Materials and Processes Engineer at Boeing
El Segundo, California
$100,000 - $120,000
A Bachelors of Science is needed at a minimum. A MS/PhD obviously helps, as does continuing education courses in engineering and/or business. But many of the skills I see everyday at work involve learning that cannot be obtained in in school. There are many problems that arise at work, each different than the one before, and how you deal with these teaches you how to problem solve. If you can apply yourself in internships or summer jobs you may be able to encounter challenges that will help prepare you for your chosen career.
The first job I applied to was for Boeing in El Segundo, CA. I was straight out of grad school (got a Master’s degree in Material Science) and just wanted something that was very technical. I had no particular desire for aerospace, but over time, have developed a huge passion for it.
Basically, juggling tasks. Some are long-term, some are short-term. Long-term tasks include performing analyses and then documenting them in formal reports; writing test plans, executing them, and tabulating results; putting together proposals for future research and development funding; putting together presentations; planning agendas for biweekly staff meetings; creating and releasing materials and processes specifications; root-cause/corrective action investigations; visits to suppliers, conferences. Short-term tasks include reviewing engineering drawings; random questions from outside departments that must be answered quickly; phone calls; last-minute meetings and hallway conversations; administrative, non-technical tasks. Sometimes I have to deal with emergencies that happen that day. Sometimes suppliers of certain materials will change a requirement or a material’s formulation/processing, and that may have as-yet unknown consequences. If the said consequences affect the material’s application on the spacecraft, we need to know what the risks are, if any. This means we scramble to gather or generate data on the “new” material to understand the risks. If a requirement needs to be changed, we have to figure out by how much and if this is acceptable for the material’s application on a spacecraft. Sometimes if the change is drastic, we’ll have to figure out a new material to replace the old material (especially if an old material is suddenly no longer made, which unfortunately happens more often than i would like). Satellite programs have very little margin in their schedules and thus have very little tolerance for the time that is required to qualify new materials. Work stoppages due to these kinds of tasks are a big deal and are highly scrutinized. Sometimes there are material or process anomalies: an adhesive won’t cure; there is unexpected corrosion or discoloration; coatings may begin to peel; a fastener may break prematurely under proof loading. on and on. when this happens we have to figure out what the risk is, the root cause, and the prescribed solution. sometimes it is okay as-is, but we have to quantify the risk and say why the risk is within acceptable limits. these types of investigations are emergencies because we do not have limitless time to figure them out. often our customers want answer now, especially if a satellite is on the launchpad. Sometimes a new supplier of a material or process (i.e. composite layup) is awarded a contract and it’s up to materials and processes to validate that supplier. Validation can take a long time if there are a lot of requirements to check against, but again, customers do not like to wait long or pay a lot of money for such validation activities.
Some technical analyses are very difficult, and you are under pressure to do it very fast, for very little money, and you must give a positive outcome. Also, as i said before, R&D is tough when no one sees the opportunity you do. convincing people is hard for me. also, putting budgets and cost-benefit analyses together are hard for me, since i am trained in science, not business.
Working on satellites. How cool is that?
Be prepared to work hard and with some really smart people on some really amazing hardware. Be brave, try new things, follow what you think is interesting.
There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique.
Martha Graham, choreographer
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