Questions for Aerospace- Diana
Is there any advice you would give young girls about going into your line of work?
Growing up I had very little aspirations about working in the aerospace industry. As a matter of fact, I actually dreamed of being an architect, so that one day I could design my own home. I even took drafting classes in high school in preparation of that goal. What has always guided my goals and aspirations has been my desire to keep learning and stay curious. I would tell young girls that aspire to work in the aerospace industry, in particular space exploration, to read up on the latest trends in the industry and stay curious. There are great companies like SpaceX, Maxar, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Virgin Galactic, to name a few that are doing amazing work today to enable the future of space exploration. NASA also has great resources to keep up to date on the latest exciting news like the recent landing of the Perseverance Rover, which NASA also recently broadcasted in Spanish for the first time under their NASA en Españolplatform.
I’d also encourage young girls to dream big and consider things not yet possible. There is a lot of innovation needed in space exploration that requires new approaches, new thinking, and that in turn willcreate new industries and products. We need new future innovators that will not only help us solve today’s problems, but will also help us create new groundbreaking solutions for tomorrow’s biggest challenges.
How did you know you wanted to go into your line of work?
As I’ve mentioned, I originally had dreams of becoming an architect. However, during a summer program after my junior year of high school I was introduced to the field of engineering. It was then that I realized that I had a greater passion for understanding not only how to use technology, but also how it was conceptualized, designed and created. After college, I expected to work in a lab or a semiconductor company designing microchips, but instead had an opportunity to work as an antenna design engineer of spacecrafts. This was an unexpected opportunity that I seized that has led to a long and very rewarding career in the aerospace industry. My advice is to be open to new and unexpected opportunities as they present themselves to you – you to have to ensure that you are prepared and ready to take that leap of faith into the unknown.
What is the most difficult part of the job?
In my current capacity, part of my responsibilities include overseeing and managing Independent Research and Development (IRAD) of new and enabling space technologies. One of the biggest challenges of this role includes ensuring that projects stay on schedule, on budget, and that support is provided to help overcome technical challenges as work is being done to develop new technologies. This work requires significant amount of coordination across different teams to ensure the success of our funded IRAD projects. The challenge becomes ensuring that the broader organization understands what we are trying to accomplish and how they are critical to our success.
Did you start as an individual contributor, how did you pivot towards the executive path?
Yes, I started my current tenure as an individual contributor mainly responsible for the design of antenna subsystems of spacecrafts. The antenna subsystem is best described as the ears and mouth of a spacecraft, and the means by which it communicates back to earth from space, and is understandably a critical component of the spacecraft’s payload capacity. After being a lead designer for about five years, with escalating responsibilities, I became a manager of our antenna subsystem’s testing facility. I then moved on to other roles, including; In-Orbit Test (IOT) Director, where I was responsible for the in-orbit testing of our spacecrafts before formally handing them over to our customers, Product Manager of one ofour key products, and Technical Partner to our Vice President of Systems Engineering mainly responsible for the technical direction of the directorate. In my current capacity as Director of IRAD and Cost and Schedule Team (CAST) I am now focused on executive level managerial duties. I have been very fortunate to work for an organization that has provided me with opportunities for growth and that continues to encourage and support me as my career evolves and transforms. As you grow in responsibilities, it is important to learn how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, with embracing new challenges, with making the best of opportunities provided to you, with delivering on your promises, with asking a lot of questions, and most importantly with always staying curious with a growth mindset.
What other jobs can you have with your degree?
My actual degree is a BS in Electrical Engineering and Sciences with a concentration in analog. I expected to work for a lab or a semiconductor company designing microchips after graduating from college. However, after interviewing with Maxar and learning that I could also design antenna subsystems for spacecrafts a completely new career became available.
Other current options include, but are not limited to:
• Engineer in Energy Sector – designing and/or managing power plants or improving electric power generation sources
• Electronics Engineer – designing of electronic components for equipment requiring power (like cellphones and computers)
• Automotive Engineer – designing the electrical power interfaces of cars, particularly those ofelectric cars
• Oil and Gas Engineer – designing and maintain electrical systems for refineries
• Biomedical Engineer – designing the electrical interfaces for medical equipment (like pacemakers, or robotic arms that can assist surgeons during surgery)
• Telecommunications Engineer – designing of transmission information systems via a cable or optical fiber
What are possible next steps in your career?
I would like to continue working on new product and technology development in the next steps of my career. I enjoy working on new cutting edge development and being at forefront of out the box problem solving for some of our most complex challenges. It is more important to me that my work is meaningful than for me to have a specific title or to be in charge of a specific organizational function.
If you could do it all over again would you still go into Aerospace?
Yes, working in the aerospace industry has been extremely rewarding. Over the years I have had the opportunity to work on over 27 spacecrafts that have been launched or are still in space. I find that extremely remarkable and beyond my wildest dreams! We are also at a very exciting time of space exploration as evident by the recent Perseverance rover landing on Mars and NASA’s current commitment to go back to the moon by 2024 via the Gateway lunar command module.
What is the biggest misconception about what you do?
The biggest misconception about what I do is that because I work in the aerospace industry that I have a deep understanding of how airplanes are designed. It’s almost similar to people assuming that because I have an Electrical Engineering degree that I know how to do perform electrician work. I can have an intelligent conversation about how drag and friction affects airplanes and I can likely spend some time reading electrician schematics and understand them, but I would not volunteer to design an airplane or do extensive electrical work at home.
Would you say your career path into this field was traditional? If not, why?
No, my career path into the aerospace industry was anything but traditional. I actually come from a very humble home where I was the first one in my family to graduate from high school and attend college – a very typical first generation experience. I did not have a network of college educated family members to learn from or lean on and did a lot of trial and error learning along my STEM journey. However, I did try to learn as much as possible from others and seized opportunities as they presented themselves.
Through a lot of hard work I was admitted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and graduated with a degree in Electrical Engineering. My tenure at MIT was challenging, but I created a support network that encouraged and supported me along the way. This support system became my family away from family and I would not have graduated without their unwavering and unconditional support.
After graduating from college, I worked at a small startup that focused on designing batteries power by the thermal gradient temperature difference created between a room and a person’s body temperature – the very early stages of wearable technology. After being at the startup a little more than year, I interviewed at Maxar where the antenna directorate leadership team took a chance on me based on two classes, Electrodynamics and Electromagnetic Wave Theory, I took in college that I found very interesting. From there I took every opportunity to learn from senior engineers willing to teach me and mentor me, and as they say the rest is history.
I would like to add that many times we have an expectation on how things are expected to work. My advice is to keep an open mind and be willing to pivot as new opportunities and challenges present themselves. Let me be clear, I’ve had many challenges, many failures and many setbacks, but my determination to keep going, to make my parents proud and all their sacrifices worth it, grounds me every day and motivates me to push forward even when I’m not sure that I can or will succeed.
What is your favorite part about your job?
My favorite part of my job is working on new technologies and being surrounded by very smart and capable people that challenge me to bring new ideas forward and be the best that I can be. I also get a lot out of mentoring recent college graduates and early professionals. I, unfortunately, did not have many role models that looked like me when I started in my career and as a result I try to make myself visible for woman of color in my industry. I also try to advocate for equitable distribution of job assignments and of growth opportunities for diverse candidates in the spaces, and discussions, I am invited to be part of. I have been very fortunate to have sponsors and advocates that have propelled my career forward, and now I have deep sense of responsibility to pay it forward with the new and up and coming generation of leaders.
How many years of school does it take to become an engineer?
Traditionally to become an engineer it takes four years of lower and upper division classes. However, there many higher learning institutions that have a five year engineering track. In some instances these higher learning institutions also allow for a Masters in Engineering option for an extra year of study. I would encourage anyone in a traditional four year college track to not feel rushed to complete their studies, unless there is financial hardship. In the end, completing an engineering degree in four or five years does not actually impact anyone’s prospective career trajectory.
From jazisscience on IG
Cuales crees que son la carreras para el futuro en la industria espacial?
Esta es una excelente e interesante pregunta. En mi opiniónmuchas de las futuras carreras de la industria especial aun no existen. Una pregunta muy importante en la exploración espacial del futuro es como vamos habitar nuevos planetas. Estas son preguntas éticas que debemos empezar a preguntarnos para no cometer los mismos errores que exploradores de las Américas cometieron. ¿Cómo vamos a decidir quiénes serán los primeros habitantes en marte u otros planetas? ¿Quién tiene la autoridadde decidir y cuáles serán las normas que los nuevos habitantes deberán adoptar? Estas son preguntas fascinantes que tenemos que empezar a contemplar.
Por la parte técnica, habrá necesidad de decidir cómo se establecerá vida en marte u otros planetas. ¿Cómo nos aseguraremos que podrá existir vida humana en otros planetas?¿Cuáles serán las fuentes de energía y de agua? ¿Cómo nos aseguramos de una exitosa transportación humana a otros planetas? ¿Cómo se producirá la alimentación para los nueves habitantes en otras planetas? Esta son las razones por lo cual tenemos que explorar marte: para poder empezar a examinar cómo vida humana podría no tan solo sobrevivir, pero vivir abundantemente en marte y en otros planetas. Cosas básicas como agua, comida, y vivienda se complican cuando debemos empezar de la nada. Los primeros habitantes de marte u otros planetas tendrán que estar dispuestos a vivir sin muchas comodidades para avanzar la exploración espacial – claramente un sacrificio que no cualquier persona estaría dispuesta hacer