Walking away from a 9-to-5 job with a steady paycheck and health benefits to start your own business isn’t easy. To help you to take the plunge, we launched our editorial series The Case for Quitting where we ask self-employed women all about how they successfully struck out on their own, from how they balanced their side-hustle with their full-time job to how much money they saved before handing in their two-week notice. Below, we chat with Prasha Dutra, the founder and CEO of Her STEM Consulting LLC., to find out what compelled her to quit her job to help other women break into careers in STEM, how she set herself up for success as a first-time entrepreneur, and why it’s important to surround yourself with people who’ve walked the path you hope to tread.
What was your major in college and what did you want to do when you graduated?
I have a bachelor of technology in chemical engineering from India and a master of science in mechanical engineering from the University of Texas at Arlington. I always wanted to work in a factory as an engineer and luckily got placed in a manufacturing company right out of college.
What did you actually do after you graduated? What types of jobs did you apply to and what industry were you looking to break into?
I worked for seven years at the Prysmian Group, previously known as General Cable. I started in their Engineering Graduate Training Program with the R&D department in 2014. I climbed the ladder quickly, doing several different leadership roles before leaving the company in July 2021.
Since I was in eighth grade, I was fascinated by the manufacturing industry. My dad and I used to watch a lot of “How It’s Made” on the Discovery channel and that’s what got me really interested in manufacturing. I found my job at the college career fair and it was the only job ever applied to.
How did you get into STEM and the engineering industry more broadly?
I grew up in India where being an engineer is one of the most popular paths for kids who are good at school. I was really good at mathematics and science and very fascinated by my role model late astronaut Kalpana Chawla who was the first Indian woman to go to the international space station. I followed her footsteps all the way to her Alma Mater, UT Arlington and that’s where I studied in the same classroom as her.
What sparked your interest in career coaching and your desire to shift industries?
I started my podcast “Her STEM Story” as a passion project in November of 2017. This project opened my eyes to the major diversity and inclusion issues in the STEM industry and the real challenges that women in STEM are facing on a daily basis.
My podcast helped me create a dialogue with STEM women from around the world and they always asked me questions regarding career growth, confidence, and work-life balance. To help them all, I hosted my first virtual conference in 2018 called Wonder Women in STEM. The conference further led to me becoming a coach in 2020.
When the pandemic hit, I saw a spike in the need for support from immigrant women in STEM who were affected by the pandemic in many ways. I launched my first coaching program right around the same time to support these women.
“Business is like planting a tree. It bears fruits in due time, not as soon as you plant it.”
Image: Courtesy of Prasha Dutra
How did you know when it was time to quit your full-time job and strike out on your own? What was your strategy for making the transition?
I loved my job all the way till the very last day of work! I loved it all, it was my childhood dream to work in a factory, so it was never a part of the plan. It was a tough but very spontaneous decision. I was waiting for my calling, an intuitive nudge that I use to guide me through life’s major decisions. One day, while driving to work I realized that if I don’t quit now, I may never quit. I also used meditation as a daily exercise as I worked through the decision. I believe it’s very important to align yourself spiritually and anchor in silence as you take some of these major life decisions.
How did you prepare for the transition before quitting your full-time job? What, if anything, do you wish you’d done differently?
My strategy with my business was to reach the revenue levels equivalent to my annual salary and get an accountant early on. This was something that served me really well and made decision-making easy because I was equipped with data about my business.
I was saving to ensure we had money saved for our household expenses to prepare for the transition. I think I would do nothing differently, if anything I would quit sooner.
Were you worried about money? What advice can you share for people who are worried about leaving a steady paycheck to start a new career?
YES! I am still scared as I am entering my fourth month as a full-time entrepreneur. Entrepreneurship is a different lifestyle from a 9-5 career and my suggestion to anyone thinking of pursuing this path is, don’t expect to get paid right off the gate. I built my business for 12 months before taking any money out from it.
Business is like planting a tree. It bears fruits in due time, not as soon as you plant it. So please have savings for at least three months, get educated about how businesses work, have an accountant that can help you understand your profit-and-loss statements and advise you on the health of your business. Lastly, be patient and have unwavering faith! It won’t be comfortable, but it will be worth it in the long term.
Did you save up first or did you just jump in headfirst?
I built my business to a steady monthly revenue for about 12 months before even entertaining the idea of going full time, I saved about four months of expenses for me that was about $15,000. My business savings was $15,000 as well. I am an immigrant so I had to wait for my permanent green card to come through before I could jump into entrepreneurship. We are a two-income household so that helped me financially as well to take this step.
“Don’t rush it. Take your time to figure out what you want to do.”
Image: Courtesy of Prasha Dutra
What’s the most important thing you have learned from making a big change in your career life?
That it’s ok for us to live multiple lives in one lifetime. We don’t need to live one dream for 40 years, we are allowed to live more dreams than the one we had as a child. I didn’t just leave corporate America, I retired from it to pursue the next adventure. My hope is that more people allow themselves to diversify their dreams and not feel pressured to retire after working in one career for 30 years. A book that helped me learn this lesson and helped me through the transition is “The Midnight Library” by Matt Haig.
When you look back and reflect on your previous career do you have any regrets or are you still really happy with your decision?
When I quit my job, I drove straight to the beach to reflect on my short, seven-year engineering career. As I reflected on that day by the beach, I realized the immense amount of experiences that I gathered and how much that prepared me for this next chapter in my life. I have no regrets, just an immense amount of gratitude for my colleagues that supported me through the years and mentors that taught me life lessons which now make me a better person and coach.
What is the #1 career or money book you always recommend and why?
What advice can you share for someone who is thinking about leaving their current gig to pursue their side-hustle or passion?
Don’t rush it. Take your time to figure out what you want to do and spend time trying things before you decide to do it full time. Secondly, please don’t do it alone. I have had a life coach since 2019, and without her, I don’t think I would have been able to make this decision and walk this path. Frankly, there is no need for us to try to figure it all out, surround yourself with people who have walked the path and who are willing to help you do the same. GET A COACH!
Anything else to add?
You can follow my full-time entrepreneur journey on my IG @prashadutra. Do check it out and support this mini business as it takes off!
Featured image: Courtesy of Prasha Dutra