From Apparel Design to Medical Devices: Alba’s Amazing Journey
From Apparel Design to Medical Devices: Alba’s Amazing Journey
The Puerto Rican entrepreneur and apparel designer overcame incredible obstacles (including one natural disaster) to re-ignite her career as a woman in STEM—and you can, too. Find out how by following her journey.
Alba Burgos loved fashion from an early age. “I was always busy making jewelry for family members or embellishing someone’s wardrobe—I always had that spark, that creative energy,” she said.
But in the classroom, it turned out Alba loved math, too (“And I think I’m still good at it?”, she mused). So when it came time to choose a college major, she decided on what seemed the more secure path, earning her degree in industrial engineering. Graduating in 2012, she kicked off a career in the IT software and consulting space.
“I was traveling a ton for work back then,” Alba recalled. She also got to take part in a wide range of different engagements. Through that experience, “I lost all fear of presentations, of sharing knowledge—sharing what I know—with other people,” she said.
Looking for even bigger challenges, Alba soon moved on to a new industry: banking. Working as an analyst, she focused on performance management. Away from work, however, she felt somehow restless, unsettled. What was missing?
She reflected, “That was around the time I got back to my passion for design and started making swimwear on the side, just for myself.”
Why swimwear? Alba explained, with a laugh: “This is Puerto Rico, you know, right? I live by the beach, I love going to the beach. I was combining what I love with what I know.”
Plus, shifting to a remote role in her day job meant Alba had more flexible working hours—and more time to dedicate to her creative pursuits. Slowly, she began to get serious about her design work.
“Initially, I was only creating one-off designs for friends,” she said. “But as I dedicated myself more and more to my designs, I started to think, ‘What if this could work? What if I built my own business?’”
Inside the Experience of a Burgeoning Entrepreneur
Alba’s dream soon became a reality. In 2017, having secured the seed money she would need to launch her apparel business, Alba opened a brick-and-mortar location in Old San Juan—one of the busiest tourist districts in Puerto Rico. She hired and trained a team of staff. She even entered a local competition for small businesses and received an award as a woman entrepreneur.
Everything was going well. Almost too well, it may have seemed to Alba. Because that’s when everything changed.
“I launched my business in August 2017, and then in the next month, of course, Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico really, really hard...” She trailed off.
Touching down in September 2017, Hurricane Maria “devastated” Puerto Rico (to use the language of the National Hurricane Center’s official report), razing houses, destroying agriculture and ravaging the island’s infrastructure. Most residents went without power for weeks.
Alba remembers those events vividly, along with the self-doubt she suffered personally. “I was questioning myself: ‘Why did I do this? Why didn’t I stay within the safety net of a traditional company?’”
As the island turned to the hard work of rebuilding, Alba, too, resolved to build a better, stronger future—for Puerto Rico, and for herself as well.
A Return-to-Work Journey Made Possible by Re-Ignite
Behind Alba’s newfound resolve was an important realization. “I just felt like, ‘You know what? I’ve established this business. I actually did it. I made it work. Now, I want to do something else. And that’s okay. Because I really did enjoy my career as an industrial engineer.’”
So it seemed like fate must have been speaking when, out of the blue, an email from Johnson & Johnson arrived in Alba’s inbox (another good reason to sign up for our Global Talent Hub). The message grabbed her attention. “The job description was really speaking to me,” she said.
Two years or more away from a STEM career? Check. Ready to return to work? Check.
“I showed it to my husband,” Alba said, “and he couldn’t believe it. Neither of us could. We had never heard of anything like this.”
Upon joining Johnson & Johnson in February, Alba got to see for herself what Re-Ignite looks like in practice. “On my first day, I was matched with both a mentor and a ‘buddy’”—a teammate specifically assigned to her to help support her transition. And that wound up mattering a lot. As Alba pointed out, “I didn’t have any previous experience in medical devices, so there was a learning curve. The structure and support I received through Re-Ignite were really helpful.”
In a certain sense, of course, it was another instance of unfortunate timing for Alba: Her return coincided with the onset of COVID-19. Yet when her team switched to an all-remote model in early March, the structure of Re-Ignite once again proved invaluable.
“I hadn’t yet transitioned 100% to the new role,” Alba recalled, “so it was important that my buddy and my mentor were always there for me whenever I had questions—and I had a million questions. Who should I be contacting for this? How do I go about getting that? It was definitely a challenge because I was just getting to know my team and the key stakeholders when the pandemic hit.”
But all of those challenges were quickly overcome. At this point, Alba says she feels "completely at home.”
Coming back to work, I would not say that it was difficult, I would say it was different. I went from being a team of one to being part of a large engineering team. But they have a great onboarding process here, and the guidance helps you get the knowledge you need. They really set you up for success.Share
Mind you, Alba’s creative passion is very much alive and well today, too. You can spot her designs on beachgoers strolling the shores of Puerto Rico, or you can track them to their source in Old San Juan, where her store is still open—and like Alba herself, not only beating the odds, but thriving.
Follow in Alba’s Footsteps Today
Eager to return to your STEM career after two or more years away? Re-Ignite can help support your transition, ensuring that you feel strong and confident every step of the way. In return, you’ll find countless opportunities to apply your unique perspective, background and skills to help us change the future of health for good.
The Re-Ignite experience includes:
- Projects based on your professional passions
- Comprehensive onboarding and industry-specific skills training
- Paid on-the-job learning opportunities
- Support from Johnson & Johnson mentors as well as Re-Ignite alumni
- Consideration for a full-time role at Johnson & Johnson after completing the program
Learn more about Re-Ignite, and—like Alba—be sure to join our Global Talent Hub, too. It’s a great way to stay in touch, learn more about life at Johnson & Johnson and even get updates about jobs that might interest you in the future.