Alumni Profile: Will Dickson

Infinite Careers is a new collaboration between Career Services (CAPD) and the MIT Alumni Association to explore career paths and the non-linearity of career decision making. Read profiles of alumni with unique career paths, hear their stories and network at a series of talks.

Register here to hear Will speak on Tuesday, November 5th at 6pm.

Will Dickson

Education

MIT, SB Material Sciences & Engineering with concentration in Spanish Language, 2014

University of California, Berkeley, M.Eng Material Science & Engineering, 2015

Will Dickson

Biography

Will graduated from MIT with a degree in Materials Science & Engineering in 2014 and followed that with a Master of Engineering in 2015 from the University of California at Berkeley in the same field. Will began his career at GM in 2015 as a steering simulation engineer, then served as an assistant program engineering manager for General Motors’ full-size pickup trucks, helping launch the all-new 2019 model year Chevy Silverado & GMC Sierra.

Through this tenure in core product development, he was named a distinguished young engineer and published a patent. From 2017-2019, Will launched and led GM’s presence at MIT and in the Boston innovation ecosystem. GM's open innovation strategy in the Boston area focuses on collaborating to solve technical problems with non-traditional business partners. On top of this, Will evaluated and connected relevant businesses in the area to various functions of General Motors. In October 2019, Will made a career shift from working at a Fortune 10 company to one with less than 10 employees – as a Principal at FedTech, Will builds tools that unlock the benefits of technology through entrepreneurial minded people.

Will believes that with bespoke problem framing, resources, and coaching, anyone can solve big problems for big companies. Will enjoys mentoring and teaching young students; he’s been an active mentor in the MIT startup ecosystem, speaker at innovation conferences and large organizations, and past mentor for FIRST robotics.

Interview

What influenced your choice of undergraduate major? How has it shaped your career choices and professional ability?

Participating in Course 3's FPOP and taking 3.091 influenced my choice to major in Material Sciences & Engineering. I was excited by the wide range of topics I'd get to study. Connecting the microscale to macroscale properties of materials has been a theme I enjoyed learning about the most, and it's enabled me to transfer that line of thinking to other non-materials topics.

 

What influenced your choice of graduate program? How has it shaped your career choices and professional ability?
I knew I wanted to end up in industry vs. academia, so I wanted a graduate program that would give me the ability to round-out taking all the different graduate-level classes MSE has to offer, with more product & leadership development so I could hit the ground running when I started a career in industry. The M.Eng program I attended was a really great mix of basic business school fundamentals alongside the technical classes, which is a helpful backdrop for working in a technical organization in industry.

 

Is there anything you wish you had done differently or more of while you were at MIT?
I wish I had participated in more on-campus student groups and volunteer opportunities, so I could have gotten to know a larger percentage of my class. It seems like most people (including myself) got comfortable in one living group or activity; but looking back, what I value most about MIT was its diverse community and I would have liked to get to know it even more.

 

What has been the most rewarding aspect of your career?
Thus far, the empowerment to be an entrepreneur within a huge company continues to be very rewarding (and challenging). After pursuing "extracurriculars" during my first 2 years within GM such as new hire recruiting & facilities tours, I was able to help scope & then pilot a new role for GM working with students and startups around the MIT ecosystem.
 

What motivates you to do the work that you do?
I'm a believer that almost anyone, when empowered with the right resources & coaching, can achieve more than they think is possible. This belief motivated me to create collaborative problem solving venues for some of GM’s toughest problems, and motivates me today when I’m coaching scientists to be more entrepreneurial. In addition, I have a fundamental belief that technology holds so much power to create a better world, so much of the work I do is focused on accelerating technology product development.
 

Making decisions, especially important-feeling career decisions, can be challenging. What strategies have you used to make career decisions?
When making career decisions (I'm still pretty early in my career), I don't think too hard about it; my experiences at MIT and in my Master’s program helped give me confidence to believe in myself. Rather than map out a long career progression, I usually ask the following questions: "What can this next opportunity teach me? How can I make a difference in this next position? Is this a unique and exciting opportunity where I can be a trailblazer?"
 

What professional development experiences or opportunities shaped your early career?
My second role within GM's rotational program shaped much of my perspective of the problems I want to tackle: I was able to work on the engineering product team for the largest vehicle launch in GM's history, an all-new full-size truck platform. Doing this role allowed me amazing visibility in learning how a 100k+ person company is organized and operates - I worked directly with marketing, finance, manufacturing, business development, quality, tons of engineers, and more. This totally changed my career focus from strictly engineering to working towards being a people leader and change agent to make the organization work better.
 

What career advice do you have for current MIT students, or those interested in entering your industry?
Look at your first 4 years in a company as another degree - your main focus should be learning as much as possible about product/process from other intelligent people. Skills needed to be effective in a company (large or small) are very different from what's taught in college. In addition, while change and new ideas are exciting, all companies exist for a reason - because they've learned how to do some things really, really well. Soak in what's done well (and not well!) and make sure to reflect on it.

 

Do you participate in any volunteer/community service activities? If so, how do you balance your professional and personal responsibilities?
I really enjoy mentoring students & startups in the MIT ecosystem, through established programs like Sandbox / NEET and informally through the connections I make. Balancing time is not the hard part, it's balancing needs of my "day job" and the people I mentor - I find it helpful to think of it as wearing only 1 hat a time. I can put on my “engineer” hat to provide design feedback; I can put on my “innovator” hat to inspire others; I can put on my “MIT alumni” hat to share experiences with other alumni.