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NASA Space

The Flight of Gifted Engineers From NASA 160

Posted by Soulskill
from the when-NASA-starts-looking-like-the-USPTO dept.
schwit1 writes: Rather than work in NASA, the best young engineers today are increasingly heading to get jobs at private companies like SpaceX and XCOR. This is a long article, worth reading in its entirety, but this quote sums it up well: "As a NASA engineering co-op student at Johnson Space Center, Hoffman trained in various divisions of the federal space agency to sign on eventually as a civil servant. She graduated from college this year after receiving a generous offer from NASA, doubly prestigious considering the substantial reductions in force hitting Johnson Space Center in recent months. She did have every intention of joining that force — had actually accepted the offer, in fact — when she received an invitation to visit a friend at his new job with rising commercial launch company SpaceX.

Hoffman took him up on the offer, flying out to Los Angeles in the spring for a private tour. Driving up to the SpaceX headquarters, she was struck by how unassuming it was, how small compared to NASA, how plain on the outside and rather like a warehouse. As she walked through the complex, she was also surprised to find open work areas where NASA would have had endless hallways, offices and desks. Hoffman described SpaceX as resembling a giant workshop, a hive of activity in which employees stood working on nitty-gritty mechanical and electrical engineering. Everything in the shop was bound for space or was related to space. ... Seeing SpaceX in production forced Hoffman to acknowledge NASA might not be the best fit for her. The tour reminded her of the many mentors who had gone into the commercial sector of the space industry in search of better pay and more say in the direction their employers take." At NASA, young engineers find that they spend a lot of time with bureaucracy, the pace is slow, their projects often get canceled or delayed, and the creative job satisfaction is poor. At private companies like SpaceX, things are getting built now.
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The Flight of Gifted Engineers From NASA

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  • Follow the money (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 15, 2014 @01:08PM (#47678993)

    NASA isn't hot because it hasn't done anything since they retired the Space Shuttle in 2011. And it's likely to remain that way until 2020 when the first multi-billion dollar SLS finally makes it off the factory floor. That is two and a half generations of engineers graduating from college with no reason to work for NASA.

  • by schwit1 (797399) on Friday August 15, 2014 @01:09PM (#47678997)

    NASA headquarters staff votes to unionize.
    http://www.ifpte.org/news/deta... [ifpte.org]

    Anyone with the slightest objectivity knows that the working conditions for federal employees in Washington is glorious, with pay about double what everyone else in the country makes and benefits far exceeding even the best private packages. In addition, the hours are great and just slightly longer than what my generation would have called bankers’ hours. Moreover, if I can be blunt, these engineers are mostly paper pushers. They are not the one’s designing and building anything that might fly in space. Their only reason to unionize now is because they see a threat to their cushy jobs with the advent of private space and are organizing to secure their unneeded positions.

  • Re:Not Surprising (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 15, 2014 @01:12PM (#47679033)

    It's about the boss of SpaceX going (in so many words)... "Yeah we're going to fucking MARS. Wanna help/come along?".

    Well.. fuck yes. Sign me up. Of course he attracts talent.

  • Mad Men (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Lonboder (3630313) on Friday August 15, 2014 @01:13PM (#47679041)

    NASA came into its maturity during the Mad Men era of skinny ties and big business. William Shockley had only just left Bell Labs to invent Silicon Valley. Bureaucracy was king. IBM was king of the castle. And NASA still has, I think (I never worked for NASA, but have several friends who did), very much of an IBM-era culture. Many really talented programmers and engineers would rather work for a Silicon Valley startup than get a rank-and-file job at IBM or Microsoft. Riskier, sure, but things get built. Today. Your input can be valuable, or even essential, to the shape of the product that hits the market, and there aren't so many layers of management above you that you don't get seen and respected for your contribution.

    It's hardly surprising that talented young space engineers want to work for Silicon Valley-era companies. I'm sure many young automotive engineers would rather work for Tesla or Lit than GM. The era of the tie-wearing commuting suburbanite is coming to a conclusion. I'm not sure that's a bad thing.

  • Wait, what? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by NoNonAlphaCharsHere (2201864) on Friday August 15, 2014 @01:17PM (#47679089)
    So you're saying that it's NASA engineers' job to write the specs and certifications and come up with the checklists and training and contingency and mission plans, and it's up to outside contractors to actually build the shit? So, like it's always been and designed to be then.
  • Re:Not Surprising (Score:5, Insightful)

    by eepok (545733) on Friday August 15, 2014 @01:27PM (#47679173) Homepage

    And that's the way it's supposed to be. The big funding, risk, and genuine exploration is done by the bloated, but driven, government. Once all the basics have been proven, once all the risks have been measured, and once a potential business model evolves from that exploration, then private business comes in to profitize it.

    When the government loses the drive to continue exploration, private industry moves in to profitize and expand until they can no longer profitize. Then government comes in, uses what private business learned, and then does big exploration all over again. Etc.

    All big exploration starts with governments. The private sector comes in only after the risky, heavy lifting is done. It's a symbiotic relationship.

  • Wait, what? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by WinterSolstice (223271) on Friday August 15, 2014 @01:35PM (#47679247)

    Exactly. This has been the goal of NASA from day 1. To inspire people to actually go *DO* this stuff.

    NASA was ever only a way to encourage private industry to make these leaps themselves. Well, and probably to be the FAA for LEO

  • by AutodidactLabrat (3506801) on Friday August 15, 2014 @01:38PM (#47679279)
    I often come to Slashdot to see the latest in 'hate government' postings.
    NASA workers making double? Seems you didn't read the article. For profit often has higher wages for the elite performers
    That being said, the same for-profit operation will go 'least common denominator' the moment, the VERY moment they achieve monopoly status, which is the whole point of the patents and copyrights they issue
    Inevitably, government service produces products similar in quality to the electoral politics that rule them
    Whereas for-profit products always mimic the autocratic rulers who make decisions leading to the likes of Comcast, ATT, So Cal Edison and the like.
    So, hate on children, and don't fly commercial airlines...the Air Traffic Controllers are all Government employees.(and do you really want to be stuck in NY Kennedy airspace with 8 competing ATC's from 4 different companies?)
  • by nimbius (983462) on Friday August 15, 2014 @01:44PM (#47679327) Homepage

    young engineers find that they spend a lot of time with bureaucracy, the pace is slow, their projects often get canceled or delayed, and the creative job satisfaction is poor.

    Yes. im sorry you had to find out this way, but most engineering work is a bureaucratic rats nest. most of the meetings you're involved in are already pre-determined. That is, tens or hundreds of meetings in the past, before you were hired, determined the scope and pace of the particular project you've been tasked to work with. I dont task my young engineers with small tediums like compressor analysis or or structural meshing to torture them. New hires and college grads need to understand the fundamentals of our project before they dive into the bigger picture. the thermodynamic elements of most projects are a moebius strip of endless complexity few people under 10 years of experience with the company could ever comprehend. If you want creative freedom, pack your cube and go be a designer. Creative freedom may make you feel good, but when we're designing a thermonuclear power plant turbine, your special snowflake idea isnt being rejected because we dont like you but because our design has 40 years of in-the-field testing and functionality, and includes a fully scoped maintenance cycle that keeps america from celibrating its very own chernobyl.

    projects can and do get cancelled. deal with it, because its rarely the result of anything you did. Maybe the nation-state that wanted your new jet engines decided to spend the money on ethnic cleansing, who knows. dont take it personally. make sure you at least learned something from that project. Finally, i cant stress this enough: you are an engineer, and the pace should be slow. part of that is in your software. ansys, nastran, and fluent jobs will run for weeks at a time, wiping your ass to make sure your design or part is solid and incapable of immolating a school under normal operational parameters. you can quicken the pace by specifying realistic resources to use before you submit to the simulation cluster, and optimizing your simulations instead of queueing them up, locking your screen, and going off to lunch. monitor your checkpoints for failures in convergence. use the latest software instead of demonizing it. run it multicore, and for god sake stop being retiscent and stubborn about new shit that can help you like simulation timing blocks. and another thing, close the application so your license is returned to the pool and can be used on other projects, most of which yours depends on.

    now get off my lawn.

  • by Bo'Bob'O (95398) on Friday August 15, 2014 @02:29PM (#47679823)

    I work in an office that is packed in with three people constantly talking on the phone, with other people or just otherwise doing their business. I find it incredibly distracting. Sure I can put headphones on and try and blot it out, but depending on my mental state or particular task, music can be distracting too. Be it Metal or Minimalism music isn't always the answer to getting the best mental state for your work. Also having the music cranked means I can't hear the phone when I'm getting a call. I can't even imagine working in a larger room packed with dozens more people.

    I'd love to be in a properly lit and laid out office or cubical.

  • by sillybilly (668960) on Friday August 15, 2014 @03:15PM (#47680347)

    Nasa, in view of the global financial crises, is an unnecessary luxury item in the eyes of the leaders. Until you say something that space is gonna be full of Chinese space station, or even Russian, Indian, and Brazilian, and none from the US, and then they all get excited. We can't let that happen. But NASA is a gov't run institution, probably full of red tape and stagnation. The most efficient human organizational unit is the gang (as in drug dealer black gangs from the hood, or maffiozo italian gangs from the 20's), or clan (same as gang, but more used for when white people do it), or Chaebol (such as LG, Samsung, anything South Korean - where, by the way, they discriminate so bad that they advertise a maximum age for a job posting, such as 40 for a pHd R&D scientist, and 25 for a shop floor laborer, but privatized clanist South Korea leaves the communist egalitarian North Korea in the dust when it comes to economic efficiency), which can function as a private company, and get things done. Men in prison tend to form gangs and affiliations with gangs, while women in prison tend to create homes, and small families, where some women role-play the male roles or the babies. Women don't form gangs, but men do. Some women with military and police experience and tradition might be interesting to see how they behave in prison, whether they form gangs too.

  • by FatLittleMonkey (1341387) on Friday August 15, 2014 @04:12PM (#47680901)

    NASA isn't hot because it hasn't done anything since they retired the Space Shuttle in 2011.

    I would suggest that the current malaise at NASA extends through the Shuttle program. Operating a first generation prototype for over a quarter of a century? Hell, just flying the same five vehicles for a quarter of a century (not even replacing those that crashed) is hardly a sign of a place that will thrill an innovative young engineer. It's more like a railway museum than a space agency.

  • Re:Not Surprising (Score:4, Insightful)

    by FatLittleMonkey (1341387) on Friday August 15, 2014 @04:30PM (#47681043)

    So, who funded the Native Americans who found the "New World" thousands of years before he did?

    Their community.

    Each explorer of the next-valley-over was reared and fed and protected and trained by the rest of the tribe through mostly communal ownership of major resources. The explorer then returned with news of bounteous herds of Caribou (or clams or whatever) and gave that knowledge to the entire tribe to replay their tolerance for his youthful indulgence. They, in turn, shared the new wealth amongst the whole tribe. The idea that the explorer alone would claim rights to the new land/resource for himself and "sell" access to the others would be so foreign to the tribe they wouldn't understand what the words mean.

    [Occasionally, one presumes, groups might break off from the main tribe and forge ahead into the new land, due to politics or ambition. But even then, the ownership of the new resource was shared amongst the break-away tribe.]

Get hold of portable property. -- Charles Dickens, "Great Expectations"

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