For many Americans, one of the most important investments we make in our careers is the time and cost of education. For some jobs, having a bachelor’s degree has become non-negotiable, often limiting candidate pools for companies with rigid requirements. In professions like engineering, we sometimes see companies looking for advanced technical degrees in their candidates.
But we also know from experience, such rules are never quite as hard and fast as they seem. The case of Cody Bly is a reminder that relevant experience, natural skills and intense drive often add up to something much more valuable than a degree.
Finding Cody Bly
Natalie Moore is one of Aerotek’s top engineering recruiters. She talked about the manufacturing category and how they are increasingly challenged to find great engineering talent to sustain their businesses.
“The manufacturing companies we work with share the same problem. They are struggling mightily to compete in a world where innovation isn’t just a nice-to-have. It’s what keeps them in business. The constant need to innovate, streamline process and create efficiencies puts a lot of stress on a company. “
“Their biggest challenge is finding great talent with the relevant education credentials and experience. That’s a tough combination sometimes. Sometimes it’s an impossible combination. But sometimes, you get lucky by finding someone like Cody Bly.”
Family and career planning
Cody Bly grew up near Decatur, Illinois. He was in the middle of his first year pursuing his degree in mechanical engineering when he found out that he and his girlfriend were going to have a baby. He was thrilled. He also didn’t waste any time making a very big decision.
“I was going to school in southern Illinois. She was back home in Shelbyville, almost two hours away. I knew I needed to be with her so I had to put my engineering degree on hold, move back home and get a job. At that point in my life, I knew the most important thing was to be able to provide for my family. Career took a temporary back seat.”
As modest as Cody is, we learned from Natalie of his quietly ambitious plan, beyond just putting food on his growing family’s table.
“When Cody moved back to his hometown he transferred to an online program at the local university. They didn’t have an engineering program, so he decided to get a bachelor’s degree in organizational and professional development,” Natalie said. “It wasn’t engineering, but he knew the value of a degree, even if it wasn’t related to engineering.”
Cody also landed a full-time job working as a machine operator at a local manufacturer. “The summer after my first year in college I interned at a local company. I returned during Christmas break and then the next two summers as well. When I needed full-time work during school, they were eager to hire me.”
The school of work
Cody was getting a lot of on-the-job-experience under his belt with his machine operator job and internship, constantly learning from experienced and tenured engineers. Once he got his B.S. in organizational development, his job ended at the machine shop and he started working part-time at a furniture store. “It was tough; I kept applying for engineering jobs, but never heard back. They didn’t even give me a chance to get shot down.”
Cody finally found work on a pipe-fitting and welding crew. It wasn’t exactly engineering but he said, “It was more on-the-job learning of a new work process, construction instead of manufacturing. And, with my family growing, it was full-time and came with benefits. Still, I kept searching for an engineering job.”
A job for everyone
One lesson Cody learned during his earliest days of career planning was the power of networking. “Back when I was in school I realized I needed to set up a LinkedIn account. I was amazed how many professionals were sharing and connecting there. These were people I could emulate.”
As Cody kept applying for engineering jobs he found himself on the Aerotek website. “I had heard of Aerotek but I had no idea what they did. I was reading some of the stories you write about contractors and realized you were writing about people like me.” This impression came in handy within a few months when Natalie came across Cody’s LinkedIn account.
Life experience over education
“My customer at the time was looking for a very special process engineer. I recalled seeing Cody’s LinkedIn profile and thought he might be a good fit for the role. I reached out to him and told him about the opportunity.”
Cody was extremely excited this might be the break he’d been working towards for so long. There was only one problem, as he saw it. “The job required a degree in engineering and I didn’t have mine yet.”
The big payoff
“When I looked at Cody’s resume and saw his work history, and his education history, I saw something special. I saw how he left engineering school to provide for his family. I saw how he kept interning year after year at the same company to hone his skills and learn the manufacturing business from the operational floor up. Most importantly, I saw his drive. All he needed was someone to give him a shot.”
Cody told us he started the interview process, but still had his doubts. “I was skeptical. It was a job that, on paper, was beyond what I was qualified for. But Natalie believed in me, and that made the difference. After conversations with her colleague to vet my technical knowledge, they told me they’d let me know a decision in a couple of weeks. A few weeks later Natalie called to say that I was one of three candidates they had chosen. It was like all those years of work and learning had paid off.”
Process is never perfect
We asked Cody what his typical day was like. “Our company manufactures flow equipment, things like valves and repair equipment for municipal water systems. I’m working as a process engineer and we practice what’s called lean manufacturing. My job is working on large capital projects, making sure the operators are working in a process and environment that ensures they are productive and efficient. All those years of school, interning and machine operating have paid off. Every day, I’m on the front lines of process improvement. Honestly, I love what I do.”
Cody wanted to talk about the difference between school learning and on-the-job experience.
“It’s funny; companies are always looking to hire people with lots of education and real-world experience. That’s a tough combination to find, especially in someone fresh out of school. I was lucky, in a way, to come up the way I did, as challenging as it was.”
“If I know just one thing about processes, it’s that they can never be perfect. In the classroom, everything is theoretical. But once you get to work, you realize everything is practical. I had the benefit of learning from some of the best engineers in the world at their craft, veteran engineers that had worked many years before they even went back to get their degrees from continuing education classes.”
“What I learned from them, I get to apply every day. I know what it’s like to be an operator. I know how things work in the real world, not just the math world of the theoretical. It’s good to feel like that has given me an advantage in my job. It’s good to feel a little proud about what you know, and how you got here. But I have to credit those veteran engineers that I learned so much from, just by watching, listening and learning on the job.”
Seeing special for a living
Natalie told us about the great success Cody’s achieved in the short time since they first met.
“This past August, two months before his 12-month contract was set to end, the> company hired Cody direct. I was so happy for him, especially since he and his partner have added one more child since that first baby whose arrival helped Cody make such critical early career moves.”
We wondered what it was that Natalie saw, a year ago when she first met Cody Bly. “I knew he was special. I knew he was one of those professionals who, once they get their foot in the door, excel. In a way, it’s what we do. It’s our job. We look at people and, when we get it right, we see something special for a living.”
If you’ve got that something special and are ready to work with people like Natalie to take your career to its next level, we’d love to hear from you. Check out our engineering opportunities and, if you haven’t already, we invite you to create your free Aerotek careers account.