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A Look Inside GM’s Two-Year, Entry-Level Rotational Program

Entry Level-Jessica Shen-GMEntry Level-Jessica Shen-GM

Fortune’s Entry/Level column is dedicated to people looking for and working in entry-level positions—read the full series here. We interview entry-levelers about their jobs, how they got them, what they want to do next, and more. The subject’s answers are edited for clarity.

Jessica Shen graduated with a degree in electrical engineering from Virginia Tech in May 2018. Now, she’s trying her hand at software development in GM‘s two-year rotational program, TRACK. She relocated from her hometown of Arlington, VA to Detroit to begin working at the automaker the September after graduation.

Here’s what Shen has to say about…

GM’s rotational program:

GM, like a lot of other big companies, has a new-graduate rotational program. That’s really what drew me in because it’s kind of hard to apply for a job and go in straight from college and know that’s where you want to work. GM’s program is called TRACK—it stands for Technical Rotation and Career Knowledge. Typically, you would do two years, three rotations of eight months each. But you can also have a year-long rotation or a four-month-long rotation, and it just depends on what your assignment is. If you don’t like it, you can exit early. Or if you have rotation you really like, there’s also been cases of people staying and not rotating anymore.

Her current role:

Right now I’m in my first rotation, and I’ve been here for about 8 months. I’m going to be moving in July. I’m a software engineer, working on infotainment in the car, specifically the trailering app for trucks and SUVs. Right now we’re working on the model year ’22. None of my stuff will be out until probably long after I’m done with the rotation program. But it’s still pretty cool because I can see them come to life in a few years.

Her day-to-day:

Everyone in department comes in around 9 a.m. or 9:30 a.m., and then works until a little past 5 p.m., maybe 6 p.m. some days. It’s pretty relaxed. I wake up around 8 every morning, which is pretty comfortable. We have a daily sync-up at 9:30. We have a board where everyone writes what they’re working on, then we go around the room and talk about what we did yesterday and what your plan is for today. It gives everyone accountability. That meeting is about 15 minutes. We have an open office layout, but we do stay at our desks. We don’t move around much because there’s a bunch of testing equipment. We have components of a car in our desks so if you’re testing software you don’t have to go to a car, you can just test it at your desk. I work mostly on doing little software defect-fixes. Most of the time, I’m sitting at my desk coding. But there are parts of my job where I get to go vehicle-testing. We have a bunch of model year ’19 vehicle systems that we’re allowed to drive out in public, but with our newer software installed inside.

Being inexperienced:

In this software role, I came in with little experience because as an electrical engineer, there’s not much coding involved. So I was really nervous I wouldn’t be able to contribute much, but my team has been super understanding and helpful. Anytime I have any questions, people have no hesitation to sit down and walk me through it. That’s been a really valuable part of the experience.

Rotating roles:

There’s a mini-career fair almost every rotation cycle. It’s a few months before the rotation date, and you talk to different managers to figure out what you want. And then there’s a survey to get you matched with a role.

Her next job at GM:

While software engineering is pretty cool, I definitely want to see more of the electrical side, like hardware and wiring and stuff, because I studied electrical engineering in college. So I was looking into this role called innovation electrical. They’re working on more of the concept cars or cool new ideas that they can give to other departments to flesh out. It’s almost start-up-like. They take concepts, prototype things, quickly mock up something, and then explain the concept to someone else. And if someone else at GM thinks it’s a good idea, then they’ll take it and run with it, and continue to develop. That sounds really cool to me. It’s different because most of the other rotations are more production-based or typical manufacturing cycle stuff. I like the idea of working on something new, and maybe something that wouldn’t be produced. Another job I was interested in was systems engineering, which would be working with wi-fi and bluetooth, and connectivity. Because a lot of those technologies weren’t developed to work with a car, but with TVs and computers. There are a lot of modifications that need to be done. And then I the other role I put down was vehicle testing. I think the specific role was to monitor the phone call quality if you make a bluetooth call in your car, just to see if it was horrible or echoey or that kind of thing.

Being open to something unexpected:

To be honest, I wasn’t really considering GM, it wasn’t really ever on my radar.

At my school’s big engineering career fair, I was waiting in line to talk to the company that I had interned with, just to say hi and catch up with the recruiter. I ended up passing by the GM Booth as I was leaving, and they had a ton of recruiters hanging out. One of them started a conversation and I ended up talking to them instead. He took my resume and gave me an interview on the spot, which was a big deal for me because I had never really had much luck with career fairs, because it’s kind of an anxious environment. Everyone is competing with each other. The GM Booth was very friendly and super-relaxed.

The interview process:

I got an interview the day after the career fair on campus at our career center. That one was just a get-to-know-me, and a few weeks later, I got an onsite interview invitation. So I flew out to Detroit and the interview was great. They let us drive a bunch of cars, it was really fun.

Accepting the job:

A few weeks later, I got the job offer. GM gave me two weeks to respond. I accepted at the end of that period because I was a little unsure, since it was a little of a weird move for me because I was never expecting to move to Michigan or to work on cars.

Having a job at the beginning of senior year:

To be honest, it was a little weird. I know a lot of people who got hired right away were super-relaxed throughout the school year. But I actually faced a lot of non-acceptance from my mom and a lot of my closer friends. My mom didn’t like the idea of moving me to Detroit. She wanted me to move to some big tech city like Seattle or San Francisco. So it didn’t really feel that positive right away. A lot of my friends were moving to big tech cities like that. So I felt super out of place when people asked, “Where are you going after graduation?” And I would say, “Michigan.” The first response was usually like, “oh, it’s so cold,” or, “why are you going there?” In my head, I felt comfortable with the decision, and I thought it was a good company to work for, but I didn’t feel that good for a lot of it, too.

Coming to terms with other people’s expectations:

Eventually, people started accepting it. But it took a good part of the year for me to feel like I was making the right choice. I think my mom eventually got comfortable with it when I explained to her the program I’m getting into. And now that I’m here, I share with her the stories of other people that are working with me, and she’s starting to see you can be successful here. It doesn’t have to be a big city. But it really took until I moved here and started to have that closure because I felt like I’m actually working on cool stuff.

Finding a place:

My roommate started at GM in July and also graduated from Virginia Tech. We came here right before his start date, and then we just looked around. His mom had done a lot of research on neighborhoods and where to live. So we just kind of went from there, found a few places to check out, and signed. I live in Sterling Heights, like 10 miles from the city. Our place is really close to where I work, really just a 10 minute drive every morning. Our combined rent is $1,550, so $775 each for a townhouse with a lot of space. It’s way more space than we need.

Moving in:

The moving process was super nice. GM gave me a pretty big sum for relocation expenses. They also paid directly for the shipment of my car here, and for me to rent a moving truck. And I think if I had asked for movers, they would have given them to me as well. But there was like a self-drive reward, that was $300 or $400, so since I drove myself, I got that. The relocation money came later in our paycheck, and I wanted that bonus right away.

Detroit:

Growing up, I had always heard Detroit’s really scary and dangerous. So I always had this impression that it’s not a good place for a young professional to live. But I moved here and it’s actually a really up-and-coming area. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by all the fun community events that I’ve been going to.

What she’s paid:

I definitely make enough money. I have more money than I need, and for my lifestyle, I don’t really spend much. Most of my spending money ends up being for flights home. I fly home to see my mom every so often, stuff like that. But otherwise, I’ve just been saving a lot because I don’t really need to spend that much right now.

The company culture:

I like the company culture a lot. There’s a lot of social events for the rotation people. So it’s pretty comfortable when we transition into a job. The thing I was most scared of, moving here, was not meeting friends. But it’s been really easy and my older coworkers are all super-friendly. The people that I’m working with matter because even if I get my dream job, at GM or elsewhere, if you’re working with people you don’t like, it’s no fun.

Her relationship with her boss:

My manager is in charge of a lot of different programs. He’s usually really busy but he always asks what he can do for me when I do see him. In addition to that I have a team lead, and he’s in charge of giving me tasks and managing my work. He always helps point me in the right direction. They’re both super understanding that I came in with not that much experience.

If she wants to stay at GM after her rotational program:

I think so. It’s kind of hard for me to say since it really depends on if I find a role that I feel like, yes, this is for me because that’s a hard decision to make.

The hardest part of her job:

I hadn’t coded much before this job. So the first few months were pretty rough. I was spending a lot of time at and outside of work taking free online computer science courses, just trying to learn everything as fast as possible. Getting to the point where I could work on something independently took a whole two and a half, three months. That transition was a little hard, just because there’s so much to learn, and it was kind of hard to figure out where to start.

Her favorite part of the job:

Vehicle testing. I feel kind of disconnected when I’m sitting at my desk coding, especially because I never owned a truck or had the need to tow something. Sometimes it’s hard for me to visualize. It’s really cool when I get to sit in a truck and see it working and make that connection.

GM discounts:

There’s an employee discount, and then there’s also a performance-based discount. Every year, we do a performance evaluation and then there’s a numerical translation of how well you’re doing into some sum of money. That’s on top of our standard employee discount. I think it’s different for every car. Certain models are cheaper than others for us.

Her extracurriculars then and now:

I’ve been really involved in this minority engineering organization, the Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers (SASE). That’s a big reason I feel I’m prepared for a lot of the work-life stuff. The goal is educating Asian students, so I know the value of leadership, because a lot of Asians are very underrepresented in leadership roles.

Her long-term plans:

I definitely see myself doing a technical engineering role in the future. I know a lot of people end up in management, but I definitely don’t want to go that route.

Advice to her younger self:

Don’t limit yourself. I think I spent a lot of time in my job search in college saying no before I even applied. In my application process, I wouldn’t apply to certain companies because I thought they wouldn’t take me. But that’s going into it with a negative attitude. You’ll never know if you don’t apply to it, right? Go in more open-minded and really look for opportunities instead of waiting for them to come to you.

Editor’s note: This post has been updated to clarify Shen’s remarks about her manager.

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