Jada SmithJada Smith, vice president – advanced engineering & external relations, is responsible for driving Aptiv’s advanced engineering roadmap in addition to her role in promoting Aptiv’s technology with external stakeholders.

Previously, Jada was Global Director – Software EOS and Tools at Aptiv’s Advanced Safety and User Experience division (formerly Electronics & Safety). She began her automotive career in 2004 as a software engineer at Electronics & Safety and following several progressive engineering and managerial roles in infotainment and corporate engineering, was named to her current role.

Named one of Automotive News 2017 “Rising Stars”, Jada also led Aptiv’s Agile transformation, a journey focused on improving quality and efficiency.

Jada holds a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering Technology from Purdue University and a Master of Business Administration from Indiana University.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

My undergraduate degree is in Electrical Engineering Technology and I have an MBA, but I really consider myself a software engineer.

My pursuit of a STEM career isn’t surprising, since even as a young child I was always very interested in understanding how things work. To this day, I am still fascinated by the technology we take for granted, and incredibly impressed by the brilliant people who invented it. In college I jumped at the opportunity to work as a co-op student working in the Electronics & Safety Independent Test & Verification group.

Today, I’m surrounded by teams who are not only shaping mobility now, but in the future and, as the vice president of advanced engineering & external relations, I have the privilege of being responsible for driving Aptiv’s advanced engineering roadmap, promoting Aptiv’s technology with external stakeholders, as well as, leading initiatives to drive gender diversity in Aptiv’s engineering workforce.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not when I first began my career. However, that all changed when I realized that the only thing standing in the way of my success… was me. I’d been mentally putting up barriers and waiting for someone to see my value. When I got out of my own way and took charge of my career that’s when the planning really began, and hasn’t stopped. Part of this journey meant taking a hard, honest look at my skills and figuring out how to gain the skills I was lacking. The other part was seeking out opportunities and charging after them before they get snapped up.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Of course, who hasn’t? Personally, who I am and what I bring to the table has been shaped by many people and experiences – both good and bad, big and small. And I wouldn’t erase any of them because many of them have faced me with a challenge that taught me something.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

I think one of my most cherished moments of my career when colleague sent me a congratulatory note after I’d received an award and said that he was using my story to motivate his daughter. It is humbling, but also incredibly rewarding to know I have an impact on young women, including my daughter, who knows she is capable of accomplishing anything she sets her mind to, whether that is following in my footsteps by pursing a technical career or becoming the president of the United States.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success? 

Never, never, never quit. Life is hard and we can’t give up when things get hard. We have to have the confidence to believe in ourselves, as well as the grit and determination to push through, even when we are intimidated or unsure.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

I have had the privilege of mentoring others, both formally and informally, throughout my career. And I wouldn’t be where I am without my own mentors, coaches and advocates.

To be successful, we have to seek out feedback, both good and bad, so we know where and how to improve. This feedback can come from anywhere, but when it comes from a mentor or coach, it’s something we should celebrate and cherish. These individuals want the best for us, not because it helps them, but because they care about us, both personally and professionally.

I am proud to say that who I am now, and who I strive to become, has been shaped by many people along the way.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Parity, what would it be?

More women in leadership positions within the technology industry. We’ve all seen how the STEM workforce is crucial for generating new ideas, receiving and commercializing patents, and providing the flexibility and critical thinking required in the modern economy. And as women, we’re the problem solvers. We get stuff done. And when you combine the two – that’s powerful and one we need more of in leadership.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

That trying to achieve the perfect work / life balance at all times will only be setting yourself up to feel like a failure. Instead seek to balance the moments. Focus on making choices and identifying what’s important in each moment. Each hour. Each day. Each week. Doing this requires being willing to make tough decisions and stand by them, but it’s allowed me to successfully have a career and be a great mother at the same time.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

I was given some advice from  a senior leader in my company many years ago. He said that someone is going to throw me the ball when I least expect it and I need to be prepared to catch it. He looked me in the eye and asked “Are you ready?” It was with trepidation that I said yes, because I was scared, but I meant it. Since that moment, I have been thrown the ball many times, and I have caught it every time. It has come from many different directions and when I didn’t expect it, but I was prepared to catch it.

Each of these opportunities have been unique and helped me to grow in ways I couldn’t have imagined. They have also helped me learn to expect the unexpected and not be so focused on a particular role or path that I lose sight of a special opportunity. I don’t know what my next challenge will be, but I will face it as I have the others with courage and determination. One day, I hope to look back over my career and the imprint I have left on my company and the people in it, and proudly say that I made a difference.