Wildcats@Work with Gustavo Maldonado

Aviva Doery,
Whether he is engineering surface mount technology for the latest NASA mission or cheering on his favorite soccer team on the weekend, Gustavo Maldonado is a busy man! We caught up with the process engineer to learn more about his career path to success.

Tell us about your journey from being a UA student to a processing engineer at NASA.

I started off as a computer engineering major and after my second year I decided that I wasn’t really interested in the programming and electrical engineering side of computers so I joined material science engineering. I was really focused on semiconductor processing, like how to build silicon chips. I was a NASA Space Grant intern. I also did research on semiconductor processing — modifying Ph levels to see how it affects contamination on silicon wafers. I did an individual study with the same professor looking at how different chemicals form layers on water and affect surface tension when compressed. I then took up a long-term internship with IBM in Silicon Valley in 1999 which was right during the .com boom. There I worked with lasers for hard drive manufacturing. Those experiences gave me a great background to get my first job out of school.

After I graduated I got a job with Intel as a rotational engineer because of a networking connection through the UA. I was able to work on a lot of different projects like qualifying a wetting balance tool and programming for an in-car computer. I was part of an initiative to meet regulations led by Europe to remove lead from electronics in 2000. I conducted experiments on lead-free solders for four months as part of that initiative. Then I turned to flip chip process engineering for two years.  After that for about six years I worked on solders and fluxes as a material engineer. During that time I got to travel a lot to different manufacturing and supplier sites in Asia which was a really cool experience.

About three years ago I started at the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab. I have been doing a lot of surface mount technology process engineering. I support the assembly and repair of electronics for multiple missions and instruments including Mars2020, SHERLOC, MOXIE, SWOT, and NISAR. I also review electronic parts and assembly drawings to provide design improvements, develop new assembly methods, and reliability risk assessments.


What is the most rewarding part of your job?

What is really interesting here is that every mission has its own requirements. Every assembly is unique so you always need new approaches to figure out new problems. At Intel, I was working on the same project over and over until you got it perfect. Here I am working on new problems every day.


What do you like to do for fun?

I am a big soccer fan so when I lived in Tucson I followed FC Tucson. Arsenal is my favorite team. I just recently got tickets for LAFC so I will go and hang out with people and watch the games. Also having three kids takes up all my time!


What is the best advice you would give to a current UA engineering student?

Learn to fail. When you are working on things that haven't been done before, you will make mistakes. You need to be ready for the failures, by making sure you are gathering as much data as possible along the way. If you fail, you can use that information to connect the dots and figure out what went wrong.