Career Pivoting and Following My Dreams

May 22, 2020

We are all on a journey that is our life and there is no one right way to find your career happiness. I’m going to tell you about my story and how my journey brought me to where I am today, albeit in a roundabout way.

As the Left-Brain of Drio I am the analytical one, the problem solver. For my clients they know that when working with me “under the hood” online strategies are well conceived and applied. 

But, they’re not to confuse my tendencies for all things analytical, I have the ability to see how online functionality needs to work in a creative world.

For the majority of my young-adult life, art was always a part of it. I found happiness in drawing and painting. I loved the art medium that I was able to explore with MICA’s Young People’s Studio and then in the 4-year art program in my highschool.  

That creative side has never left me, but I did take a detour to follow my left-brain dominance to Virginia Tech to study Civil Engineering.  I do also have a love for problem solving. After graduating from college I went on to work as an Engineer for a small Landscape Architecture firm and then a career with the MD State Highway Administration (SHA).  While at SHA I was able to get my Masters in Engineering from University of MD and then I became a registered professional engineer (PE) in 2011.  

Something happened, a culmination of sorts after I became a PE. I had my 2nd child and had accomplished a long-standing goal of attaining my PE license and then, WHAT?! My goal had been accomplished and I realized that I needed more out of my career. Having my 2nd child was the driving force to help me realize that I wanted to be happy, have a great career and have the flexibility to be a mother.

I needed a new goal to attain and a small WordPress blog that I had created about parenting after the birth of my first in 2008 became the catalyst for my future endeavors. I fell in love with the technical and visual aspects of my small WordPress blog and took a deep dive in the set-up and development process, all the while teaching myself about SEO and social media.  

At the end of 2011, shortly after I had attained my goal of becoming a professional engineer, I co-founded, Drio. I was able to take my web development skills, my past knowledge about photoshop and illustrator, my self-taught online marketing knowledge and build a company that I could be proud of.  I wanted to help businesses with their online presence through website design and online marketing.  



This quote was my mantra for starting college as an engineer and going through all of the very difficult classes, exams and papers. It has carried me throughout my journey, providing that reminder that it’s just time.  We all have time and I shouldn’t let that insurmountable goal scare me because of the time it will take to accomplish.  

As I look back on this time that I have poured into my transition into an entrepreneur, I have highlighted where I began and how those beginnings continue to be a part of my everyday decisions and direction.

I started with a search for a mentor.  Luckily, I knew someone from my middle/high school who was a few years ahead of me with a business she started in graphic design and web design. I leaned on her a lot in the beginning and I am forever grateful to her.  She shared business tips, connected me with other business owners, gave me a proposal of hers to start from for our clients and much much more. 

Next, I looked for a community. As a newcomer into the design world, I needed to quickly make some connections to let people know what I was doing and to find others to lean on for further support. I quickly found a home with B’More Creatives. It was a community of women in Baltimore where I could reach out to people to get questions answered, meet people and learn about their businesses and projects. I wanted to soak up all of the knowledge about this new design community that I could. I quickly joined some subcommittees of the board to get involved and meet other women regularly, face-to-face. I eventually joined the board and was able to learn about how the community events came together and the behind the scenes of the group. This also gave me an opportunity to make new friends and life-long connections.

There was one big hurdle for me in pivoting in my career and that was gaining the knowledge that I would need to succeed in the web design world. Even though I had been teaching myself through online tutorials and a whole lot of trial and error, I really felt that I could benefit from some solid education. I searched for college level classes, but I wanted a more “on-the-job-training” type of education. I found a Front-End Web Development class offered at Betamore in Baltimore and signed up! I learned a lot, but I also found that I should trust that even without a formal education my current knowledge is very valuable. I find it very important to continue to spend time learning and staying on top of the latest trends.

I’ve been able to continue my journey for knowledge with each new problem that I come across which needs a creative solution. I’ve found that the connections that I’ve made along the way have been very valuable in guiding me towards new growth opportunities and that it’s of the utmost importance to continue making new connections, finding new mentors or just making a new friend who will be there when you need them.  

I’ve learned a lot about myself on this journey. I’ve found that I don’t always take the easy route and that’s okay!  I’m a problem solver by nature and I ask lots of questions to find my way to the answers that work for me. I’ve learned that I’m unemployable, I love the flexibility of working for myself, setting my own schedule, making the rules. I don’t easily conform to the way employers want me to do things.  This has gotten me in trouble with past employers. I “ask too many questions” and “create problems that otherwise didn’t exist,” the way they saw it. I saw it as trying to find a new way to something, being creative and building new and better processes.   

Finally, I have learned that I really enjoy being able to give back. It’s why I presented at Ink & Pixels 2020 and it’s why I have found others along the way that I can give advice to and act as a mentor for. It’s why I co-founded a women’s networking group in Baltimore, alongside my business partner, Hazel Geary. I found a community and mentors that were there for me when I needed them and I want to be able to give back to others in that same way.

I’d love to hear from you.  Below are some follow-up questions that I asked attendees, I’ve also included how I would answer these questions.

  1. What goals are you striving for? I have found that I always like to have goals, they are what drive me.  Right now I have 2 big goals. 1) work on a growth strategy for Drio, my business 2) to promote, build and grow our women’s community into a place where members find us a valuable resource
  2. Where do you get your motivation from?  Mine has been mostly an internal push.  I also find other people’s success as a driving force.
  3. Do you have a mentor in your life?  Personal mentor or professional mentor?  I never thought of myself as a mentor until I had a colleague tell me how thankful she was to have me as a mentor.  All the while, I thought I was just being a friend, never realizing how much she valued my advice.
  4. Where have you connected with a community that you feel at home with?  I have several business communities (co-working space, networking group), but I also have a very active neighborhood where I am a board member as well. I am able to lend my services to help with website design and communications as well any engineering advice. I enjoy being involved in both business and professional groups and have found that they are rewarding and also a great way to meet people and stay connected.
  5. Have you made connections with people who you could rely on when it comes time to apply for a job or go out on your own as an entrepreneur?  After college I applied for many jobs and was so touched by my friend’s dad who without a thought contacted his good friend to get me an interview.  I never realized how much a connection could really help me have a leg up.  And over the years I have leaned heavily on connections, new and old to connect me with their networks.

Please feel free to reach out to me to tell me how you have made a career change or if you are looking for a way to take the plunge. I’d love to hear from you and offer you additional advice if I can. You can connect with me on LinkedIn to stay in touch and send me a message. Or feel free to email me rachel [at]


AIGA Ink and Pixels 2020: Undefined Career Path, Slides

Valerie Anderson from AIGA recommended these books:

Monument Women’s Creative Alliance

Share This Post

About the Author: Rachel McFadden

She’s helped build roads in Baltimore, Maryland. Now this civil engineer turned WordPress wizard and graphic designer creates websites and marketing collateral that build bridges between you and your ideal customers. In a nutshell, she makes sure that when a potential client finds you online, there’s a clear, connected, on-brand digital path that leads them straight to your inbox, smartphone, or checkout page.

Ready to strike your perfect balance between head turning and revenue generating?

Go to Top