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World Mag > WM Winter 2017 edition > SpaceX Interview with Justin Winston

SpaceX Interview with Justin Winston

Justin attended AISB between 2002-2004 as a freshman and sophomore in high school. He is now an engineer for SpaceX and is based in Los Angeles, USA.
Justin Winston
Justin Winston

WM: Justin, thanks for making the time for us today. What are some examples of the way AISB has brought value to you as a person?

JW: I always thought AISB was way ahead of the curve when it came to US accredited curriculum standards. I remember having the option to enroll in IB classes early on which later transferred into college credits. The next high school I would attend o ered AP classes, but despite the obvious college cred involved, the material seemed to gloss over past classes I had taken at AISB.

That said, the difficulty of taking what would be college level classes as a freshman in high school was extremely di cult and I remember having to completely change my approach to learning if I wanted to keep up with the pace and outcome I had grown accustomed to. To this day, I use a lot of the adjustments I made in my early years of high school to deal with situations and problems that come up now in my personal and professional life.

Anything from time management to verbal communication skills and even some self-taught rhetoric.

WM: Has your international education given you a competitive edge over others in your field?

JW: My international education has undoubtedly been a competitive edge over others in my field. Broaching the subject of
a global study program catches people’s attention quickly, but I would argue that the experiences and people enveloped in that upbringing are what really empower individuals who have walked the same path. Learning, understanding, and embracing new cultures and ways of thinking can play a key role in problem solving skills. These are the kinds of skills we look for in people joining our company– it’s the stuff that’s hard to quantify that can really make a di erence between two seemingly matched up candidates.

WM: What are your qualifications and where did you study?

JW: I studied at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor for a BSE in Mechanical Engineering that I received in 2010. In 2009, I studied abroad for 6 months in Brazil taking some higher-level engineering classes in a language I was not fluent in. That was another amazing learning experience, especially for someone who had spent most of his life living in a country with a foreign language. It was eye opening for me to realize that a technical engineering vocabulary was much di erent and harder to learn than how to ask for the bathroom or a beer at the local bar. Making small, calculated adjustments in your personal input/ output function can lead to more e cient learning and an ability to rapidly comprehend ideas contextually that would otherwise go right over your head.

WM: As an engineer for SpaceX, how do you improve your engineering knowledge and skills to stay ahead?

JW: SpaceX is a fast-paced company determined to revolutionize the cost of access to space through the development of fully and rapidly reusable rockets and spacecrafts, with the ultimate goal of making life multi-planetary. With that in mind, it takes a lot of brain power to successfully incubate an idea like that and scale it to the point it is at now.

A typical day at SpaceX involves encountering and guring out how to solve complex engineering problems on a business- friendly schedule. For that, I look to my colleagues to learn from. We’re all experts at something and SpaceX really pushes you to see the value of the team you’re working with. The amount of knowledge at your disposal is incredible and pushing yourself to grow within that arena is something everyone deals with individually. The more you learn and expand your skill set, the more people will ask you to try new things and empower you to tackle problems just out of your comfort zone. I really enjoy that mentality and is why the meritocracy based system we drive here at work lends itself to the kind of personal improvement it takes to make launch vehicles.

WM: What advice would you give to someone who would like to pursue this type of career?

JW: As with all things, it’s hard to set yourself up on a path that leads directly to any speci c business. Getting yourself into a good engineering school is a great start and I have many letters of recommendation from AISB that helped me achieve that. Notably, despite not being my major of choice, from my History teacher, which goes to show it’s not really what you know coming out of high school but rather that thirst for knowledge and hunger to push yourself to new limits. If you are interested in the space industry, be it for corporate or educational reasons, the most popular route is to get a solid foundation in mechanical or aerospace engineering. Good grades along with high marks on college readiness exams are an excellent catalyst for jumping into any vehicle launch company. Internship experience in relevant elds throughout college is always noted but never a deal breaker. The most important thing you can do is show your potential and how working for a certain employer can unleash you to develop it.

WM: What are your plans for the future?

JW: After a literal lifetime of traveling around, I’m ready to hang my hat in LA for the time being. I’ve enjoyed the area and mash up of cultures here – it’s a small world in my backyard. It has the hustle and bustle of NYC with the laid-back West coast lifestyle all the while providing $12 avocado toast at nearly every corner. I plan on working on some side projects which will remain a mystery for now but are nonetheless in the works. If you haven’t been out to LA, I highly recommend it, there’s a lot to fall in love with out here. 

Read here the entire WORLD Magazine Winter 2017 edition here.


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