It’s that time of year when parents are signing up their kids for summer camps. I wonder if Joy Wobido’s parents knew that the eighth grade space camp they signed her up for would lead to a career launching rockets.
Joy loves working in launch support for United Launch Alliance (ULA), where she has combined her interest in space and software engineering. When she’s not developing and testing software for rocket launches, she enjoys the great outdoors in Colorado running, biking, hiking and skiing. She notes there are so many kinds of engineering that student engineers should try different types to see where their interests lead them.
Learn more about Joy and the exciting world of rocket engineering in this Q&A:
When did you know you wanted to be an engineer?
“I was always interested in space (went to space camp after eight grade) but growing up I wanted to be a doctor. In high school I started receiving letters from colleges and one school had recommended engineering. I knew nothing about engineering at the time, but decided maybe it would be a good fallback. I was worried if I graduated college and didn’t get into medical school I would be stuck with an impractical degree and have a hard time finding a job. I really wanted to attend the University of Colorado and decided to apply to the school of engineering. I wanted to do biomedical engineering, however they didn’t have a program. I saw aerospace was a major and thought that sounded interesting since I am a space junkie. So, I applied and got accepted.”
Tell us about your education.
“I went to high school in Joliet, IL and then went away to Boulder for college. During the fall semester of my junior year, I participated in a study abroad program called Semester at Sea. We sailed around the world and stopped in 12 different countries. It was the most amazing time of my life. It gave me such an appreciation for my family and everything that I have. While in school I worked for the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) on a student run instrument called the Solar-Stellar Irradiance Comparison Experiment (SOLSTICE), which was on the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS). We were responsible for all the science planning and maintaining the software associated with the planning. I was also a member of the Gamma Phi Beta sorority while in college.”
How did that lead to a job making rockets?
“I believe my job at NCAR helped prepare me for life after college. Even though I graduated with a degree in aerospace engineering, my first job out of college was with Honeywell in Phoenix writing control software for power plants. I enjoyed the job and people I worked with, however my heart was really in Colorado. After a year and a half I decided to move back to Colorado and try to pursue my interests in space, as opposed to software. I applied to Lockheed Martin and interviewed in four different areas of the company. I ended up accepting a position on a program called Space Based Laser writing software.
The day before I was moving I received a phone call that the program had been cancelled and instead I would be working on the Atlas rocket program. I was a bit skeptical, however my new boss sounded nice on the phone and at that point I really had no choice. Right from the beginning I was given a lot of responsibility as we were developing the next generation Atlas rocket which was still in the proposal phase. It turns out the cancellation of Space Based Laser was one of the best things that could have happened to me. I have loved working on the Atlas program for the past 17 years. I take a lot of pride in my job and our launch vehicle.”
Tell us about your work at ULA.
“I started on the Atlas program (under Lockheed Martin) writing ground software – basically all the software required to prep and launch the vehicle. After ULA formed I switched over to work on the Delta program, also writing ground software. I decided after years in the software industry that I would like to try something different. I really wanted to be more involved with the vehicle and launch support. A position opened up in my current group, Integrated Fluid Systems. My group is responsible for all the fluids software requirements while the vehicle is still on the ground. This includes tanking the vehicle, purging the air out of certain compartments and maintaining temperatures on critical components. We work with the Certified Responsible Engineers to understand how their systems operate, and generate a set of integrated requirements for the software group to implement. We are responsible for all the testing of the fluids software. Our system is capable of running simulated countdowns, which we do prior to every mission. We also support every launch from the Launch Control Center and help out the launch operators with any questions they may have, or in the event the software needs to be used to resolve an anomaly. Launch support is my absolute favorite part of my job. It never gets old.”
What advice would you give future engineers?
“My advice would be to work hard in school and take the time to understand the concepts that are being taught. Don’t think of it as just solving a math equation – really understand the concept and how you can apply it to the real world. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and speak up if you don’t understand something. It is important to make connections – whether it be with a professor or someone in the industry – and get experience as early as you can. There are so many different types of engineering - so if you have the opportunity, try out different areas to see what interests you. Don’t be afraid to take chances and don’t pass up opportunities.”