Kickstart Your Aerospace Career – Post 1

Boy oh boy, can things change in just 20 years.

In 1993, I was not long married, getting very little sleep (due to the new baby howling in the middle of the night), and less than a year into my second permanent job (with 7 months of unemployment in between them).

On New Year’s day, I vividly remember sitting in the hospital holding my one-day-old daughter, thinking, “Darn. If I’m going to attempt a career change, I’d better do it fast.”

I was already losing interest in my new job, and I suspected that my employer might also be losing interest in me. (They were.)

I’d been fascinated with flying machines ever since the age of three, when my grandparents had taken me to watch them at the nearby municipal airport. I’d been transfixed then, as I still am whenever anything flies overhead.

I started to research commercial aerospace companies around the globe at the local library. I applied to several.

No joy.

It quickly became apparent that without immediate industry experience, my most likely route into aerospace was via graduate studies. So I started investigating universities offering graduate aerospace engineering programmes for mature students with families.

I even went down to the local second-hand goods dealer. It was a funny old place – an dusty old warehouse, staffed mainly by ageing environmentalist hippy types. They’d advertised in the local newspaper that they had an PC wired up to this new thing called, The Internet. And they did – It was an old PC XT (Remember those? Don’t admit it if you can) that they’d recycled. I remember looking up (“browsing” hadn’t entered my vocabulary yet) Stanford U’s page – they were almost the only university with an aerospace programme to have a website then.

Fast forward 20 years.

Oh yeah. The times have changed a lot.

The careeer switch is distant history now. I’ve paid the fees, had a lot of fun, endured some pain, made plenty of mistakes. And reaped some rewards.

I’ve moved across the Atlantic to the Olde Country. I’ve gotten very good in a career that I chose, watched it make a positive difference to the lives and work of the people around me.

I’ve watched the first flight of the world’s largest airliner – an aircraft I helped design. I’ve stood underneath the wings I calculated loads for, and kicked the tires. I’ve been in the cockpit, and seen the screens and overhead panel controls for the fuel system that I tested.

That was special.

I’ve also received a phone call from a chief engineer saying, “Sorry, we have to withdraw your invitation to the roll-out event. An exec of a potential customer has just called at the last minute asking to attend. Really sorry.”

That wasn’t so special. In fact, it still rankles. (Can you tell?)

I’ve flown to Toulouse more times than I can count, usually there and back in one day. (That makes for a long day.)

I’ve worked with a lot of talented people from a lot of different countries. (Also some not so talented, and some that I would happily have fired if I’d been able.)

I’ll share the details in a coming chapter.

But now, what about you?

I’m guessing you’re where I was 20+ years ago.

Mesmerized by anything that causes you to crane your neck in order to see a speck in the sky.

Wanting to get up close. Get your hands on it.

Smell the kerosene fumes as the engines spool up. (My high school pals all laughed when I mentioned that I loved the smell of jet exhaust. To me, it was like perfume.)

Design it. Fly it.

Maybe even make bits of it.

You can. And you should.

Go for it.

But go for it with your eyes open, and your brain switched on.

The books and magazines you’ve read, about the famous combat aircraft, transports and airliners . . . . they were all true when they were written.

But the story they told took place in a world that’s disappeared, and is continuing to disappear.

The world is changing

In its place is a new world. And that’s the one you want to take on. Not the world that you imagine.

This series of posts is intended to nurture your inspiration, but hone it with the razor of reality.

So that when you start that first job, fresh out of university . . . . . you aren’t disappointed. Rather, you are ready to be one of the agents of change. An actor, not a re-actor.

It’s possible that I may burst your bubble.

You may decide, after your disappointment, that it’s not where you want to focus your life’s energy.

I make no apology. Better you find that out now than after several years (and thousands of dollars, rupees, pounds, etc) of heartbreak.

It’s also possible . . . . 

. . . . . (and for this, I hope) that your enthusiasm is initially tempered, and then re-ignited, when you realize the new opportunities that are lurking around the corner.

But whatever your conclusions, I sincerely hope that you will emulate my successes (indeed, improve on them!) and avoid my mistakes.

Table of Contents

Here’s a rough Table-of-Contents-type listing of posts that is coming in this series I’m calling Kickstart Your Aerospace Career. It may morph a bit as I progressively release the material, but it shouldn’t morph much:

  • Who on earth are you? (I get a bit philosophical to start with. This chapter really could apply to any career aspiration, not just aerospace. It matters that you think this through. I should have done this earlier than I did. Although perhaps it’s not straightforward when you’re in your 20’s.)
  • Your most important engineering skill. (See if you can guess this one yourself. A bit touchy-feely perhaps, but it matters. Again, applies to more than just aerospace or engineering.)
  • What on earth is going on? (Also known as your second most important engineering skill)
  • The current state of the industry.
  • The world is flat. (And getting flatter.)
  • Freelancing
  • The Internet, Clouds, Crowds and Makers
  • How am I going to get an aerospace job? (5 tips)
  • How does this place WORK? (LOTS of tips, how to hit the ground running in your first (and every subsequent) aerospace job. Org charts, and some of the people you will meet)
  • All is not as it seems. (UNOFFICIAL org charts, and some of the UNOFFICIAL people you will meet)
  • How do I get into that department? (Typecasting and navigating mountains)
  • How do I make more money? (Three options)
  • How can I escape this place? (Unfortunately, nice guys really do finish last)
  • The mantras and myths of career progression
  • Life and Work Habits that will stand you in good stead
  • My story (Last chapter)

I have really enjoyed writing this material, and I’m hoping it is helpful to you. If it is, please comment! I’m looking forward to lots of feedback.

And if there is something missing that you’d like to see . . . . . . tell me! I’m quite happy to splice material in if it will help.

Enjoy!

3 thoughts on “Kickstart Your Aerospace Career – Post 1”

  1. That book sounds like a wonderful idea! There isn’t a lot out there like the book you are putting together, I hope it has a great reception. I’ll try to keep an eye out for it, and pick up a copy.

    I don’t know that I’m looking to change career paths, but it should make for good reading nonetheless.

    I’d be interested to hear how it sells for you; as I have a book out there too (on Amazon and elsewhere) dealing with aviation and aviation maintenance. Not so much of a career guide, as it is a collection of stories and things.

    1. Well it’s not a book yet! I’ve corrected that in the post. At the moment, Kickstart is just a series of posts I’ve conceived, in response to what seems to me as a yawning gap. Lots of young engineers graduating, and trying to find their first proper job in aerospace, finding it tough (which it is), looking for help and advice, and only being told what recruiters or HR staff want them to hear instead of what they need to hear. Also, the industry is morphing rapidly from what most people think it’s like. That can make for an unpleasant shock to the system when you finally get that first job, and find the reality is very different to the expectation.

      If I can make a positive difference for people contemplating the leap . . . . . I’ll be very pleased. All constructive criticism will be welcomed!

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