In Part 1 of my interview of Mindy Wilson, we learned about Mindy’s past as a dairy farmer, her path to engineering, and her current work at Orbital ATK where she’s learning about rocket science. In Part 2, she shares what is the best and hardest part about being an engineer and what her advice is to students pursing STEM careers. Read on to learn more about this rocket scientist!
Suzie: What do you like best about engineering?
Mindy: I like when things go wrong, and I have to dive into what is wrong and to figure out how to fix it [laughs]. It’s that figuring out how things work that I like best about engineering. Math is life, meaning engineers use math to make life better. We wouldn’t have the things we have, like chairs and tables, food, clothes, lights, A/C, streets, cars, bridges, phones, computers and so on, if we didn’t have engineers. Engineering makes life good.
Suzie: What is the hardest part about your job?
Mindy: I think in any job, it’s office politics. I just want to do my job and do it well. I don’t like dealing with office politics, but I think everyone has that; office politics are everywhere. Also, finding something that is fulfilling. The sense of accomplishment of figuring out something hard. That’s fulfilling– sure it was hard, but it was also cool that you completed it; if that makes any sense [laughs].
Suzie: How did you overcome those hard parts of the job?
Mindy: You take control by finding a job that makes you happy; that makes you fulfilled. This advice isn’t just for engineers, but for everyone: look inward and ask, is this job making me happy? Is the job self-satisfying? Life is short, so don’t do something that makes you miserable. Overall, engineering is satisfying [for me]. To me, it’s important to make a positive impact, and we do need all kinds of people to do all kinds of jobs, but I feel I’ve made my [positive] impact and engineering does that.
Suzie: Speaking of the sense of accomplishment, what is your greatest accomplishment?
Mindy: My kids. In college, I went to a seminar by a working mother, and she said it was okay if your children eat sandwiches and your house is messy. You don’t need to be supermom. That was like a lightbulb moment. I’ve set a good example for them, especially my daughters, that they can be strong and independent.
Suzie: And on the flip side of accomplishments, have you made any mistakes at work?
Mindy: My really big mistake was when I worked on the Iridium Gateway Switch. The switch used its own language, and I accidently input the wrong command. It took down the whole gateway. It was, oh my god, oh my god, who do I tell first? I mean a mistake like this one goes all the way up the chain, to the general. In fact, the general came in; all he asked was how long will it take to fix it? I did go home crying that day, but now, 10 plus years later, it’s a good story and I can laugh about it. If you do make a mistake, own up to it, blaming outside sources won’t solve the mistake any quicker. Take your failures and learn from them. We all make mistakes. [Accidentally crashing the gateway] wasn’t my first mistake, [although] it was the biggest one, and it won’t be my last mistake.
Suzie: What is one thing you know now that you wish you knew when you started out in engineering?
Mindy: Trust yourself more and have confidence in your abilities. When I started out, and someone questioned me, I wasn’t confident in what I know. Another coworker would say what I was thinking and get told good job, and I’d be like, darn it, I was thinking that!
Suzie: What final advice do you have for a student pursuing a career in STEM?
Mindy: It’s sad that the stigma is still there for women in STEM; minority and underprivileged men as well. I want them to know the opportunity is out there. I had no money when I started college, and if it wasn’t for grants and financial aid, I wouldn’t have gone [to college]. It is so worth it because I make lots of money now [laughs]. It was a hard road, but I finished. The job satisfaction and places I’ve been, like Hawaii, are worth it. You’ll have setbacks, it will be hard, but have confidence in yourself. You can do it!
This piece comes to us from one of our amazing community members and content volunteers, Suzie Olsen. Her bio is below, be sure to check out her awesome website and if you would like to work with us you can email us here!
Suzie Olsen is a Staff Systems Engineer in Phoenix, AZ. When she is not busy building and maintaining the search and rescue system for the US Coast Guard, she is performing science experiments and engineering design projects with K-12 students. To encourage all students in science, technology, engineering and math,she has written the book “Annie Aardvark, Mathematician.” You can learn more about Suzie here!