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Interview with a Senior Engineer

As a veteran, have you considered a career in engineering? This Air Force veteran shares his story of how he found his passion of airplanes and airplane mechanics during his time in the Air Force. He now uses those skills he acquired in his lucrative career as a senior engineer for Virgin Airlines.

Q: What is your job title and what industry do you work in? How many years of experience do you have in this field? How would you describe yourself using only three adjectives?

A: I was formerly a fighter pilot serving in the Air Force, doing tours in Vietnam, Korea and Afghanistan. Currently I am a senior engineer for Virgin Airlines, in the commercial airline industry. I have 5 years of civilian experience in this field, and 26 if you count my military experience. Using three adjectives, I would describe myself as diligent, precise, and thorough.

Q: What’s your ethnicity and gender? How has it hurt or helped you? If you ever experienced discrimination, how have you responded and what worked best?

A: I am a white male. I believe that being a white male has helped me as an engineer here after duty, as did my military service. Just telling people that I have served in the Air Force on numerous tours seems to change something in their eyes when they talk to me. They respect me and the opinions that I have much more. The time in which my being a white male did not help me was when I was actually in the military. Many of the countries that I went to were quite unhappy to be occupied, especially by people who did not look like them. I was often yelled at and even attacked once by a group of women. When I am discriminated against, I simply back away from the situation and try to see it from their point of view. But removing myself from the situation is paramount so that I do not respond to their emotion with my own and escalate the situation.

Q: How would you describe what you do? What does your work entail? Are there any common misunderstandings you want to correct about what you do?

A: I oversee a team that makes sure that every plane in the fleet has engines that are up to code and that there are no discrepancies in the assembly process. Our department also oversees research and development of new technologies. My work entails making sure that everyone is thinking clearly every day and prompting people with ideas and my experiences about what definitely does not work in an airplane engine. The common misunderstanding is that engineering is boring. Nothing could be farther from the truth. It is all about who you work with that makes something boring.

Q: On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate your job satisfaction? What might need to change about your job to unleash your full enthusiasm?

A: My job satisfaction is definitely at a 10. Nothing really needs to change about my job; I have accepted my place in the world, and I like where I am.

Q: If this job moves your heart – how so? Ever feel like you found your calling or sweet spot in life? If not, what might do it for you?

A: This job does move my heart, because every time a plane goes up and lands successfully, I feel a sense of personal accomplishment that I did my job right. Our team is able to accomplish such a miracle that people take for granted these days - getting them hundreds and thousands of miles away from where they were in only hours. I have definitely found my sweet spot in life.

Q: Is there anything unique about your situation that readers should know when considering your experiences or accomplishments?

A: My entire family was military and instilled in me the honor of military service. Many of my friends wondered why I was going into the military instead of trying to play football for a college. For me, it was not even a choice.

Q: How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and do it differently, what would you change?

A: I got started in engineering after my first tour, when I went back to college. I was absolutely enthralled to learn the inner workings of this plane that I got to fly. I wanted to know everything about it. If I could do anything differently, I would have slept less and focused more so that I could have learned more in a shorter period of time. But, you can't help where you meet your wife, the only thing more beautiful than an engine blueprint.

Q: What did you learn the hard way in this job and what happened specifically that led up to this lesson?

A: I learned the hard way in this job that the smallest mistake can have tragic consequences. I did not have to learn this directly, thank God, but one of the engineers in my military service was short-cutting procedure. I called him on it, even though I really didn't know what I was doing. Initially I was yelled at, but when a senior officer who was also an engineer overheard us, he ended up being censured because his mistakes could have killed me.

Q: What is the single most important thing you have learned outside of school about the working world?

A: I have learned that the working world is all about getting along with people. That was the toughest thing that I had to learn coming from the military. You absolutely have to back down sometimes even with people that you do not necessarily respect in order to get the job done. The military was definitely not like that.

Q: What’s the strangest thing that ever happened to you in this job?

A: I found a kitten stuck in the housing once when I came into work one day. I reached in, and it scratched me! It would not move for 5 hours, and we stopped the entire workday just to try to get that kitten out because we did not want to kill it by testing the plane.

Q: Why do you get up and go to work each day? Can you give an example of something that really made you feel good or proud?

A: I get up and go to work to keep people safe. I feel like I have a hand in keeping this country going, from the economy to the politics. We have had senators ride on planes that I worked on, and I just feel like getting those kinds of people where they need to go is an honor.

Q: What kind of challenges do you handle and what makes you want to just quit?

A: The challenges that I face sometimes are some mental problems that I have had from my military service. The company that I work for now is very understanding about them and it is included in my medical insurance, but sometimes I just get overwhelmed. And because I have a 30 person team that depends on my leadership, sometimes I feel like I am letting them down.

Q: How stressful is your job? Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance? How?

A: My job is normally not stressful because I love it, but there are times when deadlines hit that things get a little rough.

Q: What’s a rough salary range for the position you hold? Are you paid enough and/or happy living within your means?

A: My salary range is between $150K to $250K per year. I am definitely happy with my pay.

Q: How much vacation do you take? Is it enough?

A: I take about a month's worth of vacation a year. I think it is enough.

Q: What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?

A: To be an engineer, you need a college degree, and the ability to apply math in the real world. The problems that happen in the field are unique. You can't study them in school. You have to apply those situations to the new ones.

Q: What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?

A: I would tell a friend to get ready to study hard.

Q: If you could write your own ticket, what would you like to be doing in five years?

A: In 5 years, I want to retire and live on a beach with my wife!