Engineering Career Twisted Away from Legal Path
After Earning Law Degree, igus’ Nicole Lang Found Enjoyment in Solving Mechanical Dilemmas
By Thomas Renner
If Nicole Lang had followed her original career path, you might find her today at the negotiating table for Tom Brady, Mookie Betts, or some other high-profile professional athlete.
Instead of pursuing a potential career as a sports agent, Lang finds herself supporting engineers, original equipment manufacturers and other machine-building specialists solve challenges on behalf of igus, inc. She started with the Germany-based manufacturer of motion plastics in entry-level positions in 1998 while pursuing a college degree, and has risen to an executive role as the Product Manager for the company’s bearings, which just happen to be the fastest-growing products of the business.
“Prior to working at igus I never saw myself doing anything in any engineering field,’’ Lang said. “I was fortunate to work at igus doing various jobs while in college. The company was a lot smaller then, so I was entering orders and working in inside sales.”
The pivotal point in Lang’s career path occurred during her pursuit of a law degree, which she eventually earned from Roger Williams University in Rhode Island. igus Vice President Carsten Blase, the younger brother of current Chief Executive Officer Frank Blase, encouraged Lang to intern with a prominent Rhode Island law office. igus’ North America offices are based in Providence, R.I.
“He would always ask me about my classes and showed a genuine interest in our conversations. He, like my mom, felt education was something that could never be taken away,’’ Lang said. “Although I did love the work, it became apparent to me that I really missed what I had at igus in discussing applications and reviewing new projects with engineers.”
Her career evolved gradually, gaining increasing responsibility as she climbed up the corporate ladder. She found the lessons she learned while studying law could also be applied in engineering.
“I’ve always been taught to give everything 110 percent and my mom has always completely supported me doing what made me happy,’’ Lang said. “I always get the question from others – ‘Why with a law degree are you not pursuing that?’ — and my answer is always what my mom taught me. No one can ever take your education away. I use those skills daily, so it wasn’t a waste. I like to think it helped enhance how I work as a product manager. I use my law degree at igus quite a bit in looking at business contracts, but at the end of the day what excites me is working on applications and helping engineers solve their problems.”
Lang recalled working with a manufacturer of lab equipment who experienced contamination from bearing systems that required lubrication. The contamination affected samples. She worked with the client to develop a solution with igus components.
“A lot of variables came into play,’’ Lang said. “This was a new design for them and they used all of our methods to get the right product/material. They first started with SLS Printing to check the geometry and do actual testing which worked great, then on to machining. We later molded parts. They have since requested some other design changes to accommodate other issues with the design (unrelated to bearings). We are working with them to ensure that we can solve all of their issues and make the process as easy as possible while getting them parts that work perfectly in the application.”
That project was indicative of Lang’s ability to help engineers resolve problems of any size. “Nicole is a problem solver,’’ igus Vice President Rick Abbate said. “She possesses both strong technical and communication skills which allow her to identify the specific product benefits that will reduce her customers costs and/or improve their technology.”
Nicole’s fascination with her job evolved over time. As a young woman, her interests revolved around sports and dancing. “I thought I’d be a sports agent or a professional ballerina,’’ Lang said. “That’s quite a swing.”
Very little in her early education suggested engineering as a potential career. She excelled academically in history, English and chemistry, but her passion was dance. “I did not really feel for the most part that I enjoyed math and science with a few exceptions,’’ she said. “It was later that I started to really enjoy those subjects and become fascinated with how things worked.”
Lang does recall an innate sense of curiosity in how things work, but even while working at igus and attending college, she felt law was her destination. “I took a lot of business law classes along with my sports and entertainment law,’’ she said. “When I was in college, I loved forensic psychology so a little part of me still wondered if I should move into the criminal space, which I considered during my first year or so of law school.”
Most romances require years to take root, and Lang’s love for her work grew over time. “At the end of the day, I think it’s been my experiences over the past 23 years at igus that make me love my job,” she said. “I really appreciate what engineers do and how important their work is to society. Learning about their projects really helped me decide that this is what really made me happy.”
Now, it’s hard to envision Lang in a role outside of engineering. The variety in her daily tasks, from supporting engineers in finding creative solutions for applications to working with German colleagues, help sustain her passion.
“At igus we believe very strongly that we do not ‘sell’ our bearings in the typical sense of the word,’’ Lang said. “Instead, we work with engineers and educate them on our products and ways they can help solve some of their issues. The collaborative nature is something I really appreciate. In the end engineers make the decision that is best for their project. We help support this by providing technical support and samples.”
Abbate and Lang joined igus at nearly the same time, and over time she has proven she can handle the multitude of daily tasks. “Nicole has proven that she can handle just about any challenge that is put in front of her and has been a major contributor to the company’s growth over her 20-year career,’’ Abbate said. “As a Product Manager, Nicole has a lot of balls in the air but never loses her focus on the customer, her product knowledge and the continuous development of her team.”
Several important messages can be discovered in Lang’s education and career path. For one, companies that embrace employees – male or female – and let them find themselves can discover hidden gems within their own ranks if given proper support and encouragement. If Carter Blase had not supported Lang’s desire to return after her legal internship, her career path may have been dramatically different.
“igus has always made me feel like I am part of the group no matter my gender,” Lang said. “Although in the beginning of my career I worked primarily with males, they never treated me like I was less. Worldwide the culture at igus is that we are part of a team that shares in the success. igus has always fostered an environment to facilitate growth. I’m proud to say that over the years there are more female applicants and success stories, and I am thrilled to see it.”
Another takeaway from Lang’s career is realizing there is more than one pathway to employment in engineering. She is also a mother, and she finds her young daughter inquiring about igus’ role in supporting engineering concepts.
“She loves to watch igus videos and ask me where igus products go,’’ Lang said. “During her remote months at the beginning of COVID she would sometimes see my screen while I was on meetings and afterward ask me a ton of questions. She’s completely fascinated by how things work already (much more so than when I was younger). I would encourage her if that’s the path she chooses.”
While engineering is fundamentally black-and-white – a concept either works or it doesn’t — the most important lesson from Lang’s career path is more visceral. Whether the foundational employment role is engineering, dancing or writing the contract of a sports star, it’s essential to enjoy the work. From her earliest days at igus, Nicole liked solving problems, the collaborative environment and the team around her. She also had the sense to realize it.
“When I started at igus I thought it would be a temporary stop on my way to becoming a lawyer or a sports agent,’’ Lang said. “Twenty-three years later I’m still here and so happy to be here. It’s really something when people say you should enjoy what you do. I 100% agree with that. Just because you had a life plan it’s okay if there’s a fork in the road that takes you in a different direction.”
B.A., Psychology, Political Science,
Roger Williams University
Filed Under: Commentary • expert insight