28 Jan Alacyn Cox: Ag Engineering, Customer Support, and Working for John Deere
As a member of non-agriculturally related 4-H clubs, Alacyn Cox found herself drawn to the community that the agricultural community naturally builds. Because of that, this non-ag kid joined FFA in her junior year of high school – a moment that would change the trajectory of her future forever! FFA allowed Alacyn to dip her toes into a variety of subjects regarding animal agriculture and crops, as well as exposed her to ag machinery for the first time ever.
“I found an ag article in my ag class [in high school] and it was an epiphany that I was going to study ag engineering,” says Alacyn with a laugh. “[The article] had a list of schools you could choose and I circled Purdue as the one and I circled ‘John Deere’ under the list of companies that would hire an ag engineer.”
Fast forward a decade or so and Alacyn is an employee of John Deere in Des Moines, Iowa. While the end result was exactly what high school Alacyn had predicted, her route to get there has been eventful and ever-changing along the way but she wouldn’t change it for anything.
Being an Ag Engineer
“What is neat about ag engineering is that every sector of agriculture needs an engineer – I could talk [for hours] about the opportunities in ag engineering,” says Alacyn.
Attracted to the amazing complexities of ag equipment in high school, it wasn’t until her junior year of college that Alacyn was able to dig into the specific courses in machine systems with coursework involving the study of hydraulic systems, the science behind motion and movement, dynamics and technical details. Through the first few years of her undergraduate, she joined other future ag engineers in learning about the diverse world of ag engineering that included soil conservation, designing equipment and livestock management.
Interning with John Deere
After her sophomore year of college, Alacyn accepted an internship at John Deere where they placed her in manufacturing engineering at the factory where they make combines. An amazing opportunity, Alacyn had never been in a factory before and now found her office situated in the middle of a factory floor where she got to see all of the moving parts of engineering and building equipment every day from her desk.
“I loved working closely with the equipment, but what I was lacking was the relationships with the customers,” says Alacyn. “Our meetings were constantly about making a quality product, there weren’t people talking to technicians, farmers and dealers [in our direct space]. I didn’t love not seeing and working with the customer.”
In a bold move, at her exit presentation, Alacyn said, “If I get the chance to come back, I would like to work with customers.” Not only did they bring her back, but they listened and the following summer she accepted an internship that gave her that opportunity.
Meetings & The Importance of Employee Engagement
As a company, John Deere encourages and empowers employees to have the opportunity to travel both within the U.S. and abroad. Alacyn believes that these opportunities allow you to build a diverse background in not only understanding John Deere as a corporation but to also know yourself as a professional.
Alacyn recommends that meetings should never be more than thirty minutes in length. In her typical day-to-day, she will usually jump from meeting to meeting where she learns a lot about their customers, the markets, and agriculture from her peers when she’s not presenting. In order to have thirty minute meetings, come prepared with an agenda and send that agenda to attendees prior to the meeting so that they can do legwork before the meeting to ensure it stays on time. If the meeting were to take longer than thirty minutes, then you may need to look at breaking into smaller meeting groups to gain the necessary research and information for that meeting to be successful.
Handling Career Moves
Five roles and five new locations in five years is the roadmap of the past five years for Alacyn. Whether she is in a role for less than six months or for eighteen months, there are a few things she highly encourages to help you settle into your new place and new career.
- Unpack your boxes.
No matter what, make sure you get yourself unpacked and settled into your new place. Whether that’s your office or your new living space, claim it as your own.
- Get involved with the community.
“That’s how places start to feel like home, when you make connections outside of work.” It’s also a way to make friends and there’s no time when it feels more accepted than when you are new to a place.
- Don’t hold back.
When you move often, you can start to hold back from being involved or meeting people with the fear of an impending additional move coming up. You can’t let that stop you from moving forward 100%, so do what you can to push those thoughts away to build long lasting relationships wherever you set down roots, no matter the duration.
Getting Involved in a New Place
“When I first started outside of college there were two places that I was able to look too to get involved,” says Alacyn. The first is whatever you were already doing or previously doing in college – just continue your involvement post college wherever that is. The second is to look internally within your company to see organizations you can get involved in outside of your day-to-day job.
“Personally, that’s what motivates me and fuels my fire to be my best self in my job.”
Alacyn believes that there are many skills she has learned through her agricultural engineering degree that has served her well in her career even though she’s not an active engineer at John Deere. It’s allowed her the capacity to be systematic, detail oriented, and focused on solving problems – all while being able to communicate results and data in a way that can be understood by customers, dealers, and peers alike.
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