Looking back at his career path, however, Noce says that he “did everything the wrong way.”
Noce didn’t figure out his dream career path right away. But his openness to new opportunities has led him to a field that he is passionate about, and his love for solving varied problems is helping him thrive in the highly competitive consulting engineering business.
Reflecting upon the outcomes of the choices he has made throughout his career, Noce, a newly minted ACS Fellow, admits, “I am amazed by it on a regular basis…”
The wandering years
Noce excelled at science and math in high school. Encouraged by teachers and family members to go into engineering, he planned to become a chemical engineer. However, after a year at Clarkson College of Technology (now Clarkson University), an engineering school near the U.S. and Canada border in Potsdam, New York, he decided that engineering was not for him.
“I hated it,” he confesses.
He transferred to the State University of New York at Potsdam, changed his major, and graduated with dual degrees in biology and secondary education with a concentration in chemistry. Both of his parents were school teachers, he respected their work, and he thought he’d like to become a teacher as well.
But the universe had a different plan for Noce. After graduating from college in 1988, he was hired by YWC Laboratories in Connecticut, an environmental lab, and became an analytical chemist rather than a teacher.
“Yeah, I don’t really understand how it happened either,” Noce jokes.
Much to Noce’s surprise, he found out that he liked the rapidly growing field of environmental chemistry.
“It really felt like I was helping to make a difference,” Noce recalls. “From cleaning up the sins of the past to preventing such issues from occurring in the future by finding a better way to do things, the job is both challenging and exciting.”
More than 27 years later, today Noce still feels the same way about the field that he accidentally fell in love with.
“In many ways I like it even more today because I get to see the bigger picture now,” says Noce.
Drawn to the consulting business
YWC Laboratories was owned by an environmental engineering firm. It didn’t take long for Noce to fall in love with the consulting business. Traveling from place to place, working with people from different backgrounds, and helping companies and organizations to solve a variety of problems, the consulting business appeared to suit his peripatetic nature. Noce decided to enter into the consulting engineering business.
However, it wasn’t as easy for Noce to enter into the field at this time. He was repeatedly told that he lacked the needed experience to be a consultant.
A well-thought-out plan
To get his foot in the door, Noce’s plan was to join an established engineering firm as a mid-level consultant. The springboard was Ward Scientific, Ltd., a company that developed software to help environmental labs and consulting engineering firms generate EPA compliant reports. While at ENSECO’s ERCO Laboratory (Noce’s second job after graduating from college), Noce tested software for Ward Scientific. In 1991, Noce successfully convinced the software company to create a software engineer position for him.
How did he do it?
“I explained that they needed a chemist who could, on the one hand, understand the EPA requirements and sketch out the logic for a programmer, while on the other hand could relate to the end users and provide training and sales support. And they asked if I happened to know someone who might fit the bill,” Noce recalls.
Within days, the software company offered Noce a job, and he accepted. After working at Ward Scientific for about a year and a half, Noce landed his first consulting position in 1993. That’s a short 5 years after graduating from college, 9 years after walking away from a chemical engineering school.
The key to his success of getting into the consulting business?
“Perseverance, confidence, and a dash of audacity,” Noce reveals.
For the love of variety
In the following 2 decades, Noce worked on hundreds of environment health and safety-related projects for dozens of industrial clients of various sizes. As his experience increased, so did his responsibility.
After working for several consulting firms, Noce joined Haley & Aldrich in 2015 to help the firm build its Operations Risk & Compliance Practice. As a principal consultant and senior client leader, he leads a team of scientists and engineers to provide global EHS compliance, due diligence, product stewardship, as well as sustainability management services to a variety of clients.
In Noce’s world, there is no such thing as a typical workday as each client has different needs, and the only consistent part is perhaps traveling from place to place.
“I spend a lot time traveling to various client locations,” says Noce. So far this year, he spent only 20 days of the first 4 months at home. The rest of the days? Traveling around the country to help his clients reduce operational costs, maintain business continuity, and protect their brand name.
Some people might get tired of this type of work, traveling and being away from home much, but Noce loves it.
When asked what he likes the most about his job and why, Noce’s answers are simple: “the variety” and “solving problems.”
Insights and advice
Reflecting upon his experience with the consulting business, Noce says, “it’s not for everyone, but if it’s for you, it’s a fantastic career.” And he “simply can’t imagine going to the same office (or lab or plant or whatever) every day and wrestling with the same problems.”
For those who have trouble deciding what they want to do with their career or degree, Noce offers the following.
- Try as many different things as you can. Volunteer. Get co-ops. One of the best ways to learn is by actually doing. Even mistakes can be a wonderful teacher if you understand what happened and do not repeat the same mistakes.
- Network. Talk to as many different people as you can. Find out what they do. What do they like about their job? What do they hate about it? Stay in touch with people, particularly people you hit it off with. Relationships are key no matter what direction you choose to go.
- Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that any decision you make now is final. You can always get off of this path and onto another – or even blaze your own trail.
Yanni Wang is a principal scientific writer and the owner of International Biomedical Communications, a company dedicated to translating research data into clear messages. Yanni has a PhD in chemistry and writes about biomedical research-related topics for professional audiences and the general public.