Back in LA
Day 1 - I found my Jeep. I've always wanted a vehicle to take off the top and the doors.
Day 2 - I found my apartment, 3 blocks from the beach and 1 block from Hermosa pier.
Day 3 - I found my first new Blond-Hair-Blue-Eye-California-Girl friend.
Not bad for an arrival.
And my neighbors are totally cool and social.
I'm back in sunny California because I landed my dream job with SpaceX.
Starting this week.
I'm super stoked about it. There isn't another job in the world that I'd rather have than the job I have right now. Even given the choice to work on the original moon-shot with Apollo or now with SpaceX, I'd choose SpaceX. We're opening space commercially, which means it can be sustainable, instead of a large government program reliant on tax funding and political motivations.
We decided my title for now will be Production Engineer within the Propulsion team, though I'm really there to do whatever is most important to develop our production processes to be. well, Lean. Right now though, we're a loooooong way from Lean. Not because anybody has done anything wrong. We're just in the transition phase from Craft Production making one-off rocket engines with the engineers and technicians highly involved with each other, to now designing production systems that can produce an engine a week by the end of next year. So I get to be involved in designing all of this. which is exactly what I've been studying for the last two years.
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So... How I ended up at SpaceX.
While working in England last year, Elon Musk (SpaceX Founder and CEO) happened to be speaking at MIT during one of my trips back to Boston. I've been following SpaceX since I learned about them in 2004. I actually first heard about SpaceX and the Falcon rocket straight from Elon. It was at a party the night before Burt Rutan's first test flight of SpaceShipOne for the X Prize. Elon would've been about 30 yrs old then, and I just assumed he was one of the many engineers at the party working on cool stuff. So I introduced myself and we started chatting just like any other aerospace engineers. He was a cool guy, and I liked that SpaceX was trying to go straight to orbit instead of sub-orbital first. I never guessed he was the founder of SpaceX, or PayPal, or his first company Zip2.
So, now at MIT, I was chatting with Elon after his presentation on SpaceX. I was curious about how they're handling this transition from design to production, and some of their moves like getting ISO 9000 certified. Eventually he switched the conversation and asked:
"Are you applying to SpaceX? Have you applied? What's the deal?"
I responded: "I'm sponsored by Northrop Grumman, so I'm contracted to a few years with them after I graduate."
Reply: "We'll buy you out. You don't have to be indentured to them."
I honestly hadn't considered selling out from NG. But with this opportunity opening up right here. I knew exactly what my answer would be if I could join SpaceX.
So I sent Elon my resume with a description of what I'd like to do at SpaceX, expecting him to forward it to his production people. Three hours after I sent it, he replied concisely addressing each component of what I had written, and instructing his HR guy to connect me with the other appropriate people for interviews. That kind of responsiveness and attention is impressive.
My first phone interview was with the VP of production. She passed me on to the propulsion team's production manager. Then in January when I was back in the States, I visited the headquarters in Hawthorne to talk in person and with more people. The offer came through shortly after that, and I signed with SpaceX and resigned from Northrop.
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So that's how I sold out. Northrop Grumman was sponsoring me with a really nice package, and they were opening up good opportunities for my reentry upon graduation. Rather, the Electronic Systems Sector VP of Engineering for the Western Region was really opening doors. I'm not sure it would have been going so well had I just relied on the corporate processes. For a corporation to really work, I believe personal connections up and down the company are indispensible... Corporate Process cannot replace individual relationships.
When I signed with SpaceX, the first person I told was this Sector VP who had been opening doors for me. He was supportive about it, and our conversation ended with him saying "If I were in your position I'd probably do the same thing. Good luck. Let's keep in touch."
Most of the corporate people treated me professionally, but one guy was rather petty about it. I'm paying NG back according to the contract, but even so, I realize it's quite. discourteous of me. I wish it didn't have to be, but I've made the right decision, and sometimes that isn't always easy. So be it.