Pit Stop No19: Meet Louise Grondin, a true Trailblazer for Women in Mining

Louise Grondin is the daughter of dairy farmers and grew up in Saint-Nazaire-de-Berry, Quebec, working on the family farm. Louise recognized early on that she wished to pursue post-secondary education. Excelling in both math and science and fueled by her love of problem solving, she went on to study physics at the University of Ottawa. She later obtained a Master of Sciences degree from McGill and got her credentials as a mechanical engineer from the University of Toronto.

After 12 years working for Ontario Hydro, she switched to mining in 1993. Since 2001, Louise has been working for Agnico Eagle Mines Limited. She was appointed Senior Vice-President of Environmental and Sustainable Development in 2010 and the human resources portfolio was added to her responsibilities in 2016. Louise is a key member of the senior management team that has led the growth of Agnico Eagle from a single mine regional gold producer to a multi-mine international leader in gold mining.

Louise’s passion for contributing and promoting the mining industry garnered her several recognitions, including being named in the top 18 Women of Impact in the Canadian Materials, Metallurgy and Mining field (2015), one of the 100 Global Inspirational Women in Mining (2013) and winning the 2016 Women in Mining Canada Trailblazer Award.

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Louise Grondin, Senior Vice-President, Environment, Sustainable Development and People

  1. Why did you choose to join the mining industry after 12 years with Ontario Hydro?

I was married to a mining engineer and we were both working in Toronto. My husband then got transferred to a mine in Abitibi, so we both decided to move from Toronto to a small village of about 300 people. At that time, mining was the only employer in this small village so if you didn’t work in mining, it was very difficult to find a job. I applied for an environmental superintendent position at the Selbaie mine and got the job! This is how I came to be in mining.

  1. What helped you advance your career at Agnico Eagle Mines to the position of Senior Vice-President?

My attitude! The one quality I find very important in leaders is being positive and seeing the glass half full instead of half empty. Being positive was a natural attribute for me and people saw that. They also saw someone who could get things done. I am in fact a solution seeker and someone who works really hard and is very driven.

What also played a role in my advancement was the growth of the company. I joined Agnico at a time when there was only one mine in operation and during the first 7 years after I joined, we expanded from 1 to 8 mines. I was there at a good time and could progress very quickly. I evolved from being the regional environmental manager to Vice-President of environment and with time, the health & safety, community relations and more recently HR portfolios were added. As the needs of the company became bigger, management counted on me. They thought that I could do it and look for solutions.

What also helped is the fact that I am a team player. I don’t fight anybody, instead, I make allies; and that’s very important because you’ll need allies to support you along the way. In addition to my personal attributes, the combined strength of my team members and good timing of having joined Agnico at the right time were key ingredients of my career progression!

  1. What are you most passionate about in your work?

It’s the positive impact we can have! I work in environment, health & safety, community relations and human resources, this means I work with people: employees and community.

We operate in remote areas and have the potential to make a difference with the people we work with and the communities in which we operate. By providing work to locals, we offer them an opportunity to own a house and send their kids to colleges and universities. We are changing the social landscape of the areas where we operate by creating value for the people. We are in fact extracting value out of rock and transforming it into making good whenever we can; that’s often something people don’t realize. Our potential to have a positive impact in the remote areas where we operate is limitless!

Moreover, when we go in areas where there has been no one before us, we study the environment and provide a lot of scientific information that is very valuable. It is information that universities or governments don’t have the capacity and money to provide so it is our responsibility in our permits to do it.

  1. Could you share a challenge you’ve experienced in your career and how you overcame it?

When I first joined Agnico, we had a problem with our effluent. Our water effluent was toxic and it was a very complex challenge to solve because you had to trace the problem back from the end of the pipe up through the whole process to find out what was contributing to making that water toxic. It was like solving a puzzle!

At that time, I was still new to the company and I had to quickly step in and have meetings with the ministry of the environment to address that challenge. It took us 2 years to implement a biological treatment plant to treat the toxic water. Bacteria are great and they can do miracles! But at the start, when we transferred the process from the laboratory to the pilot plant, the process didn’t work and I remember phoning technicians on weekends to check if there were any improvements. I still remember the day it did work and how proud I felt at that moment.

  1. What were some of the most defining moments of your career in mining that made you particularly proud?

One of the things I am particularly proud of, and without doing it on purpose, is that I can hear my vision for environmental management and community relations from the mouth of our employees and the community. We recently did a video in Nunavut to celebrate Agnico’s 60th anniversary and after interviewing our employees up there and members of the community and hearing what they thought the company wanted to do in environmental management and community relations, I was amazed to hear that they clearly understood the vision that I had been trying to realize over the years. I might not have a structure on which I can put my name but the fact that the people in the community reflect back to me what I wanted to do is amazing!

  1. Have you had mentors that supported you along the way? If so, how important were they to your success?

I had no one labeled as mentor but I did feel that my bosses had my back. I worked very hard and was very loyal to them. In my youth, I was more impulsive and they taught me to listen more and to think about what could a solution be before jumping into action as soon as there’s a problem. Also, they never doubted me. During meetings when issues were discussed, I would raise my hand to take on a challenge and I was never refused the opportunity to do so. I had a very positive attitude, which lead management to believe in my capacities to do the job.

  1. How do you find the balance between work and personal life?

It’s very difficult! You’ve got to adapt your career to leave space for your family. When I had my children, I was on an 8 to 4 schedule and I would work when the kids went to bed. You’ve got to manage and people nowadays are much more understanding than back in the old days. There’s almost no difference today between men and women, they both have to pick up the kids, cook and put them to sleep. When I was younger, it was more difficult but I was still able to deliver. If you are passionate about something, you find a way to make things work and I guess that I didn’t give a too bad example: both my children are now in mining! I also have to add that my husband has always believed in me and was very supportive! We were never in competition with each other, but always partners.

  1. Why is it important to have more women in the mining sector?

Looking at the population, it is made up of 50% women and 50% men. Mining companies need to welcome a more representative proportion of women because otherwise, they would be missing out on much of the talent. From my experience, women tend to be more collaborative and better communicators. Women also bring a more human side to the business, which changes the dynamics of a project in a good way. It is obvious to my male colleagues that we, as women, have something to contribute and it is a plus to have us around. Women are welcomed in mining, but the industry has not fully succeeded in showing that.

  1. Why has it been such a challenge to include more women in mining companies?

Mining is still seen as hard rock mining and unsophisticated, which isn’t true! Yes there are some jobs that still require more strength, but most jobs are mechanized and the industry has become very sophisticated and technological. I can compare us to the construction industry, which, like mining, suffers from the same image problem that needs to be broken. What we also need to put emphasis on is the variety of jobs that mining provides such as in communications, environment, health and safety, HR, engineering, accounting and even nursing! We’re not doing such a great job at representing the variety and opportunities for women in mining. The women that are in the industry can be good witnesses of these opportunities and we should encourage them to be ambassadors of our industry.

  1. Any advice that you could give to young women starting out their careers in mining?

When someone came to me and asked me what they should do to advance in their careers, I told both the men and women that if they do their job as if it were the most important job in the company, they will become important and people will notice them. I say that through my own experience: I have always been very dedicated.

You have to be very confident that the fact that you are a woman is not going to hinder you; on the contrary. It might happen that you are going to feel, rightly or wrongly, that you are not getting that promotion because you’re a woman, but I would suggest not to dwell on the negative side and rather to challenge your boss and ask where you can improve! It all comes down to attitude.

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Pit Stop No17: Discover Flavie’s mining journey

Flavie Arseneau just completed her mining engineering degree at McGill University. She has agreed to share some of the experiences she has had in mining. Check out my interview with a girl who was born for mining.

1. What enticed you into considering a career in mining?

Back when I was fifteen, I met a McGill Mining Engineering student who was working in a quarry. He told me about the program, the opportunities in the field and how rewarding it was. It sounded like something out of the box and this is what I was looking for. When the time came for me to choose a career, I looked for something that would challenge me and make me scratch my head every day and that brought me to mining!

2. Tell us more about your different Co-op work experiences.

I had my first coop experience at the Osisko mine now known as Canadian Malartic mine in the small township of Malartic. I was hired as an open-pit surveyor and would spend the day surveying blast holes, new excavations, and diamond drill work. It was a great experience as I had the chance to be independent and I felt like an important part of the team. I was lucky to be on the field every day as few students get to experience fieldwork at their first stage.

 

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Flavie surveying the open-pit

 

For my second internship, I worked at Bracemac-McLeod underground mine in Matagami. I was also a surveyor but this time in the underground mine, which was a very different experience from open-pit. I learnt a lot of new aspects of a surveyor’s job and the great importance of it. I was part of a great team as well and I really enjoyed working with the people over there.
 

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Flavie at the underground Bracemac-McLeod mine

 

For my third internship, I went to Raglan mine, which is located in the most northern part of Quebec. It was quite an impressive and complex mine. I had the opportunity to look at different aspects of long term and short planning. I also did a lot of things such as spending time undergrounds with foremen and miners on a day to day production crew. At that time, I understood something important about mining: underground operations are difficult and they rarely goes as planned, we have to be ready to adapt quickly!

For my fourth and final internship, I was based in Timmins and worked for Kidd Creek mine. I was part of the long-term planning team and the experience turned out to one of the best. I learnt so much on planning,ventilation, rock mechanic, reserve estimation, geology and much more. Everybody was open for discussion and never would I find a close door.

3. What skills did you gain from your work experiences that you wouldn’t otherwise have learnt at school?

Technical skills. I’ve learnt a lot on planning, ventilation, rock mechanic, and production when applied on the field. Being on the job also teaches you to work in teams efficiently. As well, I learnt to take decisions and to be sure of them. When you work on the field, you need to be smart, you need to be able to take big decisions, and you need to be present.

4. Were you given more responsibilities as you were gaining more experience?

Yes! I was given a lot of responsibilities and loved it. I believe responsibilities come with will power more than experiences. If people see that you are passionate and smart, they will give you more responsibilities even though you are still new to the field.

5. Were you ever treated differently because you are a woman?

No. I was half expecting to be treated slightly differently because I’m in a male-dominated industry but that never happened and it was a very positive thing.

6. What aspect do you most like about working in mining? And what do you dislike the most?

As bad as it sounds, nothing ever goes as planned in mining. This is a major challenge, which pushes me and keeps me going in mining. You really have to think of smart ways to find a solution to the problem or else you will be in big trouble. And you don’t want that.

What I dislike the most about mining is it farness. Mines are far and family are sometimes torn apart. The last thing I want is to be faced with choosing between my job or my family.

7. Is there a particular moment while working in mining that made you feel in the right industry for you?

I always knew this was the right field for me because I was aware of what mining was before choosing it as a career.

8. Any plans after graduation?

Master’s in rock mechanics at McGill under the supervision of Prof. Hani Mitri. My research will be focusing on de-stress blasting, which is both very interesting and applicable on the field.

9. Where do you see yourself in 5 years from now?

I see myself working in a mine as rock mechanic engineer either at a Fly-in-Fly-out operation or on a mine site. I am hoping to be a professional engineer by then and maybe start a family? I’m definitely looking to be challenged every day and to work along side amazing people.

Pit Stop No14: Holstein Wong’s mining journey

I studied a Bachelor of Engineering in Materials Science and Engineering (Honours) at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. I also travelled to Swansea University, Wales for a semester on international exchange. I’m now a Graduate Processing Engineer for BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance in the Bowen Basin, Central Queensland.

1. What originally appealed to you about working in mining?

At the beginning of my undergraduate studies, I was more interested in engineering materials for product development. As I learnt more about minerals processing, I really wanted to start my career as upstream as possible, so mining was a perfect fit.

2. What are your main duties as a process engineer?

As a Graduate Processing Engineer, my role is to support operations to optimise the recovery of coal and minimise waste of reagents from our minesite operations. I work in the Coal Handling and Preparation Plant (CHPP) where we upgrade the run-of-mine material and reduce the ash content to meet the specifications of our international customers. My day-to-day duties include analysing and benchmarking production performance and quality, monitoring any abnormal changes in the processing equipment, updating information centres to keep everyone on track for our monthly targets, streamlining work instructions and much more. Various other responsibilities include trialling equipment and processing initiatives to optimise the recovery of product and reagents, to produce more tonnes for less unit cost.

3. How does a typical day at your job go?

A typical day sees me arrive on site at 6:30 am for a handover from the nightshift crew. We get an overview of the day’s plan and take note of any hazards. After reviewing production metrics I’ll put on my safety gear and 2-way radio and go for a walk in the plant; no need for a gym membership when there are so many stairs! The plant is a complex five-storey entity that runs 24/7 so my schedule depends on whether issues arise in the plant throughout the day. The rest of the time may involve meetings, writing up business cases and getting approval for trials and modifications, following up with maintenance, and generally answering questions from both operations and management.

4. What is your favourite part of the work you do?

My favourite part of the work I do is that I can see direct improvements that result from our team’s efforts. Every day I learn something that makes me appreciate the knowledge and experience of the people around me. It’s humbling to be part of a team that coordinates and achieves such complex work around the clock; coal is trucked from all over our minesite that is 80 km (50 miles) long, and we produce between 1100-1400 tonnes of coal per hour (my car weighs just over 1 tonne!).

I also like that my role isn’t a desk job. Working in the physically demanding environment of the processing plant was a huge change from university, but it’s great that we have to be flexible and responsive. It’s a fast-paced setting where I’m often learning about something for the first time while trying to troubleshoot it. This exposure to operations has greatly improved my reactive thinking and time-management.

5. What’s the most challenging part of your job?

The scale of operations means that any small change can have a large impact on productivity and quality. It’s a challenge to keep in mind all the interrelated variables and potential consequences while striving to fine-tune and improve our processes. Everyone brings their own set of skills and expertise to the mix, and we work well together to keep producing tonnes safely and efficiently.

Living and working remotely certainly has its challenges too, we only have one supermarket and because we are so far inland, I miss eating fresh seafood! But living with only the essentials is the best opportunity to learn about your own strengths and develop professional and interpersonal skills that will be utilised all throughout your career journey.

6. Have you ever had a bad experience?

I haven’t had any particularly bad experiences in terms of being a female in the mining industry, but it’s disappointing to see the lack of women in senior roles. When I try to raise this topic of discussion, most of my colleagues are dismissive of it being a “real” problem. People talk about “the best person for the job”, which is a sentiment I completely agree with, however, are we really picking “the best person” if the selection process favours people who fit the current image of what a miner or an engineer looks like?

7. What kind of volunteering do you do and how does it benefit you?

I’ve volunteered with Rotaract since I started university and I’m now the PR & Marketing Director for Rotaract Australia. Our monthly Skype meetings and yearly strategy weekends keep me connected with the outside community. RA provides the framework and resources for Rotaractors (18-30 year olds in more than 70 clubs around Australia) to contribute to their local communities to bring about social change, along with providing professional development to members. Over the past year I’ve worked on national communication strategies to lift the engagement of individual members and raise the brand awareness of Rotaract to existing and potential benefactors, to improve the impact of our non-profit organisation. The benefits of volunteering are being able to give back to the community as a good global citizen and sharing ideas with other motivated individuals.

I’m also a strong advocate for more female representation in STEM industries. In my two voluntary appointments as Head of Media at International Women in Mining Community and Committee Member at Women in Mining and Resources Queensland, I firmly believe that we can change the male-dominated nature of the mining industry within my professional lifetime. STEM in general has many female students but this does not translate to significant female representation in industry, especially in senior roles. My current roles with these non-profit community organisations focus on improving the retention and advancement of existing female trainees and employees, but I hope to move towards building and advising on more robust policies for more diversity in the workplace on an international level. This is not just out of self-interest, but to give more viable options for girls today and in the future, because engineering is a fantastic area that should be accessible to all who show an interest.

8. Is there anything you think students and recent grads should know about starting a career in mining?

Mining can be a rewarding career choice but the reality is that a lot more sacrifice is involved compared to other industries. Most like you will be posted to a remote minesite that is hours from anywhere, so it helps to have supportive friends and family who are okay with Skype. It’s a volatile industry where entire departments can be cut if commodity prices take a dive, so you have to be prepared to move around constantly. Having said that, the best way of learning is to be a doer – you’ll get out of your experiences what you put in. Working in the mining profession is so much more than just developing your technical skills, so if you see something interesting, ask about how you can be involved.

Pit Stop No13: Q&A with Betty Ann Heggie

Betty Ann Heggie has spent twenty-six years at the Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan Inc where she climbed the corporate ladder to become Senior Vice President and an officer in the company. She was named Canada’s Top Investor Relations Officer by both her clients and her peers.

Betty Ann is now using her retirement years to promote Women’s mentorship, answering the call to share her lessons learned with other women. She has spearheaded The Betty Ann Heggie Womentorship Foundation, which supports organizations and individuals that reflect and promote her teachings about the importance of Gender Physics and the necessity of women supporting women.

Betty Ann was nominated as the 2015 Women in Mining (WIM) Canada Trailblazer award winner. This award, established by WIM Canada in 2013 recognizes women who are risk taker and have helped other woman advance in their careers.

Betty Ann Heggie

Betty Ann Heggie

1. What originally appealed to you about working in mining?

I am from Saskatchewan and I was looking for work around the province. I knew I wanted to have a family and at the time my prospective husband had a small business in the area. Most of the jobs started at an office in the province and when you got promoted, you were transferred to another city. Thus, I looked for employment at a head office in Sask, where I wouldn’t have to move. Since mining is a big part of our economy, Potash was at the top of the list; it presented great opportunities in Saskatchewan. I worked for Potash for 26 years from 1981 to 2007.

2. You are a woman in mining; what has the experience been like for you?

Back in 1993 we tried to buy the German potash company K+S. Our CEO and myself both went to Germany to meet with the company. We had a nice dinner and the following day they had planned a tour of the underground mine for the CEO, and a city tour for myself. The reason behind this is that was believed it to be bad luck for a woman to go underground. It was an old superstition and the company didn’t want to frighten the miners. So there I was, an officer of PotashCorp, and they wanted to take me on a city tour. Our open-minded CEO refused to go underground without me. In the end, neither of us went underground. The industry has changed since then; a lot of women are now working underground and much progress has been made.

I have always been impressed with the mining industry’s emphasis on safety and continue to be impressed with their contentiousness. This safety culture goes beyond the mine site; even it the office, things like standing up on a chair or laying a pair of scissors on the floor aren’t allowed because they are things you would not do onsite. So many great safety practices started at the mine and are now practiced at the head office. These good practices flow over into my every day home life.

3. How did you advance your career to a senior position?

Hard work is a given, but you have to be lucky and have a vision. In my case, I focused on ways to improve the company. That meant that I was continually pushing news ideas forward. Early during my career I had to be persuasive because I had no status and couldn’t dictate. I did a lot of networking and made connections within the company. That is how I influenced change.

You should make sure to be strong enough to present yours ideas convincingly, build a good network of people and most importantly be resilient; when things don’t work out, you can’t crawl up at home, you need to keep going.

4. Were your challenges different than the challenges that men face?

Yes, just this morning I was talking to a woman I mentor and she was explaining that very often her interests and those of the men she works with don’t line up, which makes it difficult to create relationships through socializing. At her workplace, the men all like snowboarding, ice fishing. Because her interests are different it doesn’t give much opportunity to bond.

In my case, I tried to make friends with the wives of the other executives; it gave me an opportunity to socialize with them as couples. But I did specifically take up golf to play in company tournaments!

5. When did you join Women In Mining (WIM)? Why did you feel compelled?

WIM is a relatively new organization that took off after I retired so my involvement has been mentoring some of the women in the organization and speaking at their events. I think it’s fantastic organization; at one of the events where I spoke I was impressed to see an entire ballroom filled with woman who share common interests. It definitely empowers women by bringing them together as they strive to be leaders.

6. Why is it important to have more women in the industry?

From my experience, women deal with risk very differently than men. Men will take the financial bet while woman are more considerate of the stakeholders and the people involved. Women will make sure to not deviate from the ethical path and are committed to respect the commitments made to the employees and the environment. Women provide balance to prevent having success at any cost. They make sure that all the ‘I’s’ get dotted and ‘T’s’ get crossed. They are likely to force more internal discussion before going external, which gives any project a greater chance for success.

7. The issue of including women in mining companies has been discussed for more than a decade. Why has it been such a challenge?

For one thing women haven’t traditionally chosen engineering for a career. Also, whenever you bring in diversity, you have to make allowances and initially the mining industry wasn’t good at making those changes. It has gotten better however! For example, we now have coveralls and toilets specifically designed for women. We can’t expect them to come in and be just like men. They are different and therein lies their value.

There is also a psychological reasoning behind this: people are more likely to hire those that are like them to fill the position that they had. In mining, men were more comfortable giving jobs to other men. Once you break the glass ceiling and create a context for women to fill those positions everything changes. When people haven’t seen a woman working in a mine, they don’t know what to expect and that unknown makes them uncomfortable. Most of our decisions are made from the 85% of our brain that operates beneath the surface in the subconscious. Going back to my experience in Germany, it was an unconscious bias; people didn’t know what to expect but now that women have gone and worked underground, mentalities have changed.

8. Have you had mentors that have helped you? And how important are they?

Yes and I was very lucky. There were no women higher than me at PotashCorp so I turned to men that had a wives or daughters trying to make it in business. I knew they would be sensitized to my situation and empathize. Mentors were very important to me; my decision-making and success was a result of very good advice from my mentors.

9. What are some of the lessons you got out of your career path?

I would say that it is really important to switch between one’s feminine energy and masculine energy. It’s important to maintain one’s natural compassionate feminine energy, which readily builds relationships but also use masculine energy, which is not afraid to take a risk. You can’t just be a leader and get your ideas across without also forming relationships and helping others. You need the attributes of both and I use both these energies with my work relationships as well as my personal relationships.

10. Any advice you would give a young female student considering a career in mining?

I would say to develop and maintain your sense of humour. It is important to have fun at work, to laugh at yourself. Through humour you can find common grounds with people, or break the ice with colleagues. Like the famous saying goes, time spent laughing is time spent with the Gods. It really increases your positive vibes!

Pit Stop No8: Meet Delphine!

Delphine Quach is a fourth-year mining engineering co-op student at McGill University. She has agreed to share with us her first co-op experience within the mining industry. Hear what she has to say!

1. Why mining as a career option?

I always had an interest in geology and I knew that a career in mining would allow to me travel a lot and be part of a global industry. Also, mining offers a combination of both field and office work which appealed to me. After having my first internship my interest grew and I knew I was on the right track.

2. Where have you had your first experience and what were your main duties?

My first experience was an eight-month co-op position at the consulting firm Groupe Alphard. I took part in two different projects. The first one was commissioning; I had to make sure along with the team I was working with, that everything was good prior to the commencement of operation at the Bloom Lake mine in Fermont, Quebec. We were testing equipment and machinery. It was a FIFO job (Fly-in-fly-out) so I was spending two weeks on site in Fermont, one week in the Montreal office and then one week off. My second project was more geotechnical: I did some vacuum and ultrasound testing to check that there was no leakage in and out of the tailings pond.

3. Describe a typical day at your job.

I would wake up at around 4:30 am get a ready and ride to the mine to be on site at 6 am. The day would always start with several meetings; an internal one where the team and I would discuss the tasks to be done that day and an outer one where we would meet with the client, the construction company and other. My day would then consist in 6 to 7 hours of fieldwork with a lunch break of course.

Delphine working onsite in Fermont!

Delphine working onsite in Fermont!

4. What was your favorite part of the job?

The combination of field and office work was amazing. The fact that I had the opportunity to interact with a lot of people from different background (construction firm, consulting firm, client, financial people, engineers, technicians) was a great part of my job.

5. What was the most challenging part of your job?

The cold! There were days where the temperature would drop as low as -60 degrees and I had to work outside.

6. Have you ever had a bad experience?

Not really! The traveling was a bit tiring but you get use to it.

7. What do you think is one of the biggest misconceptions about working in mining?

There are more women working in mining than you think! I met a few female technicians driving heavy machinery. At work, there is absolutely no difference between a man and a woman; if you show you have the capacity and ability to do the job then you are fine!

It’s safe! In my opinion it is safer to work at a mine than to cross the street.

8. What skills did you most used at the work? Academic knowledge? Teamwork? Time management?

It was most importantly communication skills, as I had to talk with so many different people. Also team work and time management are essential. For any employer, time is money so I had to make sure to respect the deadlines.

9. Where do you see yourself in 5 years from now?

Done with my EIT (Engineer-In-Training) program and perhaps working in project management somewhere in Russia or Australia. Who knows?