Beta
×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

We are sorry to see you leave - Beta is different and we value the time you took to try it out. Before you decide to go, please take a look at some value-adds for Beta and learn more about it. Thank you for reading Slashdot, and for making the site better!

The Flight of Gifted Engineers From NASA

Soulskill posted about 3 months ago | from the when-NASA-starts-looking-like-the-USPTO dept.

NASA 160

schwit1 writes: Rather than work in NASA, the best young engineers today are increasingly heading to get jobs at private companies like SpaceX and XCOR. This is a long article, worth reading in its entirety, but this quote sums it up well: "As a NASA engineering co-op student at Johnson Space Center, Hoffman trained in various divisions of the federal space agency to sign on eventually as a civil servant. She graduated from college this year after receiving a generous offer from NASA, doubly prestigious considering the substantial reductions in force hitting Johnson Space Center in recent months. She did have every intention of joining that force — had actually accepted the offer, in fact — when she received an invitation to visit a friend at his new job with rising commercial launch company SpaceX.

Hoffman took him up on the offer, flying out to Los Angeles in the spring for a private tour. Driving up to the SpaceX headquarters, she was struck by how unassuming it was, how small compared to NASA, how plain on the outside and rather like a warehouse. As she walked through the complex, she was also surprised to find open work areas where NASA would have had endless hallways, offices and desks. Hoffman described SpaceX as resembling a giant workshop, a hive of activity in which employees stood working on nitty-gritty mechanical and electrical engineering. Everything in the shop was bound for space or was related to space. ... Seeing SpaceX in production forced Hoffman to acknowledge NASA might not be the best fit for her. The tour reminded her of the many mentors who had gone into the commercial sector of the space industry in search of better pay and more say in the direction their employers take." At NASA, young engineers find that they spend a lot of time with bureaucracy, the pace is slow, their projects often get canceled or delayed, and the creative job satisfaction is poor. At private companies like SpaceX, things are getting built now.

Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

Obligatory xkcd reference (5, Interesting)

hamjudo (64140) | about 3 months ago | (#47678987)

The talent behind xkcd [xkcd.com] is a former NASA engineer.

Re:Obligatory xkcd reference (1)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | about 3 months ago | (#47679849)

The talent behind xkcd [xkcd.com] is a former NASA engineer.

Big deal. I also worked *at* the NASA Langley Research Center -- with Unisys (1988-92) as a system admin/programmer on the super computing network - Cray-2 and YMP, several Convex systems, etc... and with SAIC (1996-98) as a sysadmin on the CERES [nasa.gov] project - Sun E5000, SGI Origin 2000, ~100 Sun/SGI workstations, etc...

The Cray-2, Voyager [nasa.gov] , ended up at the Virginia Air and Space Museum in 1996 btw.

Re:Obligatory xkcd reference (1)

Zero__Kelvin (151819) | about 3 months ago | (#47680089)

OP
___
Your Head

Re:Obligatory xkcd reference (1)

sexconker (1179573) | about 3 months ago | (#47680339)

The talent behind xkcd [xkcd.com] is a former NASA engineer.

I think you misspelled "hack".

Re:Obligatory xkcd reference (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47680625)

The talent behind xkcd [xkcd.com] is a former NASA engineer.

I think you misspelled "hack".

hacking is applauded on this site and viewed as a skill you might try different terminology next time.

Re:Obligatory xkcd reference (0)

Cammi (1956130) | about 3 months ago | (#47680785)

No, criminals are not applauded.

Re:Obligatory xkcd reference (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47681289)

What's the deal with "Amy Hoffman (not her real name)"?
No big deal except it makes the connection by readers that she's a "gifted engineer" somewhat unsubstantiated.
TLDR the article, but no indication there either that "Hoffman (not her real name)" is "gifted", or even exactly what type of "engineering" she's involved with.

Why didn't story just use "Tinker Bell (not her real name)"?

Follow the money (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47678993)

NASA isn't hot because it hasn't done anything since they retired the Space Shuttle in 2011. And it's likely to remain that way until 2020 when the first multi-billion dollar SLS finally makes it off the factory floor. That is two and a half generations of engineers graduating from college with no reason to work for NASA.

Re:Follow the money (1, Insightful)

sillybilly (668960) | about 3 months ago | (#47680347)

Nasa, in view of the global financial crises, is an unnecessary luxury item in the eyes of the leaders. Until you say something that space is gonna be full of Chinese space station, or even Russian, Indian, and Brazilian, and none from the US, and then they all get excited. We can't let that happen. But NASA is a gov't run institution, probably full of red tape and stagnation. The most efficient human organizational unit is the gang (as in drug dealer black gangs from the hood, or maffiozo italian gangs from the 20's), or clan (same as gang, but more used for when white people do it), or Chaebol (such as LG, Samsung, anything South Korean - where, by the way, they discriminate so bad that they advertise a maximum age for a job posting, such as 40 for a pHd R&D scientist, and 25 for a shop floor laborer, but privatized clanist South Korea leaves the communist egalitarian North Korea in the dust when it comes to economic efficiency), which can function as a private company, and get things done. Men in prison tend to form gangs and affiliations with gangs, while women in prison tend to create homes, and small families, where some women role-play the male roles or the babies. Women don't form gangs, but men do. Some women with military and police experience and tradition might be interesting to see how they behave in prison, whether they form gangs too.

Re:Follow the money (0)

sillybilly (668960) | about 3 months ago | (#47680513)

And I see union postings further below, that reminds me, unions are a form of gang, as long as they stay small. When the trans-Alaskan oil pipeline was built in the 70's, it was done by unions. It was both a massive failure and a success at the same time. For one, the budget overruns were huge (I think 3x by the end), there was corruption such as some x-ray tech only x-raying every 3rd weld, and copying and pasting the data for the other ones in the records, so they had to go back and re-x-ray everything. But it was an inhumane job, in an inhumane terrain, sometimes having to cross impassable mountain passes where the unions compete to see who can pony up a guy who's willing to sacrifice his life, and climb some extremely dangerous part, and do a weld, or whatever dangerous things arise. And whoever had a guy like that, made that union proud and left the others in shame. It's like gangs against gangs, like in sports, teams against teams. So in this sense you should not have something like the UAW take over all unions, because then you don't get gang competition, you need lots of gangs, or at the very least two major ones, who can compete against each other, just like you can't have one party like the Communists or Nazis did it, but have at least two dominant ones, democrat and republican, otherwise, with only one, who's gonna watch out for when the other doesn't do his job correctly? By the way the guy in charge of the trans-Alaskan pipeline died very shortly after it was completed, and it's not sure if it was just from the overwork he did, he worked himself to death, never getting enough sleep and always flying about in a chopper, or he got killed, for all the budget overruns and fuck ups that happened. But we did get oil from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez, the northernmost seaport which stays unfrozen year round, where the Exxon Valdez spill happened, a big deal at the time, but nothing compared to later spills since then.

Re:Follow the money (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47681147)

"is an unnecessary luxury item"

Except there is little suggest of decreasing NASA's budget, only redirecting it away from science and research and into a huge, massively expensive, probably unnecessary, likely dangerous launch vehicle. For the same amount that NASA is being forced to burn on just developing SLS we could have HUNDREDS of commercial launches with thousands of tons of cargo. Its not about saving money but making sure that it continues to flow where certain government officials/defense contractors want it to.

Re:Follow the money (4, Insightful)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | about 3 months ago | (#47680901)

NASA isn't hot because it hasn't done anything since they retired the Space Shuttle in 2011.

I would suggest that the current malaise at NASA extends through the Shuttle program. Operating a first generation prototype for over a quarter of a century? Hell, just flying the same five vehicles for a quarter of a century (not even replacing those that crashed) is hardly a sign of a place that will thrill an innovative young engineer. It's more like a railway museum than a space agency.

Another sign NASA is circling the drain ... (3, Insightful)

schwit1 (797399) | about 3 months ago | (#47678997)

NASA headquarters staff votes to unionize.
http://www.ifpte.org/news/deta... [ifpte.org]

Anyone with the slightest objectivity knows that the working conditions for federal employees in Washington is glorious, with pay about double what everyone else in the country makes and benefits far exceeding even the best private packages. In addition, the hours are great and just slightly longer than what my generation would have called bankers’ hours. Moreover, if I can be blunt, these engineers are mostly paper pushers. They are not the one’s designing and building anything that might fly in space. Their only reason to unionize now is because they see a threat to their cushy jobs with the advent of private space and are organizing to secure their unneeded positions.

Re:Another sign NASA is circling the drain ... (3)

poached (1123673) | about 3 months ago | (#47679197)

There is rarely a better job than the federal government, if you can get in that is. Rather than take the best and brightest, they have a black hole of a job portal called usajobs.gov. Think about applying to private sector jobs is painful? Try applying for federal jobs. Jobs are posted six months ahead so you just sit there wondering if you made it to the next round. And it's kind of like applying to college. You don't know why you got rejected because the skills they are looking for are not very well defined.

Re:Another sign NASA is circling the drain ... (5, Insightful)

AutodidactLabrat (3506801) | about 3 months ago | (#47679279)

I often come to Slashdot to see the latest in 'hate government' postings.
NASA workers making double? Seems you didn't read the article. For profit often has higher wages for the elite performers
That being said, the same for-profit operation will go 'least common denominator' the moment, the VERY moment they achieve monopoly status, which is the whole point of the patents and copyrights they issue
Inevitably, government service produces products similar in quality to the electoral politics that rule them
Whereas for-profit products always mimic the autocratic rulers who make decisions leading to the likes of Comcast, ATT, So Cal Edison and the like.
So, hate on children, and don't fly commercial airlines...the Air Traffic Controllers are all Government employees.(and do you really want to be stuck in NY Kennedy airspace with 8 competing ATC's from 4 different companies?)

Re:Another sign NASA is circling the drain ... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47679403)

'I often come to Slashdot to see the latest in 'hate government' postings.'

Maybe one day you'll get it.

"At NASA, young engineers find that they spend a lot of time with bureaucracy, the pace is slow, their projects often get canceled or delayed, and the creative job satisfaction is poor."

This is pretty general of any government position - plenty of red tape, slow pace, delayed/cancelled projects. The only good thing is that you're more likely to get struck by lightning than loose your job - since it's easy to spend other peoples money.

Re:Another sign NASA is circling the drain ... (1)

Tailhook (98486) | about 3 months ago | (#47679455)

the Air Traffic Controllers are all Government employees

You mean the ones that tried to go on strike and we fired en masse to reign in their union demands?

Because if that is the policy you're advocating then I think you and the GP might have found some common ground.

Re:Another sign NASA is circling the drain ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47679513)

the Air Traffic Controllers are all Government employees

You mean the ones that tried to go on strike and we fired en masse to reign in their union demands?

You mean the ones that had a No Strike clause in their contract?

Re:Another sign NASA is circling the drain ... (1)

sillybilly (668960) | about 3 months ago | (#47680575)

Air traffic control is the most subhuman job in the entire world. I think they each should get paid better than the top CEO's anywhere.

Re:Another sign NASA is circling the drain ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47680481)

Agreed! You aren't going to get rich in government service (even SES levels mainly get the experience, resume, and contacts so they can jump to something in private industry). This idea of super salaries comes from jobs that would traditionally not get paid much (secretary, machinist, etc) outside government, but they get paid a nice hefty salary inside. Engineers and the likes aren't getting crazy salaries, and in most cases their salaries could be much (much) better outside.

Unfortunately, for those who are trying to stay in to make a difference for those that follow, either they get burned out, leave to find a job where they "ENGINEER" things or they become part of the problem because they lost their will. It seems like government work is mainly paper and politics... I hope it can change, but with the latest I have heard with congress attacking SpaceX... I don't know how much hope I can muster.

Re:Another sign NASA is circling the drain ... (2)

Whorhay (1319089) | about 3 months ago | (#47680981)

I'll grant you that the Federal Civil Service has some pretty good benefits. But the pay is not always one of them. I've known people that were hired away by contractors to work in the same shop for a 50% pay increase.

USAJOBS is pretty awful, partly that is a result of managers writing up the requirements when they have little to no expertise with the subject at hand. The feedback is horrendous, and sadly it used to be even worse.

Re:Another sign NASA is circling the drain ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47679301)

So, in an article about how engineers are leaving NASA to work for higher pay at private corporations, you post about federal employees being paid more. I suspect he article is more accurate. While some federal employees might be paid more, many of the highly skilled & educated technical ones aren't.

Also, if "your generation" called 9 to 5 "bankers' hours", you had some hard working banks with long hours.

Re:Another sign NASA is circling the drain ... (2)

barlevg (2111272) | about 3 months ago | (#47679971)

Wow is this uneducated. I can't speak to the federal workforce as a whole, but for a variety of technical fields, like the one described in this article, as well as my own (data science), the federal government pays "competitively" but salaries in the private sector tend to be quite a bit higher. As for the hours and the benefits, that's largely a function of where you work, but I will point out that federal pensions for new hires got slashed [govexec.com] as part of a recent round of budget negotiations.

Re:Another sign NASA is circling the drain ... (4, Informative)

Moof123 (1292134) | about 3 months ago | (#47680555)

Wow you are ignorant.

Yes, the average federal worker makes double the average salary across the US. However, most federal employees have to have a college degree, which makes a comparison between a Federal employee and a Walmart employee pretty meaningless. My guess is you already know this and are likely either a mindless Fox watching drone, or a paid shill.

When skills are normalized, federal workers make substantially less (http://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/cbofiles/attachments/01-30-FedPay.pdf). The very top of the federal pay scale is under 150k (and the DC area is very pricey to live in), compare that to silicon valley or Wall Street.

NASA has been starved down to a rotting skeleton, as it is an easy punching bag for the right.

Re:Another sign NASA is circling the drain ... (2)

lister king of smeg (2481612) | about 3 months ago | (#47681039)

NASA has been starved down to a rotting skeleton, as it is an easy punching bag for the right.

I don't think the right stands for what you think it does, as they are the ones that fund it when they get elected,

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/V... [wikipedia.org]

Where the left when the get elected tend to do things like scrap our rocket program at the same time they decommission our shuttles leaving us with no space vehicle. And say oh well we will just pay other people to take us to space.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v... [youtube.com]

As Neil deGrass Tyson points out it isn't the right that is cutting science funding like they are often accused instead they tend to better fund the hard sciences and agencies like NASA, where left leaning administrations tend to cut funding.

Not Surprising (2)

Noble713 (3516573) | about 3 months ago | (#47679001)

It's no longer "news" to find that a private sector company has a leaner, less bureaucratic environment and workflow than a Federal government agency.

Re:Not Surprising (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47679033)

It's about the boss of SpaceX going (in so many words)... "Yeah we're going to fucking MARS. Wanna help/come along?".

Well.. fuck yes. Sign me up. Of course he attracts talent.

Re:Not Surprising (4, Insightful)

eepok (545733) | about 3 months ago | (#47679173)

And that's the way it's supposed to be. The big funding, risk, and genuine exploration is done by the bloated, but driven, government. Once all the basics have been proven, once all the risks have been measured, and once a potential business model evolves from that exploration, then private business comes in to profitize it.

When the government loses the drive to continue exploration, private industry moves in to profitize and expand until they can no longer profitize. Then government comes in, uses what private business learned, and then does big exploration all over again. Etc.

All big exploration starts with governments. The private sector comes in only after the risky, heavy lifting is done. It's a symbiotic relationship.

Re:Not Surprising (0, Flamebait)

AutodidactLabrat (3506801) | about 3 months ago | (#47679291)

Don't forget all the Subsidies and Tax Breaks for the Private Profiteers that Government is required to give in order to satisfy the Libertarian Urge to profit at all costs...OUR costs, their profits.

Re:Not Surprising (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47680171)

If government weren't so big it would need (or be able) to offer Subsidies and Tax Breaks.

Libertarians (the real ones, not the corporatists masquerading as libertarians) want to spread that benefit around to everyone.

Re:Not Surprising (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47679399)

All big exploration starts with governments

Subjectively, all "big" exploration starts with government. Objectively, all unjustifiable exploration starts with government. The reason is obvious -- if the project was justified by the private sector, then there would be no need to force others (who won't justify it) to pay for it.

Before you mod this down, have a crack at trying to break my logic.

Re:Not Surprising (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47679657)

Time.
The time horizon for the private sector is very small. So your (very loaded) word unjustifiable should be the phrase 'justifiable in the long term'.

Also, ownership.
It can be difficult for a single firm to monetize the products of exploration; that constraint doesn't apply to governments.

I could go on, but breaking your logic (or more accurately your premises) is pretty easy ....

Re:Not Surprising (1)

imikem (767509) | about 3 months ago | (#47679663)

Really? This article concerns NASA, which pioneered the exploration of space. Are you saying that was unjustifiable? Which private sector entities were clamoring to throw money at it in 1961?

Re:Not Surprising (2)

0123456 (636235) | about 3 months ago | (#47679783)

What, exactly, was the long-term benefit of NASA 'space exploration' in the 1960s?

Apollo was the kind of technical program which could only have been achieved with tax funding, because no-one else could see any use for it to justify the money. So, they went to the Moon, then... stopped. Leaving just a few moon rocks and some rusting rocket stages.

That's what happens when you push for 'big' exploration. Government is funding it precisely because it makes no sense. If it made sense, private organisations would already be doing it.

Re:Not Surprising (1)

imikem (767509) | about 3 months ago | (#47680191)

I believe there were many benefits, well justifying the cost. You apparently disagree, fine. Your arguments are unlikely to persuade me, and vice versa. Good day sir.

Re:Not Surprising (1)

0123456 (636235) | about 3 months ago | (#47680503)

In other words, you can't answer my question, so you're going to take your ball and go home.

Re:Not Surprising (2)

peragrin (659227) | about 3 months ago | (#47680515)

Yes and no. There were very few direct profits from the Apollo project. However it did spurn a ton of new ways of thinking and materials science that lead to profits for companies.

However a private company only cares about itself. It doesn't matter if dozens other companies make profit from your research and requests. So no Apollo would never have been done by private companies because it isn't profitable to them. This is why you have government projects. To fund the initial crazy ideas that may of May not fail themselves but lead to new ways of thinking.

If Apollo and NASA did t need smaller computers would IBM and Intel have ever been formed?

Re:Not Surprising (2)

0123456 (636235) | about 3 months ago | (#47680647)

If Apollo and NASA did t need smaller computers would IBM and Intel have ever been formed?

You do realize that IBM was founded in 1911, right?

As for ICs, at best Apollo brought the development forward a few years. And, if you really wanted to bring the development of ICs forward a few years, you could just have spent a few million doing so.

Same for those other 'spinoffs'. The spinoff argument never works, because, if they actually matter, you could just have developed those things and not bothered with the whole Moon business.

Re: Not Surprising (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47681077)

What non-government actor or non-government funded research institution was clamoring for a globally interconnected computer network infrastructure back in the 1970's in order to enable Bezos to sell you books by the mid-2000s?

Re:Not Surprising (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47679693)

break my logic

"force".

Public and private property are two different sorts of justification for force. Religious extremists tend to believe that only one or the other is legitimate. Pragmatists, i.e. people living in the real world, acknowledge that they're merely two convenient ways of managing society which both have their place.

So, the government upholds your right to hold do what you will with your laptop because "it's mine", regardless of what anyone else things should be done with it; it also upholds the right for people to direct government ownership of e.g. the road network. If everything were managed by only one of these methods, life would be shit.

Re:Not Surprising (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47680711)

It's funny that you said that on the internet.

Re:Not Surprising (1)

fustakrakich (1673220) | about 3 months ago | (#47679827)

It's a symbiotic relationship.

Extremely. They even exchange bodily fluids, through a protective revolving door of course. It is industry that creates governments, to enforce rules of business, and to take back half the money they pay us to fund all these great projects.

Re:Not Surprising (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about 3 months ago | (#47679969)

The 'basics' to Mars have hardly been proven. Actually, what SpaceX is doing is bootstrapping up on 'simple' things - getting something to LEO. That's been proven to work. Then going to Mars (perhaps). But you have to start doing relatively straightforward stuff before you can do the esoteric - at least in meatspace engineering.

But, as you say, NASA's job was pushing at frontiers. That's actually what NASA was doing in Mercury - Gemini - Apollo. Then the military with their 'we-want-it-don't-much-care-how' attitude that brought you the Shuttle Kludge pushed in and pretty much trashed the Shuttle (and, ironically reincarnated it as the XB-37). Then it started costing real money and Congress got their fingers in it. The results were predictable.

NASA is in a bit of a bind. They still do a lot of basic research and even applied research (mostly in aeronautics vs. space) but the marquee projects have taken huge hits and management has been beat up at multiple levels. Remember, the big thing with the Apollo program wasn't so much the tech. It was getting all of those bits of tech rolled up into a project that could launch the most complex device ever created and get parts of it back. We've completely lost that management structure. It can be argued that modern engineering and computer science makes that investment in human management unneeded - that's what Musk is really trying to prove - that a small company can put all of the bits and pieces together to do something it took NASA tens of thousands of people to do.

I'm a bit doubtful but I wish him all of the luck - at least he's doing something.

Re:Not Surprising (1)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | about 3 months ago | (#47681225)

Then the military with their 'we-want-it-don't-much-care-how' attitude that brought you the Shuttle Kludge pushed in and pretty much trashed the Shuttle

It's a standard part of the myth, but it's not true. The involvement of the USAF in the Shuttle design came at the request of (and lobbying by) NASA management in order to try to get defence funding for the Shuttle (and when that failed, to just make the Shuttle uncancellable. "National security!" It's part of the reason why the Shuttle (and now SLS) used SRBs, to keep ATK profitable, to preserve ICBM production knowledge.) The USAF initially bought into the bullshit being spread by NASA about the Shuttle's proposed capabilities ("launch once a week, cost under $100m per launch!"), but never enough to contribute funding. And then when the true limits and costs of the Shuttle became apparent, they pulled all involvement and funded the EELV upgrades.

The problems of the Shuttle were entirely of NASA's own making. Likewise "Freedom", now ISS. Likewise JWST. Likewise Constellation/SLS/Orion. Likewise their other failed programs. They, and their strongest supporters in Congress, keep repeating the same mistakes over and over and expecting a different result.

Re:Not Surprising (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47680545)

If SpaceX gets to Mars first, they might prove your statement wrong... but so far, yeah I think thats true... Even Chris was funded by Spain to find the "New World"

Re:Not Surprising (1)

0123456 (636235) | about 3 months ago | (#47680615)

So, who funded the Native Americans who found the "New World" thousands of years before he did?

Re:Not Surprising (3, Insightful)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | about 3 months ago | (#47681043)

So, who funded the Native Americans who found the "New World" thousands of years before he did?

Their community.

Each explorer of the next-valley-over was reared and fed and protected and trained by the rest of the tribe through mostly communal ownership of major resources. The explorer then returned with news of bounteous herds of Caribou (or clams or whatever) and gave that knowledge to the entire tribe to replay their tolerance for his youthful indulgence. They, in turn, shared the new wealth amongst the whole tribe. The idea that the explorer alone would claim rights to the new land/resource for himself and "sell" access to the others would be so foreign to the tribe they wouldn't understand what the words mean.

[Occasionally, one presumes, groups might break off from the main tribe and forge ahead into the new land, due to politics or ambition. But even then, the ownership of the new resource was shared amongst the break-away tribe.]

Re:Not Surprising (2)

riverat1 (1048260) | about 3 months ago | (#47679921)

When it comes to government bureaucracy how much of it is due to the need to document everything so they can prove that they're not wasting taxpayer dollars? It seems like a no-win situation for them. If you're not going to trust that people are doing their jobs conscientiously then you have to live with the inefficiency that all of that documentation requires.

Re:Not Surprising (1)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | about 3 months ago | (#47681085)

Adding procedures is easy, removing procedures is hard.

Adding procedures is usually like a bug-fix in a program, correcting for unintended behaviour or interaction in the other procedures. But reducing procedures is more like scrapping an entire code-base and starting with a blank sheet. Exciting, but much bigger and much riskier. (And more likely to go wrong and piss people off. See Slashdot Beta.)

Mad Men (5, Insightful)

Lonboder (3630313) | about 3 months ago | (#47679041)

NASA came into its maturity during the Mad Men era of skinny ties and big business. William Shockley had only just left Bell Labs to invent Silicon Valley. Bureaucracy was king. IBM was king of the castle. And NASA still has, I think (I never worked for NASA, but have several friends who did), very much of an IBM-era culture. Many really talented programmers and engineers would rather work for a Silicon Valley startup than get a rank-and-file job at IBM or Microsoft. Riskier, sure, but things get built. Today. Your input can be valuable, or even essential, to the shape of the product that hits the market, and there aren't so many layers of management above you that you don't get seen and respected for your contribution.

It's hardly surprising that talented young space engineers want to work for Silicon Valley-era companies. I'm sure many young automotive engineers would rather work for Tesla or Lit than GM. The era of the tie-wearing commuting suburbanite is coming to a conclusion. I'm not sure that's a bad thing.

Re:Mad Men (1)

Noble713 (3516573) | about 3 months ago | (#47679349)

Interesting observation on the "IBM Bureacracy era" metastasizing across government agencies. I've had similar thoughts about the inefficiencies inherent in the Department of Defense. Procedures were introduced in the mid-1940's to manage a globe-spanning total war effort coordinating tens of millions of men. The war went away, the gigantic military (partially) went away.....but the bureaucracy didn't. And now, in the 21st century, it's a hindrance rather than a help.

Re:Mad Men (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47679363)

To be honest I'd rather have job security than work in some rockstar environment.

I think a lot of people get into IT with a lottery attitude; like they'll find that right startup or perfect small company and make a mint and live the slazy life. The reality is the endless drudgery of making lateral moves for slight pay increases and going the extra mile for not a while lot in return...

Re:Mad Men (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47680445)

I was a co-op student that worked at IBM in the 80's. I shared an office with an engineer who spent the first hour reading the paper. For the rest of the day, much time was spent in status meetings or on group trips to the coffee vending machines. There was also shock when I actually found an issue on the design I was asked to review.

At that point, I decided to seek challenging, interesting work at the expense of job security*.

* Turns out job security is an illusion in the long run. The only security is keeping yourself useful and marketable.

Re:Mad Men (4, Interesting)

linuxwrangler (582055) | about 3 months ago | (#47679579)

I grew up at Naval Air Weapons Station (nee Naval Weapons Center nee Naval Ordnance Test Station - bureaucracy at work) China Lake where my father was a top engineer. The base in those days operated much like the private space companies of today. Much of that culture is captured in the book "Sidewinder: Creative Missile Development at China Lake" which describes the freedom to tinker, rebuild and test things from what would have been scrap (radar antenna motors would be resued as the proof-of-concept drive motors for prototype missile seekers, for instance) and to, er, "repurpose" new equipment as necessary. Engineers might not expect to have a desk, carpet or file-cabinet but every one had their own fully equipped workbench chock full of signal generators, scopes, meters and whatever else they needed and they attracted a group of incredible engineers from Cal, Stanford, MIT, CalTech and the like who developed weapons like the Sidewinder, Walleye, HARM, Shrike and more - many of which the top brass hadn't even conceived of but the engineers knew were needed. Sidewinder was originally described as a "local fuse project" and developed skunkworks-style in-house with a variety of volunteer efforts and budget shuffling. It didn't become an official program until 5-years after it was started and was mature enough to demonstrate to Admiral Parsons at the Bureau of Ordnance. Nowdays that would result in congressional investigations and charges instead of praise.

Sadly China Lake, too, has devolved into knee-deep carpeted program-management offices overseeing outsourced contractors and no longer has the same attraction for the freewheeling inventor that it once did. Fortunately there are still places where the workbench-first ethos still thrives.

Wow. (4, Interesting)

twistedcubic (577194) | about 3 months ago | (#47679075)


In Hoffman's three years at NASA, she worked on only one or two projects that would ever see space, which she considers a very poor rate.

A student who, in three years, has worked on a couple of projects which will possibly see space? To me, that sounds like the stuff that makes parents proud.

Re:Wow. (1)

NoNonAlphaCharsHere (2201864) | about 3 months ago | (#47679107)

Indeed. There are principal investigators who have spent their whole 30-year careers on a single project.

Re:Wow. (1)

Overzeetop (214511) | about 3 months ago | (#47679325)

Seriously. A fast cradle-to-grave spacecraft is 2-3 years. We built Pegsat faster, but it was really just a quickie so that the maiden flight of Pegasus (which failed) has something to carry. Even with all the principal investigator work done, it was a solid 18 months to complete reviews, assembly, and testing to fly a secondary payload in the shuttle.

Even college projects which are more than a half-baked demo last most of a year, and real college research projects stretch through multiple years. She will probably be disappointed when she spends the next two years on a small group of components in one aspect of a spacecraft, though a seasoned engineer would revel in having the time to perfect something like that.

Re: Wow. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47679155)

I worked on two hardware systems now flying on board the ISS. While the science and engineering is exciting the bureaucracy and management is approaching untoleable for me.

Re:Wow. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47679729)

Then again, look at SpaceX--they got maybe 6 things in space this year. Military, maybe 12, NASA, maybe 4, orbital, maybe 5.

Grass is greener on the other side folks--SpaceX is on par with everyone else.

The only think SpaceX has going for it is risk-management: their funder (Musk) doesn't care and has made his decision to spend the funds on their mission. NASA has the gov't to deal with and those congressman want zero risk and all profit in most cases and that's a conflict hence the bureaucracy & red tape. Musk is gambling with Risk vs Reward... and I hope he wins as I agree with the reward.

It's easy to spend your money, much harder to spend someone else's when they provide penalties (aka strings).

Two reasons why engineers are fleeing NASA for private companies
a. Older folks -- for the cash (SpaceX salaries + benefits are quite good compared to Gov't)
b. younger folks -- for the ego (SpaceX operates like a SV startup)

Re:Wow. (2)

0123456 (636235) | about 3 months ago | (#47679841)

The only think SpaceX has going for it is risk-management

Sure, if you ignore the minor things like launching satellites for a fraction of the cost of existing companies, thereby opening up new markets in space, and developing technologies like returning used rocket stages to the launch site to reduce those costs even further.

Re:Wow. (1)

wagnerrp (1305589) | about 3 months ago | (#47679893)

The implication is that as a student, they moved her around to many different projects in many different areas to get a wider breadth of experience, but only a couple of them were ever likely to come to fruition.

What's the problem? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47679077)

Uh? Good?

Wait, what? (4, Insightful)

NoNonAlphaCharsHere (2201864) | about 3 months ago | (#47679089)

So you're saying that it's NASA engineers' job to write the specs and certifications and come up with the checklists and training and contingency and mission plans, and it's up to outside contractors to actually build the shit? So, like it's always been and designed to be then.

Wait, what? (3, Insightful)

WinterSolstice (223271) | about 3 months ago | (#47679247)

Exactly. This has been the goal of NASA from day 1. To inspire people to actually go *DO* this stuff.

NASA was ever only a way to encourage private industry to make these leaps themselves. Well, and probably to be the FAA for LEO

Re:Wait, what? (1)

0123456 (636235) | about 3 months ago | (#47679717)

Exactly. This has been the goal of NASA from day 1. To inspire people to actually go *DO* this stuff.

Really? 'Cause I don't see that in the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958. The word 'inspire' doesn't appear there once.

Re:Wait, what? (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about 3 months ago | (#47680057)

It's there though. To be fair, NASA does have a fair amount of in house engineering although a hell of a lot less than in the glory days. But the big projects have always been through contractors.

NASA was more like the general contractor on a construction site - an architect designed things, structural engineers designed things, construction crews built it - but somebody had to organize it. And, with the Saturn V / Apollo stack, they had to organize the most complex device ever created. Took some work, it did. Especially when you consider the level of automation available then. Most engineers still used slide rules when Apollo 11 took off.

Poorly disguised dice.com job ad (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47679169)

SpaceX pays below comps, works engineers like dogs http://www.reddit.com/r/engineering/comments/26k4b0/why_is_pay_at_spacex_so_low/ [reddit.com] and is even bent sued over blocking employees from taking lunch breaks.

This has got to be the most blatent white-washing of an advertorial I've seen in a while (even worse than Timothy's posts).

Take that garbage back to the dice.com job boards where it should have stayed.

Re:Poorly disguised dice.com job ad (1)

alen (225700) | about 3 months ago | (#47679239)

google, apple, MS and others do the same

take a bunch of people fresh out of college
wow them with awesome bennies like food, beds in the office, free bus service, etc
give them 6 months to figure out the benefits are there to keep you in the office and working almost 24x7 and so you can sleep on the bus instead of driving home tired so you can work longer

Re:Poorly disguised dice.com job ad (1)

stoploss (2842505) | about 3 months ago | (#47679335)

give them 6 months to figure out the benefits are there to keep you in the office and working almost 24x7 and so you can sleep on the bus instead of driving home tired so you can work longer

Okay? When I was fresh out of college I *wanted* to work until I dropped. I just made sure I got paid for it... started my own consulting business.

If you're working on a project you find intellectually stimulating and inspiring, and have no family attachments, and are being well compensated, then why not? Of course, when a client really wanted me to take a salaried job with them, I told them I wouldn't work over 40 hours a week... and so I didn't.

If you don't want to work that much, fine, but don't let your predilections interfere with those of others.

To parody Dragonheart... (1)

Ken_g6 (775014) | about 3 months ago | (#47679211)

They've always wanted to fly. Now they want to flee!

Summary (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47679221)

Summary: Females given special perks choose a workplace with more opportunity for human interaction.

Houston is not where you build spacecraft (4, Interesting)

Overzeetop (214511) | about 3 months ago | (#47679245)

I co-oped at NASA Goddard, and we actually built stuff. At Johnson and in most of the Government offices at Kennedy and JPL it's all contractor management. Marshall had some real space work going on at the time. Ames does more aeronautical, iirc.

I lucked out and landed in a small division that built and flew small expendable payloads and secondary shuttle payloads. We were housed in half of a building that had been converted from a high-bay shop. The other half was still a shop - an actual machine shop - and optical facility. You designed stuff, and then could walk over and talk to a machinist about the project. Finalize a drawing and it might be fabbed on site or sent out, but it came back and got assembled in a clean room that was at the end of a hall of engineers offices. The controls group had benches full of electronics and components - they even did basic balancing and testing of momentum wheels in the same pod as where the offices were.

It was, possibly, one of the coolest jobs on the planet - and I was there for almost 9 years in all. But there was precious little of that in the agency as a whole. We had been moving more and more to contractors over the years - more than half of the people I worked with side by side were actually contractors. A contract would end and be re-bid, and whoever won would hire 98% of the people who worked for the old contractor and nothing would change except who the agency made out the check to each month. At JPL it's all contractors - when my life took me to LA I found out that they don't have engineers, just staff to manage the contracts with CalTech and the other contractors who do pretty much everything. At Kennedy you can be written up for holding a wrench if you're not a member of the union for one of the contractors there. We got out own cleanroom to isolate our team from the rest of those politics when we did integration at the cape.

Re:Houston is not where you build spacecraft (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47680539)

I was there for almost 9 years

What kind of co-op program were you in?

Too Much Bureaucracy (1)

jasper160 (2642717) | about 3 months ago | (#47679311)

My brother interned there for a summer and said he would never set foot in there again. It was corrupted by bureaucracy and innovation was frowned upon. He works in the private space sector where he makes much more and isn't hamstrung by politicians.

Re:Too Much Bureaucracy (1)

FatAlb3rt (533682) | about 3 months ago | (#47680215)

Same here - 8 years in flight design. Cool stuff at the beginning, but then you start seeing that the contractor companies care more about keeping seats warm and not making waves than progress and innovation.

speaking as a senior engineer (4, Insightful)

nimbius (983462) | about 3 months ago | (#47679327)

young engineers find that they spend a lot of time with bureaucracy, the pace is slow, their projects often get canceled or delayed, and the creative job satisfaction is poor.

Yes. im sorry you had to find out this way, but most engineering work is a bureaucratic rats nest. most of the meetings you're involved in are already pre-determined. That is, tens or hundreds of meetings in the past, before you were hired, determined the scope and pace of the particular project you've been tasked to work with. I dont task my young engineers with small tediums like compressor analysis or or structural meshing to torture them. New hires and college grads need to understand the fundamentals of our project before they dive into the bigger picture. the thermodynamic elements of most projects are a moebius strip of endless complexity few people under 10 years of experience with the company could ever comprehend. If you want creative freedom, pack your cube and go be a designer. Creative freedom may make you feel good, but when we're designing a thermonuclear power plant turbine, your special snowflake idea isnt being rejected because we dont like you but because our design has 40 years of in-the-field testing and functionality, and includes a fully scoped maintenance cycle that keeps america from celibrating its very own chernobyl.

projects can and do get cancelled. deal with it, because its rarely the result of anything you did. Maybe the nation-state that wanted your new jet engines decided to spend the money on ethnic cleansing, who knows. dont take it personally. make sure you at least learned something from that project. Finally, i cant stress this enough: you are an engineer, and the pace should be slow. part of that is in your software. ansys, nastran, and fluent jobs will run for weeks at a time, wiping your ass to make sure your design or part is solid and incapable of immolating a school under normal operational parameters. you can quicken the pace by specifying realistic resources to use before you submit to the simulation cluster, and optimizing your simulations instead of queueing them up, locking your screen, and going off to lunch. monitor your checkpoints for failures in convergence. use the latest software instead of demonizing it. run it multicore, and for god sake stop being retiscent and stubborn about new shit that can help you like simulation timing blocks. and another thing, close the application so your license is returned to the pool and can be used on other projects, most of which yours depends on.

now get off my lawn.

Re:speaking as a senior engineer (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47679835)

Yes. im sorry you had to find out this way, but most engineering work is a bureaucratic rats nest. most of the meetings you're involved in are already pre-determined.

Sounds like every other industry:

Software -- design, code, bug reviews
Ads/Marketing -- strategy sessions
Acting -- script readings
Law -- paperwork meetings.

Only 2 I know of that require you to focus more at the task at hand are:
Doctors
Wall Street

Re:speaking as a senior engineer (1)

WheezyJoe (1168567) | about 3 months ago | (#47679839)

thermonuclear power plant turbine

thermonuclear? you mean like the H-bomb, but it's a power plant? with... a turbine? you worked on that?
then I will stay off your lawn, but maybe I could borrow your mower?

Re:speaking as a senior engineer (1)

cbhacking (979169) | about 3 months ago | (#47680417)

Well, we do have prototype fusion (thermonuclear) power plants. You need a way to actually extract power from the plant, though. one of the standard ways to do that still is, and always has been, to use the heat it generates to boil water, and use the resulting steam to drive something. As far as I know, all nuclear (fission) power plants - not to be confused with RTGs - use steam turbines. It seems like the obvious approach if you're building a fusion plant, too.

Or the GP could just be wrong. That's possible, certainly.

Re:speaking as a senior engineer (1)

dj245 (732906) | about 3 months ago | (#47681141)

Finally, i cant stress this enough: you are an engineer, and the pace should be slow. part of that is in your software. ansys, nastran, and fluent jobs will run for weeks at a time, wiping your ass to make sure your design or part is solid and incapable of immolating a school under normal operational parameters. you can quicken the pace by specifying realistic resources to use before you submit to the simulation cluster, and optimizing your simulations instead of queueing them up, locking your screen, and going off to lunch. monitor your checkpoints for failures in convergence. use the latest software instead of demonizing it. run it multicore, and for god sake stop being retiscent and stubborn about new shit that can help you like simulation timing blocks. and another thing, close the application so your license is returned to the pool and can be used on other projects, most of which yours depends on. now get off my lawn.

It doesn't have to be. I work in energy - coal and natural gas power stations maintenance. When we open up a turbine or a boiler, from breaker open to breaker closed is somewhere between 32 and 45 days generally. The busy season is fall and spring. Typically I have worked on anywhere between 3 and 12 jobs in a season (spring or fall), depending on what my role was and what needed doing. You never know what you will find when you open the machine up either, so things can get exciting.

Government (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47679385)

Need we more proof that the government literally(figuratively) sucks at everything at 10x the cost.

Private enterprise vs. Big Govt enterprise (1)

2ms (232331) | about 3 months ago | (#47679411)

Is there anyone surprised that work at private companies is more successful than work in big government institutions? In other news, South Korea better off than North Korea, West Germany than East Germany, Taiwan than Mainland, Florida than Cuba,...

Re:Private enterprise vs. Big Govt enterprise (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47679859)

People seem to think NASA does tons of building itself. That is simply not true. Most of what they do is PM work. However, they have to understand what their contractors are doing to make sure they contractor is not going into the weeds. Even back 'in the day'. Typically it was Grumman, GD, and Northrup doing the building. NASA usually did test. Even for the moon launches they had people on the pad...

People seem to confuse creative work with contracting and PM work. They are not the same thing. Some are good at one vs another. This girl sounds like she would be more happy in creative work. I know people though that love their MS projects.

One you create the other you manage.

NASA is mostly PM work. NASA though is a bit more hands on. But it in the end is paper work, meeting, PM work.

Job Security (3, Interesting)

ThatsNotPudding (1045640) | about 3 months ago | (#47679417)

Working at Space X would be cool; just like Tesla, until you're part of the 6% summarily shit-canned and told it wasn't a layoff, you just suddenly weren't good enough anymore. I assume this would happen less often or at least far more slowly with far better protections at NASA.

Re:Job Security (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47680257)

until you're part of the 6% summarily shit-canned and told it wasn't a layoff, you just suddenly weren't good enough anymore.

Where I work we call that a "talent upgrade", although we haven't had one for a few years now. I almost wish we would, it'd make it easier to find a parking spot...

Re:Job Security (3, Interesting)

cbhacking (979169) | about 3 months ago | (#47680541)

I don't imagine either company has much room for dead weight. Firing the bottom N percent of the workforce every year (where N was occasionally 10%) has been standard practice at some very competitive companies in the past; it really strongly dis-incentivizes slacking off at work (like, reading /. in the middle of the day. Can you imagine?!?).

If your goal is job security, the government (or a similarly massive and bureaucratic monstrosity) is a good bet.
If your goal is to actually produce stuff, to get things done, then a place like SpaceX makes a lot of sense!

Me, I work at an in-between place; small, but not a startup any more. Minimal bureaucratic overhead, but no overwhelming need to keep costs minimal. Specifically, we do information security consulting; as long as we can find work for all our people, employees are how we make money in a very direct and linear sense. On the other hand, sometimes job scheduling falls through and, for reasons I cannot personally control, I find myself on the bench for a week. Thus, /.

An example (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47679539)

This is but one example of how private enterprise can and should put government out of business.

There is a huge demand for space activities with respect to satcom, and the market is far outpacing government's ability to accommodate it.

Government is incapable of doing anything at speed, or with the best quality. Let's face it, government is simply incapable. It has different goals than the enterprise it is pretending to support.

People acutaly LIKE the open floor plans? (4, Insightful)

Bo'Bob'O (95398) | about 3 months ago | (#47679823)

I work in an office that is packed in with three people constantly talking on the phone, with other people or just otherwise doing their business. I find it incredibly distracting. Sure I can put headphones on and try and blot it out, but depending on my mental state or particular task, music can be distracting too. Be it Metal or Minimalism music isn't always the answer to getting the best mental state for your work. Also having the music cranked means I can't hear the phone when I'm getting a call. I can't even imagine working in a larger room packed with dozens more people.

I'd love to be in a properly lit and laid out office or cubical.

Re:People acutaly LIKE the open floor plans? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47680321)

I so agree with this. I have never found any open office plan to actually be helpful in getting stuff done. The cube walls don't prevent me from collaborating, what does prevent me is the virtual silo walls. Get rid of those, then the cube walls are irrelevant.

Re:People acutaly LIKE the open floor plans? (1)

EmperorArthur (1113223) | about 3 months ago | (#47680351)

It's probably more like people like offices that don't look like they were built in the 60s. It can get depressing in some of those buildings.

Going to space is easy. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47679877)

The only reason private companies can go to space is because its easy. We still need gov't programs to do the really hard work, like building roads.

Mankind stumbled and fell (1)

Mister Liberty (769145) | about 3 months ago | (#47679927)

The next giant leap will for SpaceHypedCoX LLC.

Long hours? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47679949)

To balance this discussion, my friend recently interviewed with SpaceX. He said longer hours were commonplace and expected. He decided against working there for that reason.

Re:Long hours? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47680361)

Long hours are not uncommon in tech industries, especially start ups (which Space X really still is). As long as you're warned ahead of time and the pay/benefits are satisfactory, then fair deal. It's not for everyone. It wouldn't have been for me when my kids were younger. Now that I'm single again I have no problem putting in longer hours ... especially since I just got a promotion and pay raise.

The reason should be obvious (2)

BitwizeGHC (145393) | about 3 months ago | (#47680031)

Would you rather spend your time designing and building a spaceship or sitting in endless meetings at some Center for Excellence negotiating over a spaceship that might be designed and built decades later, if at all? If you're a good engineer, chances are you want to get to the bit where you're designing cool things that blast off into outer space, with as few bureaucratic obstacles as is practical.

check back in 5-10 years (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47680287)

and see if our heroine in this article is or has been joining in protests complaining about lack of retirement options or lack of union representation leading to exploitative conditions or where workers are "realigned" whenever the corporate heads choose.

Premature (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47680307)

At the cost it takes to put anything in space, it strikes me odd that the engineer in the article thought that 2-3 things actually making in space in a 3 year period was low. I mean this engineer is just out of school. I'm not saying that newbies can't come up with good ideas as they sure can, but expecting to be able to out that much is unrealistic.

The Flight of Gifted Engineers From NASA... (2)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | about 3 months ago | (#47680717)

The Flight of Gifted Engineers From NASA...

...ended with a bang because they mixed up centimetres and inches.

Two engineers, one hour, and a pencil (3, Funny)

yayoubetcha (893774) | about 3 months ago | (#47680755)

I worked (VRTX kernel contractor) at Rocketdyne on a NASA contract to build a robot which welded the Space Shuttle Main Engine. Because of strict government regulations I was walked over to a building that took 15 minutes to get to; filled out a requisition form; waited 1/2 hour; received my pencil; walked back to my desk with my escort and my pencil.

I was offered a permanent job with Rocketdyne. Although it was cool to work with rocket scientists, I declined the offer.

long live nasa (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 months ago | (#47680903)

i personally think, that nasa is better than spacex, because nasa is government funded entity and as such, MORE RELIABLE.

this opinion springs from blatant racism, race in-equality and overall ignorance

also, putin is bad.

Load More Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?