We caught up with Giancarlo Guevara in this edition of Wildcats at Work, and learned a little more about how he got his start at SpaceX. He shared a typical day and advice for students wanting to break into engineering fields.
Tell us a little about yourself and your Arizona experience.
Even as a child, I was fascinated by machinery, especially engines and I always knew I wanted to be an engineer. I received good grades, but I was by no means a serious student. That all changed when I arrived at the UA in 2005. My lack of discipline and study skills weren’t going to cut it if I was to become an engineer.
Lack of study skills? That’s hard to imagine …
I struggled my first two years, especially in math. I didn’t score high enough in my math tests to place in math courses at the UA. My first math class as a college student was high school level algebra at a community college. I was intimidated by the rigors of engineering and switched my major to business. After two semesters, I realized that engineering was my true passion, and I was going to have to dedicate myself to my studies if I was to achieve my childhood dream.
Was there a particular lesson you learned?
The lesson I took away from the UA was that of self-discipline and dedication. With the help of UA professors I was able to flourish and transform from being a slacker to a top student in all my classes. I became a well-rounded person. I joined the UA rugby team, became president of the UA chapter of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and joined an astronomy interest group. I graduated in 2012 with a Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering and a minor in mathematics.
You made it to the top of your class, what happens next ... what was your first gig out of college?
My first position was as a structural analyst for SpaceX dealing with shock and vibroacoustics. SpaceX was an exciting company. From day one, I was given tremendous responsibility and creative freedom to attack problems. During my tenure, SpaceX launched the first commercial capsule to ever dock with the international space station. We also designed a fleet of launch vehicles, including the first-ever staged rocket that was able to land itself and was reusable. I was involved with 17 successful missions.
I am sure a lot of UA engineering students would love to work for SpaceX. How did you get there?
Just before I graduated from college, I applied for and was awarded a NASA fellowship for grad school. That summer, I had a conversation with my older brother about what I wanted to do after grad school. I was interested in working for a particular cutting edge company, which at the time, was revolutionizing commercial space exploration. He convinced me to apply and two weeks later I was on a plane to Los Angeles to interview with SpaceX. I was offered a job, forwent my fellowship, and accepted the position.
Can you take us through a typical day in the life of a structural analyst at SpaceX?
I got to the office around 8-9 a.m., and jumped right into work. I usually gathered and analyzed ground or flight test data and processed it so our team could develop design and test specifications. Once parts were either designed or tested, my group would review the data and determine if any changes needed to be made. We would then consult with the designers and test engineers and aid them in the development of our product line.
How was your work-life balance?
SpaceX moves at an incredible pace and demands long hours from every single one of its employees. I usually worked 14-15 hours a day during my first year and a half. After that, the company quadrupled in size, which reduced the workload, and 10-12 hour days were more common. After three years, I decided to steer my career in a path that allowed more work-life balance. After a few months of searching, I interviewed and accepted a position with Raytheon Missile System. I was coming back to Arizona.
Let’s review: struggling math student to top of your engineering class lands a job at SpaceX and is now working for Raytheon. What advice do you have for students searching for similar success trajectory?
Make yourself a well-rounded engineer. Focus on a specific field and become an expert, but understand that the fundamentals of other disciplines may be just as valuable. If you are a mechanical engineer, take the time to learn a bit about electrical engineering, computer, and software engineering. Most technical fields require the collaboration of a plethora of subject matter experts. It is imperative that you are able to understand and communicate with your team members if you want to be a valuable addition. Also, be sure to partake in extracurricular activities. Enjoy yourself outside of work or the classroom!
One last thing, what do you do for fun?
Motorcycle racing. I love the adrenaline and the competition. People think I am crazy, but the sense of freedom you get when the helmet is on and you are riding on an open road is indescribable. One of my side gigs is running a racing league called Race Umra. We have races all over California and Phoenix. If you have a minute, check out our website: www.raceumra.com.
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