in to the quality assurance role, testing software,” she says.Hegg worked at Motionsoft and then Fannie Mae, where she continues to raise her hand for difficult assignments. “I’m a problem solver,” she says. “When someone gives me a problem, I will dive right in and tackle it.”
OWN IT: Balancing work and family obligations requires sacrifices, but Hegg makes no excuses for her decisions. “You make it how you want it,” she says. As a process engineer, she learned to pinpoint inefficiencies and redundancies — and the same mindset carries over to her work at Fannie Mae. Often she invents tools to help her improve her output. “You take what you can get, and you make it your own,” she says. This includes owning mistakes, which Hegg considers part of the innovation process. “I make mistakes and learn from them,” she says. Along the way, she has learned prioritization, patience and stress management. “The things I would stress over would be much different with zero kids than with four kids,” she says.
EARN YOUR FLEXIBILITY: Working parents need flexibility, but Hegg has never expected special treatment. “You grow in your career,” she says. “You make relationships. You earn the trust, and flexibility comes with it.” Other opportunities come with the flexibility already built in — such as Smith’s online MBA. “The online program was able to offer the different options that I needed,” says Hegg, a member of the inaugural graduating class. “It was very easy to interact with my professors and fellow students in the online space.” / DJ /