Category Archives: Career advice

To freelance is divine!

Up until now, I’ve been quite selfish with Aerospace Nation, doing virtually all the writing.

Time to fix that.

One avid reader kindly volunteered to share his experience of freelancing (also called contracting). What a brilliant idea.

Jon Mercer isn’t an aerospace hack. He’s spend most of his working life in IT. While nursing a passion for flying machines. Of course. Doesn’t everybody?

But the story he’s about to tell could very easily be that of an aerospace techie. (The one exception being: While you might be able to get into IT armed with only a history degree and a willingness to hack, you can’t get into aerospace like that. The aerospace world is rather backward that way, to its detriment.)

What’s cool about Jon’s story is how he sort of fell into freelancing, and then discovered how much happier he was that way. That’s a theme that resonates. I can count on one hand the number of freelance people I’ve met who regret the switch from permanent employment. The vast, vast, vast majority of freelancers are happier, richer, and wish they’d made the jump earlier.

With a few exceptions, the language below belongs to Jon. Where I have added anything, it is italicized, in brackets, and prefaced by DK.

Read on!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

It was one day in the late 1990’s.

There I was, sat at my desk, when suddenly the voices around me fell silent.

Something was being passed from desk to desk. You could follow its progress from the red faces and embarrassed expressions.

Someone had brought a freelancing magazine into the office . . .

Backtrack to the mid 1990’s. I was temping after finishing a History degree and wondering what to do with myself.

Continue reading To freelance is divine!

Why I’m pessimistic on the long-term career potential in big commercial airframers

I’ve been fascinated with Big Birds since I was old enough to walk, and I’ve worked directly in commercial aerospace for 15 years.

This is the first time I’ve seen this situation.

For the next 5-7 years, the only two significant commercial airframers on the planet will be preoccupied with developing their existing products.

Boeing will have their hands full delivering the 787 and all its variants, and launching the 737 MAX and the rumoured new 777 variants.

Airbus will meanwhile be preoccupied with developing the A380 (and boosting sales), delivering the A400M, and getting the A350-900, -1000, and A320neo family through flight test and entry into service.

Neither airframer is wasting any breath talking about new airframe concepts that we might see next decade. Each will occasionally do some public daydreaming about a blended wing-body concepts, transparent fuselages, etc, etc. (I suspect they do that more for the PR benefit potential than anything.)
Continue reading Why I’m pessimistic on the long-term career potential in big commercial airframers

What’s Your Antidote to the Fear of Loss?

Twice in the last three months, I’ve missed out on paying work, losing in the end because I was too expensive.

Too what?

The client had a pay scale, or a spreadsheet somewhere that dictated how much they were prepared to pay for my time.

On or below that line, and I was in. One penny above, and I was out. Simple. Case closed.

The bottom line was the expense they would incur by hiring me.

I had been reduced to a cost.

They (and I) had failed to consider: How much profit or benefit would they make by hiring me? (It’s a skill I haven’t yet mastered, obviously.)

You will often hear someone moaning about the shortage of engineers, the lack of technical skills, young people don’t want to go into engineering anymore, it’s holding back the company’s growth, it’s holding back national growth, etc, etc.

Continue reading What’s Your Antidote to the Fear of Loss?

The game just changed for the aerospace engineer

I just saw something yesterday that made me realize:

Things are changing even faster than I thought.

Freelancer is a site that does just what it says on the tin: Connects people and businesses who need specific work done, with the people who can do that work, wherever in the world they are.

Nothing new. Guru, eLance and oDesk have been doing it for the last decade.

What came as a surprise to me was the kind or work being offered on Freelancer. The eLances and oDesks of the world have until now mainly been useful for copywriting, SEO, web dev, software coding, graphic design, etc. Never the “harder” technical stuff, and certainly not the engineering disciplines within aerospace. That has typically been packaged up and “thrown over the wall” to lower-cost firms, often in cheaper countries.

Not until now, that is.

Continue reading The game just changed for the aerospace engineer

Engineer, are you a commodity?

(Hint: The default value is YES.)

Here’s a blog post well worth reading, entitled How to be a freelance engineer. Very insightful.

I would have prefaced it with two questions:

  1. Do you know the currency value of the skills you will bring to the marketplace as a freelance engineer?
  2. If the answer to Question 1 is yes, are you still sure you want to be a freelance engineer?

Author Seth Godin likes to ask people if there is anyone else in the world that can deliver the same goods or services as you, for the same money (or less).

If the answer to that question is YES, he will tell you that you are on a race to the bottom.

Continue reading Engineer, are you a commodity?

Think like a business – Know your market

Last week, I attended a seminar entitled Sizing Your Market, given by two Bristol-area gentlemen (Greville Commins, Matt Hatch). Between them, they have launched, led, and exited several tech businesses over many years.

It’s an important topic to businesses, that’s obvious.

On the surface, though, it might seem to be an irrelevance to lone rangers who just want to beaver along and get the day’s work done..

It’s not.

Even if you are an employee, or a contractor working for a single customer at a time, you’ve got to think like a business if you want to protect yourself and get ahead. You’d better have at least a gut feel for how many other people you are likely to work for in your lifetime, what their needs/wants are, and how much they are prepared to pay for your services.

Here’s a quick summary of what I learned at the Sizing Your Market seminar:

Continue reading Think like a business – Know your market

Take advantage of two recent recruiting trends

If you’re hunting for your next job or contract, here are two new developments to keep your eye on:

1. Job listing apps for mobile phones and tablets.

Engineer-Jobs in the US have their own iPhone/iPad app, providing listings of their open positions. For the UK market, Morson Group have just recently launched their own version. You can filter the listings for location and industry, and save the searches.

One irritating thing about the Morson app is that if you run a saved search yielding zero results, the app abruptly throws you out;  you have to re-enter and go through the whole process again. Nuisance. It also won’t rotate as you tilt the iPad around.

However, these irritants are minor. Top marks to these firms for making it easier to get relevant job search information to the people that can help them seal the deal.  Far too many job listing sites are mobile-unfriendly, and build the site for their own convenience, not the convenience of the job-seeker.

Continue reading Take advantage of two recent recruiting trends

Mergers on the starboard bow, Jim!

Two different Flight Global articles posted in February alone argue that the scene is set ripe for a wave of aerospace mergers and acquisitions.

Apparently there was only (only!) US$9 billion in M&A activity in 2012.

The reason? The big players have been chomping at the bit to merge for a while. They’e been stymied so far by the politicians. However, those same politicians, mainly in the US, now desperately need to cut back their defence spending. Hence the shackles will probably be removed.

What does this mean for the lowly aerospace knowledge worker with aspirations to satisfy and bills to pay?

Continue reading Mergers on the starboard bow, Jim!

Stay on the leading edge of the drag curve

“Oh, the times, they are a-changing’ . . . . . . ”

It’s a necessary, if unfortunate, feature of the aerospace industry, that it is highly regulated. Of course. The flying public has this irrational desire to want to arrive at their destination in one piece. With their baggage. Therefore, the process of designing, making, and operating aircraft must be regulated tightly.

Which means, those working in it live in a very conservative little bubble. You tend not to have much clue of what life is like in other bubbles.

And you tend to attract people who are conservative and blinkered in outlook.

I’m still meeting people in aerospace who say, “Yeah, I’ve heard about this LinkedIn thing. What is it?”

In a fast-changing world, that approach to life is fine, as long as your nice little bubble stays intact.

Don’t count on it.

Continue reading Stay on the leading edge of the drag curve