1-On-1 with Pilot Erin Fisher
The sky isn't the limit with this featured guest blogger today, folks, space is! Aerospace engineer and fellow ND alum Erin Fisher shares her experience as an engineer with Textron Aviation and now with Boom Technology. Even as a little girl, Erin was captivated with space and she has worked incredibly hard to turn that passionate interest into a rewarding and fulling career. She has even managed to weave in her flight fascination into her personal life, obtaining her pilot's license so she can fly her own plane!
Steel Toes- My experience working as an engineer
Who is your current employer and what is your current job title?
I currently work as the lead Flight Control Systems Engineer at Boom Technology. Boom is a startup aerospace company in Centennial, CO working to bring back commercial supersonic flight.We are currently designing and building a supersonic demonstrator aircraft in our hangar, and have a team of about 25 people.
Tell us about a day in your shoes.
My days vary drastically based on what is most important that day. I can be working analyses problems, designing in a CAD program, or building test articles out in the shop. We are working on a clean sheet aircraft design, and we are a small, nimble team, so everyone wears many different hats. In the year I’ve been at Boom, I’ve worked on flight control systems, hydraulic systems, landing gear, and avionics design. I also have the opportunity to be our intern and new grad hiring manager, and find passionate young engineers to join our company is a really fun part of my job.
What attracted you to engineering?
When I was 13, I had the chance to go to Space Camp at the Cosmosphere in Hutchinson, KS for a week.The camp put us through the same training real astronauts receive, and I completely fell in love with the idea of working in space. This made me decide I wanted to be an astronaut.But as a high schooler, I also loved creative writing.Thanks to some great school counselors, I realized that only an engineering degree gave me the flexibility to follow my dreams, whatever they evolved to be.Many people don’t realize that an engineering degree doesn’t mean that you have to work in engineering.Many fields love hiring engineers (law firms, medical school, consulting firms, sales, marketing) because of the great problem solving skills they have.With an engineering degree, I could get a job making great money and if I decided writing was still what I wanted to do, I put myself in a comfortable life position to get there.I did not end up becoming an astronaut, but I am working on technology that is going to impact the future, and I absolutely love what I do.Engineers are the people who are going to drive and shape the world as our society becomes more and more technology based.If you want to be a part of the most exciting things happening in the world, having an engineering degree is the way to do that.
What other jobs and roles have you had and what did those jobs entail?
My first job out of school was awesome. I worked for Textron Aviation in Wichita, KS designing the flight control system for the Scorpion Jet. Scorpion is a privately funded military platform specializing in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. The program was a great place to learn, because it moved extremely fast, so new engineers were thrown into the fire. My second day on the job, I was helping to hang flaps on the wing of the plane, and I was immediately given responsibility for important design and testing on the aircraft. There is nothing cooler than creating something real. When that plane took off for the first time, I looked up in the sky and could point to parts of the aircraft that I directly impacted with my work. Wichita was not my favorite place to live, but the job was great, and I took advantage of my time out there by getting my pilot’s license, which has been one of the most fun and rewarding things I’ve done in my life.
What was your biggest engineering struggle from either college or your professional life and how did you overcome it?
Engineering is still very much a male dominated field, and we need to keep working to change that. When I was first out of school, I struggled to get some of my older male colleagues to take me seriously or give me responsibility. The best thing we can do to change this mindset is to encourage more women to pursue STEM careers, and support one another in those pursuits. I dealt with these challenges by leaning on mentors and friends in the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). SWE has been the biggest and best support network throughout my college and professional careers, and I’m so glad I became and stayed involved in it.
Stilettos- My advice for putting your best foot forward
What qualities make someone a good candidate for hire?
When I evaluate candidates to hire at Boom, the most important quality I need to see is enthusiasm for the product, the company, and the mission. You have to be passionate about what we are trying to accomplish, because it’s a big, challenging goal, and the only way we will get there is if everyone pours their heart into the project and loves what they are working on. This applies to all companies and fields. Always fully research the company and mission before going into an interview so that you can convey your interest in specific products or projects the company is working on.
What resources, tools, and strategies do you use for professional development?
I cannot emphasize enough how important it is as a female engineer to get involved with SWE and stay involved throughout your career.There are collegiate and professional sections all over the country.It’s been through SWE that I’ve met amazing, inspiring women, and they have guided and advised me through many decisions or challenges I’ve had in college and in my career.SWE offers great professional development opportunities from technical speakers, networking events, seminars on professional development topics, and so much more. Through SWE, I’ve taken on leadership positions that have helped me learn enough to take on responsibilities in my job that I would not have the right experience to handle otherwise.
What is the best piece of advice you have received or what piece of advice would you give to other women in the engineering field?
The big thing I would recommend is to start getting involved in hands-on projects as early as possible.In high school and college, join clubs that build something real, like Design, Build, Fly, or Formula SAE, or Engineers without Borders.You gain real, practical experience through clubs like these, which will prepare you more to join the work force than any class can.Employers value experiences like this when reviewing resumes, as it demonstrates interest and passion, as well as application of class concepts to something tangible, which is what industry work is.
Who is the woman you most admire and why?
There is not one specific woman I would say I most admire. I most admire all the women who came before me and who paved the way for women today to have no limitations to the dreams they have or careers they wish to pursue. One of those is Sally Ride, the first female astronaut. She broken down barriers that I don’t even realize existed now in the aerospace field because she came before me. Before Ride’s time, NASA astronauts were a bunch of fighter jocks working in very much a man’s world. There are lots of other professions that had to go through the same transition to welcome women, and the women who fought for that integration had to be very strong, stubborn, and brave. I will always be grateful for all the women who went up against adversity to achieve their dreams.
Running shoes- My advice for balancing work and life
What does work/life balance mean to you?
There isn’t one right way to balance work and your personal life. My strategy has always been to make time for the things I love outside of work, and to prioritize them when appropriate to avoid burning out from work. Work will likely always be busy, so sometimes, you need to force yourself to take a step back and go do something the is unrelated and just makes you happy. I like to go flying, or hiking with my boyfriend. That being said, there are also going to be times when you are up against a deadline and it is appropriate to prioritize work above other things. The balance between work and your personal life will continually shift between which gets the most attention, and that’s ok.
What are some tips you have or strategies you use to achieve work/life balance?
Find things you love outside of work and spend time doing them. Understand the policies at your job for flexible work hours or using vacation time, and take advantage of what is available to you. When you have vacation days, don’t leave them unused! If your office is like mine and vacation time is unlimited, don’t forget to take time off. Schedule time for yourself and to be with family and friends, and do things completely unrelated to work.