15 | From Molecules to Machines: How to Become a Process Engineer from a Chemist | Joseph Azzarella


Get ready to witness the incredible journey of Joseph Azzarella, a chemist who has transformed into a process engineer! Armed with an unstoppable passion for scientific innovation and a determination to succeed, this trailblazing professional has navigated complex challenges and overcome daunting obstacles to achieve greatness. Join us as we celebrate the amazing career of this brilliant mind and revel in their groundbreaking achievements!

Joseph Azzarella: https://www.linkedin.com/in/josephazzarella/

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Alternate Titles For The Algorithm:

Chemical Alchemist turned Process Engineer
From the Lab to the Plant: A Chemist’s Journey
The Art of Scaling: A Chemist’s Guide to Process Engineering
Process Wizard: Transforming Chemistry into Production
From Molecules to Machines: A Chemist’s Path to Process Engineering
Transforming Theory into Practice: A Chemist’s Evolution into Process Engineering
Chemical Innovator turned Process Mastermind
The Science of Efficiency: A Chemist’s Approach to Process Engineering
From Bench to Factory: A Chemist’s Transition to Process Engineering
Breaking Boundaries: How a Chemist Became a Process Engineer

Show Notes

Hey y’all, this is your host Elyse Robinson. With Nobody Wants To Work Tho podcast I hope the stories were inspire you to switch careers. I was an Auditor in my past life and I’m in Tech, then let’s get to it

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Hey, y’all this Elyse Robinson with nobody wants to work though podcast today we have is a Joe or Joseph. Joe. Joe. Okay. We have Joe today. Where did you start? And what do you do now?

Sure. So I started in the pharmaceutical industry as kind of a manufacturing scientist. And then I ended up becoming an engineer within the pharmaceutical industry. And now I am a in a software company.

Uh huh. And what is what is your background when it comes to like, what is the manufacturing scientist?

Sure. So I it’s been a wild ride I started is like a traditionally trained chemist. And my first job out of college was working for a company that built industrial equipment to support the pharmaceutical industry. So they needed someone that understood the processing side. And like my first day, what I was putting up drywall for a laboratory in the morning, and then in the afternoon, I was actually writing like, validation protocols. So it was really just this trial by fire. I did that for a few years, kind of moved around a couple different positions. And in that role, it was kind of funny, most of our customers were in the pharmaceutical industry. So you had to understand what they were doing. You had to understand good manufacturing practices and all these rules. But I never worked in it. So I didn’t really understand. And every year like my performance reviews, they would say, Well, you know, you’re doing great, but you don’t understand the pharma industry. And after like two, three years of getting that same comments over and over, it’s like, Well, okay, I’m gonna quit and go work in the pharmaceutical industry. So I made the jump, and I went into what’s called technology transfer, which is kind of like the crossroads of the pharma industry, you have to know, like compliance and regulatory affairs, you have to know like, traditional r&d, you have to know the manufacturing science. So you know, if you’re making 2000 liters of an antibiotic, you have to know how do I fill all the vials? How do I do it as quickly as possible for the lowest cost? But it was really great. You got like a crossroads of all those skills?

And what did you study to become that it was a chemistry? Yeah, so

I started with chemistry. But honestly, especially for technology transfer, you can go into that field doing basically anything. I have a really good friend, she actually has a music background.

So what is technology transfer?

It is it honestly, it’s just being like a scientific translator, right? Like the r&d folks may have this brand new drug that they want to make on a large commercial scale. But they don’t understand large scale manufacturing, they don’t understand the equipment that’s involved the impact of, you know, let’s say you’re making instead of 200 milliliters of a drug on a lab bench, now you’re making 2000 liters of it. So some of the some of the parts of the manufacturing process will change that because it’s the pharma industry. It’s all documentation regulated. So now you have to qualify every part of that process. And now, you’re also training people that sometimes it’s the, you know, Vice President and explaining to him like, why you need to buy a $2 million tank. And other times you’re explaining to an operator who might have a high school degree, like why certain stuff is important.

Interesting, okay. I mean, this is one of the reasons why I do the podcast, but I find all kinds of interesting careers. And I’m like, Okay, what is that? So when you talk about the technology transfer, it reminds me kind of like audit because I go in there and I don’t necessarily understand a topic, but there’s rules and procedures that go along with the audit. So I read through those, and then I come back and say Hey, well, you’re not following this, do we need to update the rules and procedures, or you know, you’re not doing your job or you know, you don’t have the tools or et cetera, et cetera, et cetera? Like, what is the root cause? And then after that, I’m an expert on what that person I talked to them, interview them and read through every day. Um, so talk about more what you do now with on the software side?

Sure. So very similar to auditing, right, you have all of these rules and procedures, and you have to make sure that all your procedures like connect to each other, right. And pharmaceuticals, generally, that’s all been on paper. So no exaggeration, like the manufacturing of a normal, I’ll say, like batch of drugs, a couple million doses, it can easily be 535 1000 pages worth of paperwork involved with it. That’s a lot of paperwork, especially if you’re making 60 batches a week. So what my company does is we have a digital solution for that. And my job in particular, is taking those pharmaceutical folks that don’t really have a strong tech background, but they know what they want, and actually guiding them through and setting up that process for them.

Gotcha. So more so of like, on the tech side, that would be called like a sales engineer is the person that demos the software, and they may configure this offer to an extent. Or it could be like a solutions engineer.

Yeah, yes. And like we have solutions engineers that are closer to the sales side. It’s nice for me, because by the time you get to me, you’ve already bought the software, you’re paying for the license. So it’s a much happier vibe in that regard, right? I don’t have to try to sell you anything new, we can really just focus on making sure that you get like the best product possible.

The more thorough of like account management. Kind of Yeah, gotcha. Okay. You kind of touched it a little bit, but the catalyst that made you want to change your career, and how did you find out about this career?

So I knew I was going to be in pharmaceuticals forever, right? It’s, it’s a very different mindset. business practices are different. And pharmaceuticals in general is very risk adverse, right? Risk means that something could go wrong, it can cost you a lot of money, you have recalls, things like that. And I just I couldn’t stick with it. I as part of my grad work, I have a degree in chemistry and also like an MBA combination called Professional Science Master’s. And it was just weird learning about like, all these new methods, new leadership styles, ways to run a business. And then I was working somewhere that just didn’t do that. So that alone was like, we’re not going to be pharmaceuticals forever. But going like into software, honestly, at first, I didn’t think I was cut out for it. I had a bunch of skills that I didn’t really get to use locking pharmaceuticals, like a sounds really silly, but like I enjoy statistics I enjoy kind of like the basics of data science, mostly because of my grad work. And during that time, I got like my Six Sigma Black Belt, right, just for the sake of getting it. When COVID hit, I took a class in data science through Coursera, which was really good. And so I kept like, acquiring all the skills with really no idea what I was going to do with them. I was just excited to learn about it. And I was lucky enough I had a recruiter reach out to me to tell me about this position. And he’s explaining and the entire time I’m like, oh, oh, this does combine everything together, doesn’t it? This is great. So that’s that’s kind of how I made the jump. I just kept picking up all these skills not really concerned what I was going to use them for just that I wanted to have them and then you know waiting for a recruiter or someone else to kind of see that value.

Gotcha. Gotcha. All these things come at a cost. What did it cost you to make the transition? And did you have support from you know, your friends, your family, you know, do they think you were crazy trying to make this transition?

Oh, they still think I’m crazy. They honestly I keep trying to explain to them what I do and they don’t they don’t understand that’s fine. Um, I guess I know of making the jump. You know, when my old life I had a couple of academic papers published I had some work that ended up in like a textbook. Now in this new role, that prestige is kind of gone, right? Which is fine. It was just kind of something I didn’t really think about until I made the jump and then had to stop and think like, oh, it was this good idea. And, you know, of course it was. But as far as like, kind of in the process of making that jump, like where I’m working full time, I’m taking classes full time on learning this and learning that it had an impact on my social life a little bit, right. In a way, COVID was kind of nice in that regard, because, well, no one had a social life for at least a year. But really, it was my wife. She was the one who just every time I wanted to do something or try something, she was just like, Well, yeah, don’t, you don’t need my permission, I want you to go do this go. Like, we’ll figure it out later. So it was it was really nice.

You might be muted. I am muted. I said, it sounds it sounds like me. When I when I first moved to Mexico, I came to morning to Hill and, you know, maybe take a couple of Spanish classes or something like that. Because, you know, second language is always great, great. And I never learned when when I was younger, so I was like, Okay, I’m adult now I want to try something. And people thought I was insane. Putting my good government job and all that good stuff. And then I called my father up about a month and a half. And it was like, Yeah, Daddy, I’m not coming back.

Right. And it’s so weird. There’s just there’s something that tells you like, this is the right decision. And when people ask you about it, and like, especially for me, or and you probably have the same thing, right? You’re so used to kind of rules and regulations, you have like that engineering lizard brain that, you know, tells you you have a certain path. And then you get to those points and you’re just like, why are you doing this? You’re like, I don’t know what we’re going to do it?

No, the podcast that I talk about myself is called my business brain versus my tech brain. And you know, as auditor, I studied business, right. But my first love was tech. And so yes, I had the engineering skill set, because you know, I love math, I love chemistry, and physics and all that stuff. But I also love business. And it’s a real struggle sometimes, because my business side is like, be adventurous. Do it now do it right now. And then the tech side is like, now you got you got to do this this way. And, you know, walk the fine line and stuff like that. So it’s a it’s a huge struggle. So yeah, I totally understand. And, ya know, at this point, I guess my adventurous side is, is winning more so than, than the tech side. But, but ya know, I get you. What was you kind of touched on this a little bit, but what was the process of switching careers? You said you took classes? Why did you think that you waited for someone to see your value instead of, you know, pushing your value out there on people, you know, did you post about what you were doing? Did you apply for different positions? You know, what was the process on that?

Sure. So at that time, I was applying for different roles within the pharmaceutical industry, but more like business focused, right, are more kind of a higher level type position. And as I was getting all of these different certifications, I was just updating my LinkedIn, updating my resume, I really wasn’t doing a whole lot with it. It wasn’t until the recruiter for the company that I’m with now had reached out to me and said, Hey, I see you have the strong pharma background. But you also have a lot of like these really interesting like tech pieces to it. So there’s something else going on there. And honestly, part of the reason I did it was I, I didn’t even know what I wanted to do. Specifically, I just knew like taking a data science class, I was like, Oh, this is really fun. Like, maybe I’ll use it for I don’t know something at home or just it was just a nice skill to have. I didn’t take it thinking, Oh, this is going to directly impact my job and it’s going to, you know, set me up for this position within the industry. So in a way I I just kept focusing on what skills do I want to learn and what do I want to use every day? And then, like I said, hope that someone can kind of put those pieces together, right? Because if nothing else, that’s what makes a good recruiter is someone who can look at those

kinds of parts. Yeah, don’t get me started on recruiters. You But what did your did you change your resume in a certain kind of way? Did you reworded? You know, um, you know what what did that look like to have someone try to take a chance on you?

Sure. So I, I had paid a company to redo my resume and they did a good job if I wanted to stay in my same position forever. You know what I mean? Like if I wanted to just follow, just follow that technology transfer tree, they did a great job. But it was really hard working with them and saying, like, Hey, I’m trying to break out into a different industry. I’m not 100% sure where it’s gonna go, what do I do? And, you know, they, it just didn’t work out. Right? So they kind of kept it very traditional. So then, when I was going to apply for jobs, I would kind of get the oh, well, you have some of the skills, but you’re really more fit for kind of this traditional role. And I was like, Well, fine, that’s not really what I’m looking for. So what I ended up doing was, as I was getting kind of these skills, you’re trying to put them to the forefront, you have to you have to reword things, and try to put them in a different light, which I think is really fair for a lot of people to struggle with, right? Because you you never want to misrepresent yourself, right? That no one wants that. But if I’m taking, you know, tech classes and math classes, and I’m using those things to solve my problems, well, I shouldn’t be allowed to put it in that light. So I tried to do that as best as I could. And then when I got to the actual interviews, like the one thing that kept sitting in my mind was, even with all the work I did on my resume still said I was a technology transfer expert. So I really had to bang on the drum of, you know, I’m not in a silo, I can do a little bit of everything. I just happen to be very good at this one thing. And so what I kept kind of reiterating in my interview was, I did it once. And I started with basically zero background, right, I was putting up drywall on my first day. And honestly, I think that’s the reason that that company had hired me was because I used to do it as a kid. So I really pushed it was like, you know, I started not knowing much. And I became an expert publishing papers in like six or seven years, I did it once. Let me show you, I can do it again. So it’s just about I guess, translating some of your previous work in your accolades for wherever you’re gonna go.

Yes, that’s why I asked the question, because a lot of people want to transition. But, you know, they don’t know the steps to take to do that. And as someone that has switched careers, have all these varied skills. You know, I’m entrepreneurs, like, it looks like I’m crazy. So it’s like, okay, where do we put her? Because, honestly, you know, what, I enjoy a lot of different things. And so it’s like, okay, well, I don’t, I don’t like to focus on one thing. And in a job, I like to move around, and all this other kind of stuff. So it’s, it’s very hard to find just one thing to focus on. So this is one of the reasons why I started the podcast, I’m not gonna say people like me, but other crazy people that want to, you know, move and move and shake. Um, what are some of the positive and negatives of your new career?

Sure. So, positives. I mean, to be quite frank, the pay is much better. And that I think, is just, that’s the law right now with the tech industry, right? Even if we’re going through massive amounts of layoffs, people still think, Oh, if you want to make really good money, go work in some sort of tech. For work life balance is also a lot better. In my old life. I used to get phone calls from third shift. Production folks at 2am yelling at me because they didn’t agree with something that I said, and they said, Oh, come in, you know, rewrite this, change it right now. So that part’s been really nice. And it’s kind of cliche as it sounds, the product that I that we deliver and being able to make unnecessary paperwork and processes a lot more condensed. It gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling, because I’ve been on the opposite side of that before. So to me, it always feels like I’m solving a problem that I know other people have, right? There’s always a good intrinsic feeling there. I guess as far as negatives go, it’s it’s a very young company. They’re not quite a startup. More. So just how quickly things can change, I’m still adjusting to that. But that’s more on me than anything else. We’re up, we’re also 100% remote. So I have to be a lot more conscious in my communication, right? If you’re in an office, obviously, you can just walk down the hall, talk to whoever. But now instead, I have to make sure that I am talking to my co workers all the time. But honestly, if it’s, if that’s the big problem that I have to deal with, like, then I’m doing great.

Gotcha, gotcha. Um, what are some of the traits that you think is valuable in this position?

Sure. So I guess kind of touching on the being completely remote. I learned really quickly, you have to plan your day, you have to know what you’re going to work on, you got to schedule the time you’re going to work on it. And then my own little pet peeve is that if you’re going to a meeting, or you’re planning something prepared, right, you don’t want to be that person that has to say, let’s have a follow up meeting for something that I should have known the answer to, right? Because everyone makes sure to mute themselves and everyone groans everything else. So don’t be that person. I guess being generally computer savvy helps as well, right? Like I can, I’m by no means a programmer, but at least I know enough so that I can talk through like, you know, something in SQL with the developer if I need to if we have an issue. So I guess, you know, it’s really just be prepared and understand the expertise that your coworkers have.

Is there a certain pathway into this type of position, this career field, you briefly mentioned that someone had a music degree that work with you, but is there a certain path that someone should take

for for my current role, you have to be able to show that you’ve done worked in a regulated industry. So whether that’s pharmaceuticals, food, financial, what have you. So being able to work in that, and then also having called a call like that general tech competency, right? Again, I don’t need to be able to walk my customers through a whole SQL database. But if they get a certain error message, I need to know enough to go, okay, it might be this, let me bring that to a support team. In my old life with a technology transfer you, you have to have some sort of a call it complicated skill, competency. So whether that’s a hard science, your chemistry is biology is all that, or whether it’s music, and you’re just to be fair, I’m not a musician, by any stretch. But like, honestly, she just she interviewed really well, she was able to take really complicated things like the circle of fifths, and like, walk me through it. And by the end, I thought I knew what I was doing, you know. So just kind of having that strength and then being able to communicate to a wide group of audiences. I said it earlier in tech transfer, you have to be able to talk to a CFO who only has five minutes of your time, versus someone who has, you know, a GED, but And you always have to remember that they are both equal in terms of their importance to a process

actually played the clarinet in middle school. Oh, nice. Yeah, I loved it. And I wanted to continue, but I didn’t want to be in a like band class, where you have to be in a football games and stuff like that, but didn’t want to freeze. Um, what did you wish you knew before starting this career?

I wish I knew how different industries could be. You know, when, when I was in grad school, we were looking at different organizational structures with like, their strengths and weaknesses. And I was always like, oh, you know, a certain type of organizational structure or we got into things like compensation structures and things like that. And I would always look at it and be like, you know, this is theoretical, no one actually does this in the real world. And it was, it really caught me off guard when I had jumped over to TAC and I was like, oh, oh, okay. People actually do these things that I had learned about. So I guess if anything, I feel like I earlier on in my career, I think if I jumped around a little bit more, or in really tried different industry is instead of just pharmaceuticals, I think I would have had kind of a better grasp of how different workplaces operate. And for me that was, and it still is like the biggest lesson to learn.

No, I get you because I get a lot of federal stuff. And it’s like, I don’t mind being in the federal space. I love it. I enjoyed that. You know, that’s, that’s what I do. But, you know, I want to try outside of the federal space. So I totally get you because even when I worked in big tech, I was on the federal side. And I’m pretty sure that’s one of the reasons why I got recruited was because of my federal experience. So honestly, I’ve haven’t really had a huge opportunity to work outside of the governmental space. So I guess my next question to follow up with that is how do you not pigeonhole yourself in one industry? Because, you know, just like they try to pigeonhole you in one job, how did you work it to where you can move to different industry?

That’s a great question i and that was my biggest fear was, I thought I was going to be stuck in the pharmaceutical industry forever. Again, because there are just certain things about it that just didn’t sit well with me, it was something that I wouldn’t be able to keep my sanity and have a full career in. And as far as trying to get out of that hits, it’s really hard. I, the thing I kept going back to was like, what skills do I want to use every day? And let’s bolster those right, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to jump from pharmaceuticals to like tech that had nothing to do with pharmaceuticals, right? Like you still have those skills, you’re still going to rely on them, right? Like you had done a lot of work with the Fed. So even if you transition, you’re still going to keep some of that previous life with you, right? Because your future employer sees that value and wants to take advantage of it. And that’s all well and good. I guess the only thing you can really do is you kind of make little sidesteps. Right. So if you say I start in pharmaceuticals, I take a little sidestep towards tech, and then maybe sometime in the future, I sidestep towards something else. I think that’s the only the only really consistent way of doing it. I know there are people out there who can go and especially for tech, right, where it’s more about certifications and things like that, where they can go and get a couple certifications, do a couple boot camps and then they are completely out in left field. I think that works great for some, I think that makes for a really nice Tiktok to inspire people, but I don’t think everyone can do that. You know?

Now I have to agree because yeah, it’s stuck with me. They’re like, Oh, you work for the do you want to work on the federal side? Not sure I guys, you know, I gotta eat. So yeah, no, beggars can’t be choosers. So no, I get you. I was I was just curious about you know what your answer is on that. And that actually might be one of my follow up questions. I need to add that to my list. You know, how did you get out of your, you know, your industry? Because that’s, I don’t pigeonhole you to, um, outside of that, I don’t have this whole list ready to add it to my list is Do you think that you were too early? Too late? Do you think it was the right time to make that transition? Any regrets?

Um, I think if I’m, if I had to just kind of bounce between too early and too late. I’m probably closer on too late. Because a lot of the stuff I was doing ords, kind of like my end in pharmaceuticals didn’t really translate over very well, or at least didn’t bring a lot of value to the new job. I probably could have made the switch earlier. I’m trying to think so. If I don’t know if there’s anything I really would have done differently, though. Again, I was kind of in this position where I was lucky enough to have a recruiter that saw kind of all the different pieces and said, Hey, this guy is going to work for what we need. Yeah, I guess if I was trying to reach out to recruiters and trying to get into different fields, things might have gone differently, right. Maybe I would have taken a couple different classes and Maybe I would have applied for different positions, or maybe reached back out to the recruiters that I had worked with previously, just to say like, Hey, you talk to me about this position, but this is really what I’m looking for. Please just keep me in the back of your mind. Which is tricky, right? Because now you’re kind of at the whim of this recruiter. And there’s a whole different dynamic there.

Right, and I can I can relate. Because I was applying and applying and applying for all these different positions in the cloud. You know, AWS Azure, were the ones that I knew. And I was interviewing, and next thing I know, it just, it just came so easy. A recruiter hit me up on LinkedIn was like, Yeah, we want to interview you. Next thing I know, you know, I had the job. So I was like, like, I wasted all this time when it was it was that easy. And it kind of hurts. And it’s like, whoa, you know, I wasted this time, this energy and blah, blah, blah. But it’s, it’s really just a part of the process. Because at that point is like, I’ve kind of fine tuned, I had more visibility into the type of positions that I wanted. And, you know, the companies I wanted to work for, too, because I didn’t work in tech. I never worked in private industry. I was always federal, like, I knew what that was about. But, you know, I had to learn a whole new process on negotiating pay. And this is, you know, three rounds of interviews. When the Feds I only did one interview in a lot of times, it was under our, you know, this, this, this was all new to me. So, um, I don’t want to say it was a waste of time, but yet it was.

Yeah, it’s just it feels underutilized, right. That’s a nice polite way of putting it but like, yeah, you’re just kind of waiting for that recruiter. And I, I personally, I’m a huge fan of them, compared to a lot of the automated application processes that are out there like, I, I know companies where if your resume is not formatted a certain way, if it’s missing certain key words, and it’s not tied, like with like the correct phrase, it just tosses you out? There’s no second look at it, which it to me is mind boggling, right? You can have a lot of great talent out there. You just need someone who’s willing to spend a lot, I don’t know, 30 seconds to look something over.

It’s really crazy nowadays. In a plug, I do live resume review that my LinkedIn reviews, that’s my give back. And they will always always be free to check me out on switch into tech.org. And the final question is, what would you tell someone that wanted to switch their career?

I would definitely say, look at the skills you want to use every day and start training those right? No one just wakes up and decides that they want to be like a bodybuilder or strongman, right? They they have to go on they have to train for it every day, even if they don’t use that in their daily life. I think when it comes to making a transition to your career, you have to do the same thing. You keep making those changes and keep asking yourself what are why are you stop asking like what do I need to do to get this job but start asking like what do I want to do every day? It because those intrinsic motivators like what I want to do versus an extrinsic motivator. You know, this job is much better in the long run.

Gotcha. Yeah, heard it from Joe. Where can we find you Joe?

On LinkedIn, I guess. Yeah, yeah, that probably be the the best place.

All right. Thank you for watching The nobody wants to work though. Podcast. My name is Elyse Robinson. Joe used to be a manufacturing scientist. And now he is what’s your title?

So my title is Process Engineer,

Process Engineer. Gotcha. Gotcha. He is now Process Engineer. Thank you for watching. And if you haven’t subscribed, please subscribe and subscribe on the podcast too, because we’re on Google, Spotify, Apple, all that good stuff. And this is the 13th episode. Um, I have more more coming up, give or take hopefully. So um, and then I’m probably gonna close out the season, because I got stuff to do. But again, thank you for watching and take care.

And thanks so much for the opportunity.