Mentoring a HS Satellite Team

For the past two years, I have been a mentor at a local high school dedicated to aviation and space. As a mentor, I meet with my students once a month (or so). We usually just talk; I have two students and they always have things to say to one another about teachers and classes. Sometimes it’s hard to re-direct the conversation. However, when we go somewhere, it has been even more rewarding. I was able to introduce one of my mentees to the chief engineer of a company that he would like to intern for. I also showed two mentees around the building at my previous position. It has been fun, but the best parts were always getting them involved in my work or me getting involved in theirs. I wanted more of this interaction.

Then a team of freshman and the school principal started a team dedicated to building a 1U CubeSat, a 10 cm squared satellite.

I was wary at first, meeting with them once early in 2015. It seemed like a great group, but they were a bit lost in all the research that they needed to complete. I was too busy with working on commercial CubeSat launch campaigns to be a real asset at that point. So, when I did return to the CubeSat team, after quitting my full-time job, I was pleasantly surprised. The freshman had become more confident sophomores and started putting a real team together.

Now I visit them once a week to mentor. It’s been a bit difficult to find my place. Their principal has this amazing hands-off approach. I found it impressive that he dedicates himself to getting resources for them, but doesn’t manage much at all. Therefore, I wanted to emulate his approach. I tried to let students come to me with questions and I occasionally visited with different groups, peppering them with questions. I felt like I was helping, but it was hard to see any change.

Then, two weeks ago, the students began asking me for help. Ah ha! I was not managing, but now I could provide technical expertise within their management structure. Suddenly, I felt free to make suggestions (not demands) about how to move forward.

The first student to approach me was asking about the schedule. Our discussion evolved into an explanation of systems engineering and its purpose. I explained that systems engineers help the technical interactions between groups and make sure that everything is lining up correctly (which seemed schedule-related). It seemed like a good job for him, since he wanted a technical position but hadn’t been made lead of any group. We talked it over with the personnel manager (yes, another sophomore) and it was done! We had an official systems engineer (and me, of course).

Then I started explaining requirements to him. We went through the CubeSat Design Specification, which has spells out everything that a CubeSat team needs to do to fit within a P-Pod and get through a typical rocket safety process. We went through about 3 requirements before I saw the light bulb in his head. This is a lot of work – was the light bulb. I felt like I finally imparted the true scale of the project. It was a bit hard because I don’t want to destroy their dreams, but I want them to see how much they will really be doing. He got it – and helping him get there is one of the best feelings in the world to me.

I repeated this approach (going over requirements) with another student this week. Same light bulb! Now there are two people in the group of thirty that have a good idea of the scope of the project.

In summary, working with this high school CubeSat team has already been so rewarding to me. I love working with people to develop a deeper understanding of a topic. I always learn something too. (For example, I cannot explain what “ground” is in electrical engineering – further research required). This project has, in a way, re-kindled my love of tutoring. Once the holidays are over, I plan to market myself as a science and English tutor. I want more light bulb moments.

Different Perspectives

The theme of my past week has certainly been “new perspectives.” My mom drove 800 miles to spend Thanksgiving with me. We had a great time outdoors, rollerblading, running and exploring Victoria. The most important thing we did though, was talk. She provided a different perspective on my relationship. This led to me talking to my boyfriend in a deeper way. He, in turn, showed me a entirely new way of looking at my relationship with my parents. I’m not sure that any of the perspectives are true, but that’s kind of the point. The way that I see things is not the truth; it’s clouded by my perceptions and beliefs. I was proud of how I was open to new perspectives over the past week. I learned so much about the amazing people around me.

But this is a blog about work, not relationships (at least most of the time). So, I will focus on the new perspectives about work that I discovered this week.

Firstly, I am grateful because I found a new friend in a similar (unemployed) situation. She is also an engineer and she was looking for a job in space (just like I was two years ago). However, she had a very different approach than I do. She wants a job in space and is willing to chase that chance with any space company in Seattle. I’ve been a bit stuck because I’ve been trying to find the “perfect job.” Last time I chased space and came away disappointed. But, in truth, she helped me see that I was chasing perfection and was disappointed. (Yet I’m still chasing the perfect job in a way – so what did I learn?!)

We both are avid travelers, so she showed me the error in my thinking through a travel metaphor. She compared jobs to different places to visit. Each has benefits and disadvantages. We both have wanderlust, so it inevitably becomes time to find a new city every few years. It doesn’t mean the old city wasn’t perfect or that the new city will be. It’s about making the most of where you are.

It was a pretty deep talk that we had while hiking 8 miles!

I continued my thought train with my dad later in the evening. He also provided a visual metaphor. I have waiting to chase what I want to do because I want to be sure its the ‘right thing’. My dad compared it to waiting for lightning to strike – as if someday I would wake up and know exactly what I wanted to do. I have quietly nursed the hope that this will happen, but it’s a bit naive (and enervating). We talked about ways that I could start exploring different jobs. He also re-iterated that I can change jobs multiple times over the new few years. The next one that I take does not have to be the final form. I can still change.

I want to develop more flexibility. For so many years, I have had an ultimate goal in mind that I have chased with savage ferocity. But I tend to ignore any obstacles or doubts. I want to be able to change my course mid-journey – not realize that I’m disappointed at the end.

Anyway, I have appreciated the perspectives from my friends and family this week. It’s been illuminating and energizing. Now I’m excited to start discovering what I like by doing part-time jobs and my own projects, instead of analyzing every career to see if it seems right.

Finding a Voice

I have suddenly become remarkably opinionated. I think this is partially due to my newly found time to read the news and browse twitter. But, in the past, no matter how much news I read, I didn’t comment. Now I’m posting all over twitter and facebook. What happened?

I stopped being scared of conflict.

Now I know that sounds a little weird, but I was truly afraid of disagreeing with people. It made my job in program management difficult. A large portion of my job was to advocate on behalf of my customers. It was so hard. One time, my boss sat in on a call with me. He remained silent but waved emphatically at me when he thought I needed to jump in and defend the customer. I wouldn’t have spoken without his presence there to embolden me.

So, yeah, the fear was irrational. Most are. Sometimes I imagine fears are parts of our lost childhood selves that haven’t had a chance to grow up. Like like encapsulated Peter Pans..but holding fears that can still bring us to our knees as adults.

It’s taken me some time to accept my fear of conflict and move past it. But doing so has opened up a whole new world for me. I now think that my opinion is worth sharing. I’ve spent a lot of time honing my critical thinking skills, and I like adding something new to the conversation.

Now that I’m paying attention, I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon. It’s much easier to “like” or “re-tweet” on social media than it is to propose a different perspective. One of my facebook friends posted an interesting article on student activism last Thursday. I ran across it on Sunday night. At that time, the article had 25 “likes” but no comments. Huh? I read the article. Then I read a bunch of other articles on student activism. (Research is still central to my process; I feel a lot more confident posting my opinion with back-up facts. Thank you, science training.) Then I posted a response. I felt that all the articles that I read, the one my friend posted included, were all casting characters instead of analyzing the situation. The student activists were either cast as heroes or villains, depending on the article. It bothered me. The actual situation only warranted a couple lines, but (assumed) descriptions of character traits ran pages? That was my opinion and I shared it.

But, I digress, while writing about my own experiences is a large portion of this blog, I also want to share an opinion. I’d rather call it a theory, but that’s my background and I think it better describes what I say. So, here it is…

I think that the “likes,” “re-tweets” and “shares” in our internet world are part of the polarization of discourse. I think it’s easier to glom onto one extreme opinion and share it than develop your own mind about it. So that’s what is happening. Extreme views are being shared over and over again without differing perspectives being offered. Social media is the perfect medium for different perspectives! Why aren’t we using it? It’s so easy to quote a tweet and offer a different perspective on the same topic. For example, Fiat Physica posted a great article on how physics training teaches you to break down a problem. I agreed, but offered the counter that physics also teaches people to accept uncertainty and ambiguity – the idea that certain things cannot be broken down (like a light is a particle and a wave – no further break down). It was easy to do.

These are my thoughts of the day – 1) I have seen a whole new world open to me once I released my fear of conflict. 2) It’s much easier to agree (or choose the opposite side) than form your own opinion; I’m so glad that I found the courage to do the latter.

The Paradox of Writing

Yesterday, I signed up for a writing class and learned something about myself that was far more intriguing than the class.

On the day of the class, I woke up anxious. From the moment I got out of bed, I had to be doing something. I organized our medicine cabinet and the linen closet. I put together a pile of clothes for GoodWill. 10:30 finally came and I left the house. Once outside the house, I checked the bus schedule five or six times. (Somehow fearing that I would be late, even with leaving 2 hours earlier than necessary). I had to stop in a neighborhood coffee shop to get change for the bus. I couldn’t sit still and enjoy my tea and donut. I continued to check the bus schedule, leaving at T minus 6 minutes for the 30 sec walk across the street.

Suffice to say, I was freaking out. But my fear did not become clear to me until later that day.

My first clue was an exercise in the writing class. We had to interview a partner. My entire body rebelled at the thought. “I’m not an interviewer. I’m an engineer that just wants to research stuff and write about it.” Unsurprisingly, the interview was actually pretty fun. I enjoyed learning about my partner’s experiences and sharing my own. However, it stuck with me that I was so repelled at the initial thought.

My second clue was my thoughts on networking. I was impressed by the law partner who wanted to cram writing into her busy schedule. I wanted to follow up with the kindergarten teacher who had written a fast-flowing and entertaining narrative. I even got the business card of the naturalist that was looking to do some writing in her retirement. Looking back, I discovered that I did not want to talk to anyone who was a professional writer.

Odd? I thought so.

Upon reflection, I figured out that I am terrified of “being a writer.” To me, “being a writer” evokes images of a scruffy guy in a cafe, staring at a blank screen, silently begging for words to materialize. I think of the starving artist, barely able to get by unless supported by family or friends. I imagine constant rejection, by publishers and editors. Being that sort of person is terrifying to me.

Some of this is true; some is a complete stereotype.

The paradox is… I have always “been a writer” in the typical sense. I filled endless journals with my teenage confusion and angst-y poetry. In college, I took enough courses in writing to get a degree in Professional Writing. Even at my previous job, I happily wrote responses for Requests for Proposals (RFPs) and white papers for conferences. By any normal definition, I am a writer. I even got paid for writing those RFPs and white papers, which would get me close to being a “professional writer.”

But, when people ask me what I’m doing while unemployed, I evade the idea of “being a writer.” I reply with “I”m think about writing more.” I often throw in some stuff about it being analytical writing, not that freelance stuff. Because I don’t want to be that guy in the cafe, begging words to appear.

Yet, here I am – making words appear (and secretly wishing I were in a cafe).

By the end of this unemployment adventure, I’m hoping that I can add “I’m a writer” to the list of what I do. And I want to be proud and confident when I say it.

When Everything Starts to go Well…and then it Stresses You Out

The last few days have been amazing for me. I’ve relaxed and enjoyed myself. I went to a café for some coffee and brought my computer in case I was inspired to write. When I reached the (typically empty) café, it was full of writers and interesting talk. Obviously, squishing my Chai and me into a chair between two other writers was plenty enough to inspire me to write. It felt wonderful.

I’ve felt successful on other fronts as well. I go to a Meetup called Space Entrepreneurs, where once a month we drink beer and talk about space. While the rain and wind lashed outside, I had some illuminating conversations. To be honest, I got excited about working at a particular aerospace company. However, I still want to focus on my analytical writing because it makes me feel so wonderful. So I spent a good part of the evening trying to reconcile the two. How could I do both? I came up with a plan and went to sleep with a smile on my face.

And I woke up feeling terrible.

What was my one rule? To pursue what I want to do. In all honestly, that is what it started out as. I found two neat things that I wanted to do and I meshed them and came up with a plan. However, I have some compulsions when it comes to planning. Once I have a plan in place, I’m stubborn. Stubborn isn’t a strong enough word; I’m bull-headed. If I think that I have a good plan, it’s almost impossible for me to change course.

That was one of the things I learned at my previous job. I was so determined to prove that my previous job was my dream job, that it took me over a year to realize that I didn’t actually like my position.

I don’t want to do that again.

So, I had a great idea. It was fun and seemed right. But as soon I started thinking about it as a plan, my brain went into lock-down mode. “This is now the plan. No deviations are allowed.” That thought immediately took all the fun out of it. Instead of writing about something I was curious about, my topics were determined by which fitted the plan better. Instead of being excited about my future prospects, I started enumerating (a ridiculous amount of) tasks that I would need to accomplish.

That’s not fair. How can being so excited have such a negative impact?

I guess that I need to approach plans differently. My entire life has been spent creating plans set in stone. That is why I’ve been trying to move away from planning at all, so I can be flexible and follow my desires. (But I also love planning; it’s like visualizing a perfect future). In the end, I think that I’m going to end up somewhere in the middle. I’m always going to plan a bit because it excites me. But I want to remember that the enjoyment is in the journey. I want to enjoy what I’m doing now and learn to accept that deviations are how the plan is improved. New paths can lead to even more success than I ever planned for. At least, that’s what I’d like to believe.

Hopefully my brain will agree with this idea someday soon!

My first TEDx

Sometimes the key to a successful day is simply getting out of the house. It only got better from there.

For months, I have been watching TED talks online (and by watching, I mean reading the transcripts). If you don’t know TED, they are an organization that holds conferences for the sole purpose of spreading ideas. TEDx is a smaller regional version of the TED conferences. Since TED is $8500 for entry, I have decided to go to as many of the smaller TEDx conferences as possible. They range from free (SnoIsle on Nov 6) to $75 (Rainier on Nov 21). So I can go to tens of TEDx conferences for the cost of the real 5 day TED conference.

So, I drove 40 miles through the city to spend an entire day hearing about ideas. It was wonderful. I was engaged through every session, even closely following speakers that I did not agree with. I’ve zoned out in enough aerospace conferences to know that this conference was truly unique. Because I wasn’t the only one engaged. The entire room seemed to watch the speakers’ every move. The whole audience burst into laughter at the same points. I felt like a part of the group.

It was difficult to select my favorite TED talks, but I have a pretty good quantifiable indicator. I took notes. (Overachiever habits die hard – or not at all). For some of the speakers I scribbled a few lines, but a rare few inspired me. I started jotting notes around their names and in the margin; their thoughts sparked so many of my own. So, here are the things that I circled, starred and hope to think about more in the future (and maybe even take action?).

(Social enterprise) is the business model of the for-profit with the core values of a non-profit. Jeff Ericson – Camano Island Coffee.

I liked this idea because I agreed with his argument that non-profits are inherently unsustainable. If the donors go away, they wither and die. However, I think that there is a lot of good that businesses can do. It takes a shift from the goal of making as much money as possible to sustaining workers, suppliers and the community. I thought that, if I had a business, I’d want it to make money (because I hate asking for money), but not more than is necessary to sustain it and do some R&D. I think I’d prefer for my profit margins to go to customers and suppliers. At least I say that now.

Ignoring death (thinking ourselves immortal) makes us stuck. Jennifer James – Most compelling person I have ever seen speak.

While she described an uncomfortable subject for most, death, it was the most lively talk I’ve ever heard. It ranged from hopeful and expansive – discussing how the knowledge of your death can give you power over your fear – to tragic – the things that she wished she understood about death earlier in her life. It was a rollercoaster ride of a talk. It was weird to think of death as a tool to make decisions, but I’ve run across that concept in other books and articles. This speaker made the idea much more compelling.

Trying to find a trend in these conferences is enlightening because usually it reflects something about yourself. The statements that I wrote myself, in-between speakers or at lunch break, are all about emotional intelligence. Many speakers talked about how they overcame their own fears (all in different ways, mind you). Others proposed methods for finding your true path. But what I noted the most is that these speakers knew who they were. They were aware of their own false beliefs, fears and shame. Yet, that seemed to be the magic power that made them successful. Awareness. Everyone dealt with fears and beliefs differently, but they all required some sort of awareness of themselves.

This has been my theme for the year too. Who am I? I’ve spent so long pursuing this image of myself as a “success” that I forgot what I really liked to do and who I wanted to be. That was one of my first bits of awareness. Now I’m noticing fears and old sadness that I never dealt with, anger that I buried for a long time. It’s disconcerting because I’m not who I thought I was. But I feel like I’m beginning to be more real and true. I don’t filter my thoughts and feelings as much. I’m still learning though.

Awareness seems to be a key component of success. (At least if you count getting to talk at a TEDX conference as success – which I totally do.) It’s good to feel like I’m on the right path.

Fear and the Couch Potato

Have you ever played an unfortunate game with your friends or significant other called “what do you want to do?” In this game, you go back and forth saying “I dunno” because you a) really don’t care, b) want the other person to choose because it’s easier, c) are afraid of voicing your weird choice or d) (some reason that I have not thought about yet). The game ends when someone gets exasperated and makes a choice or you both end up staying home.

I mention this game as an example of how difficult it can sometimes be to know what you want to do. It should be a simple question with a simple answer, but it gets complicated. Emotions get in the way. Old beliefs get in the way.

Since I have learned to be more aware of fear (thank you, life coach Noe Khalfa), I have been able to see how it can obscure what I want to do. First, I get scared – this morning I didn’t do the dishes because I was irrationally afraid that this would somehow make me a housewife. Then, I can’t figure out what I want to do – which scares me further. I envision myself becoming a couch potato because I can’t figure out what I want to do.

It’s a cycle.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to break it.

Yesterday I had some success with a simple fear. I am afraid of riding my bike by myself. With others, I am a fearless biker and happy to lead the pack. But I don’t like riding on city streets (even in Seattle) without someone else to watch my back. Instead of staying home (and inching closer to couch potato status), I went for a bike ride anyway. My whole day was improved by going on that bike ride.

Yesterday was like vacation. I felt pretty good!

Today I feel like I need to get to work .That is a bit silly, since I have only had a four day weekend so far (not a long vacation by any standard). But I think that is what is making it difficult for me to figure out what I want to do. My wants are clouded by my belief that productivity is essential to every day. I have a hard time when my boyfriend asks what I did that day and the answer is ‘nothing’. I need to have a list of accomplishments. But I want to be able to relax and follow my heart. My belief in productivity makes this difficult.

The irony is that I’m so scared of not being productive that it makes me a couch potato (but a stressed one). I am so scared of not being productive, that when I ask myself what I want to do, the answer becomes “nothing.” So I do nothing, but I’m stressed about it.

Either way, it seems I need to overcome my obsession with productivity in order to follow my new direction (doing what I truly want).

Changing Direction (again)

Once again, is changing in parallel with the changes in my life. A few months ago, I tried to write about projects that I was trying to do outside of work in order to find my true calling. Work unexpectedly took over my life and I was forced to abandon my projects. Now I have abandoned work (i.e. I quit) and I am prepared to be totally consumed by projects! This is where I plan to document my adventures, projects and discoveries about myself.

One reason I’m doing this is because I love to write. It’s a compulsion that I have been trying to squelch for too long (in favor of a practical and financially stable engineering career).

Another reason is to show potential employers that I did more than lie on the couch, watch Netflix and send out resumes.

But the main reason is to keep me honest. I have one major goal during my time of unemployment. It is to pursue what I want to do. This notion means a lot to me because I have spent my life until now pursing what I could do. Planes and spaceships are cool; I could be an aerospace engineer. I could be practical and financially sound for the rest of my life if I get a degree in engineering. These are my past thoughts. Oddly enough, I never asked myself what I wanted to do. I never thought about what work would be so interesting that I would want to do it for the rest of my life. Now I’ve decided to think about it and doggedly pursue what I want.

The thing is… I’m not sure what that is yet.

Rationally, I’ve tried to piece together what job would “check all my boxes” (as my dad likes to say). My boxes, or requirements, would be flexible workdays, travel, some sort of writing involved etc. I have come up with some ideas, but I’m not pursing them doggedly. Why? Because they are ideas for jobs that I could do. My mind has a hard time thinking past what qualifications do I have? Is it in the right city? The ideas that my mind comes up with are limited by these restrictions. Plus, I don’t feel excited about the ideas that I come up with.

For example, I have thought that technical writing would be amazing. I have a background in engineering. I can write. I may be able to telecommute. I could travel. I like defining processes. But no matter how hard my head works to sell this, my heart isn’t in it. I like it; I could do it, but I don’t want it. I don’t want to be a technical writer badly enough to succeed at becoming one.

So I’m taking the (rather extreme – for me -) step of letting my desires guide me. Do I want to spend all day in the library? If the answer is yes, I will. If I end up wandering down the fashion section and finding it fascinating, I’ll read it. While I’m not sure what the destination will be, this method makes the direction clear.

Let me explain – in this exact moment, I can tell you what I want to do. I want to finish this blog post and go for a walk. It’s simple and clear. Do I know what I’ll do after the walk? No, I have no clue. The destination is a mystery. This method is in sharp contract to the way I’ve lived my life to this point – which is, find the destination (the analytically perfect job) and stubbornly stick to the course despite all obstacles. The issue is, if I pick the wrong destination, I’m screwed. This is what I’m realizing now (after four years of college & three years of working). It makes selecting the “right” job stressful and does not allow for changing life conditions. It all hinges on making one analytical choice correctly, which leads to a lot of spinning in my head. Was this right? Is there a better choice? Should I change my boxes?

It’s a lot simpler to just trust that I can follow my desires to an appropriate end destination. It’s not necessarily easier for me. I have to trust my gut as much as my head. I have to live without the compulsive planning that I typically do. It’s not easy…so that’s the main reason that I’m keeping this blog – to hold myself accountable to following my heart instead of my head.

I hope that some readers will enjoy taking this journey with me.


Intro to Python1

First of all, I don’t like snakes. When I’m talking about Python, I’m talking about the programming language.

I am not a programmer. It was not even a requirement in engineering school. I struggled through programming MATLAB (an analytical math software) and promptly decided that programming was not for me. Then, I made a couple websites, and messed around in HTML and CSS. Making pretty designs is nice, but I want to do something functional.

I chose to study Python as an experiment because I love data. Python is excellent for building databases and parsing lots of data. Last year, I found data for the past 10 years of March Madness and spent nearly 15 hours trying to develop a method for figuring out how who will win. It was not successful, but that gives you an idea of how much I like playing with data and trying to find patterns.

So where am I now? I’m taking a 13 hour training course on At 28% complete, I still have a long way to go. I am intrigued so far though. Unlike HTML and CSS, it’s really easy to get user inputs and call databases. I am hopeful that I will survive the next 72%.

My end goal of this project (Python1 – mind you, I intend to make this a series of projects) is to call information from a database and match it to a list in a spreadsheet. That sounds really boring, but the data is cool! So, NASA has this database of outgassing properties. When materials are exposed to the vacuum of space, they often lose some of their mass. (Metals don’t lose much; plastics lose a lot). To launch satellites, the developers usually have to make a list of all the materials in their spacecraft and then write down the outgassing properties using the NASA database. Sadly, I know that many people do this by hand. I want to make a code that matches the material in the list (say Aluminum 6061) to the outgassing amount. Then, the outgassing properties can automatically be generated once you have a bill of material.

Maybe that this boring to you, but it seems much less boring than looking up each material property individually and then copying and pasting it into a document. (Welcome to engineering!)


For the past few months, I have maintained as a place to  blog about three of my interests/potential careers – entrepreneurship, writing and engineering. While that sounds like a pretty broad blog, I’ve felt restricted to the three topics. To allow me to expand my focus, I’m now going to track three projects. These three projects can be anything – singing lessons, learning how to change oil, going back to school. I’ll blog about it all. My life is not limited to only engineering, writing and entrepreneurship.

Blogging is fun, but it’s not my only purpose in creating this site. I have three main reasons for paying each year to maintain

  1. Practice Writing – I work as an engineer. While I do have the opportunity to write on a regular basis, the topics are usually arcane. It’s practically writing in another language. Simply, it’s not a fun style. I want to regain my natural voice in my writing.
  2. Document Experiments – I have spent my whole conducting very small experiments. Can I get by on $200/month for food? How many miles can I run? Can I learn an instrument without any lessons? These are questions that I’d like to answer. I’m documenting the experiments because I think its a better method than my current method – which is, conduct experiment, forget details of results…repeat.
  3. Find my passion – Someone recently described to me his love of triathlons. He was so pumped about it; he thought that Ironman triathlons were the coolest thing.  Triathlons were so awesome (to him) that it was impossible not be become obsessed once you tried it. I don’t feel that way about triathlons. However, I hope to someday find that one thing that I’m willing to dedicate my life and energy to do. I want that level of obsession. These experiments (and perhaps helpful comments? Please?) will help me uncover my purpose in life.

And so we go….