When Steve was just a boy he wanted to be one of three things: a cowboy, a policeman or an army man (basically, Clint Eastwood). All that changed when Steve was 11 years old and he saw his first launch of a NASA rocket with a Mercury capsule on it. Most kids would have watched that rocket streaking through the sky and been inspired to become an astronaut, but not Steve. The thing that really struck him was when the television cameras turned back to Mission Control and he saw the engineers working with all the electronics and communications gear. He saw that and thought, “Wow. This is cool. I really want to be a part of this.” Steve never got a chance to work for NASA but, over the years, he’s developed good relationships with people who work at NASA and that led him to having the privilege of personally knowing some of the engineers who made it possible for man to reach the surface of the moon. He has authored a book about it titled Guardians of The Right Stuff. The most amazing thing about this book is that Steve didn’t get paid to write it. He wrote it simply because he wanted to tell the story of the engineers behind the astronauts in those great missions.
Incidentally, this is the first time I’ve been able to interview a Wookiee! Are you intrigued yet? Good. But you’ll have to watch the entire video to find out what I mean. Enjoy the interview and the be sure to check out the Top 3 Takeaways below.
Top 3 Takeaways:
#1: Life Is Full of Forks In The Road
Steve spent the first 16 years of his career in a “little corner in the lab.” It was then that he encountered his first fork in the road. He had the opportunity to either be a chief engineer at another company or he could be an Application Engineer for Burr Brown Corporation. He chose the Application Engineer job because he enjoyed teaching and could be out in the field helping customers design analog circuits. Eight years later, he encountered another fork in the road when Burr Brown was bought by Texas Instruments. He could have left to pursue other interests but he decided to stay at Texas Instruments and that lasted another eight years. At that point, he then encountered yet another fork in the road. He had the opportunity to either become an adjunct professor at a local Long Island university or he could become a writer for EDN Magazine. You’ll notice that Steve has had lots of forks in his road but good opportunities are not exclusive to him. He says, “What’s important for the guys and gals out there to understand is you’re gonna come to many forks in the road.”
When I asked him how he decides which road to take when he’s facing a fork in the road, he says he first talks it over with his wife. He then recommends talking to someone who is already on each path of the fork. He says, “You need to get the information from people and know which fork to take. It’s always a difficult thing but you need to do some research; talk to people.”
#2: You Need Mentors
Steve credits much of his success to having good mentors. He says of them, “I’ve had so many good mentors in my career; those people helped guide me as well. You’ve got to find some people that you feel are really knowledgeable–experienced people–to be mentors, and they can come from almost anywhere. Mentors are very, very important. Especially in a young engineer’s life.”
#3: Anyone Can Become Better At Communicating
Too often, people in technical fields assume they could never be good communicators but Steve says, “If I did it, geeky engineer in my little cubicle in the corner, anybody can do it. Don’t be afraid.” For those who would like to improve their communication skills but aren’t sure where to start, Steve offers the following tips:
- Know your audience. Make sure you tailor your writing or speaking to the level of the listener or reader. Hint: don’t wear a wookiee mask when speaking to a group of PhDs.
- When you start off a talk or a presentation, get their attention. Steve says to, “Make it light. Loosen them up a little bit.”
- Thoroughly prepare the content. You’ll be a lot less nervous if you are really knowledgeable about the topic.
- Write about or speak about what you love. Writing his book about the engineers at NASA took a long time and a lot of effort. If Steve had not been passionate about the project, he would never have seen it to it’s completion.
If You Want To Know More
If you want to know more about Steve, you can check out his profile on LinkedIn or you can read one of the many excellent articles he’s written on hackaday.io. And don’t forget you can pick up a copy of his book, Guardians of the Right Stuff, so you can read all the other great stories from the astronauts at NASA.