Got my first job! Working as a flight test engineer at Boeing

In this series, recent grads share their journey to landing that first job out of college. After years of studying and working toward a degree, these Panthers’ hard work paid off. Now they’re paying it forward by letting you know how they did it.

Karina Quintana, flight test engineer at Boeing, by Hornet aircraft.

Karina Quintana, flight test engineer at Boeing, poses in front of a Hornet aircraft.

Name: Karina Quintana

Hometown: Miami, Florida

Degree/major: Bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering with a concentration in communication systems

Where are you working? Title? I am a flight test engineer for the Boeing Company at the Naval Air Weapons Station (NAWS) in China Lake, California.

What does a day on the job look like? As a member of the weapons system integration team and lead of the radar statement of requirements (SOR) team, I support lab and flight testing for the United States Navy, United States Marine Corps and Foreign Military Sales customers. I help integrate the latest software changes for the APG-73 Radar subsystem onto the F/A-18 Hornet platform, which is a twin-engine, supersonic, carrier-capable, multi-role combat jet designed as both a fighter and attack aircraft. The APG-73 radar subsystem is an all-weather, search and track sensor that uses programmable digital processors to provide better features needed for air-to-air missions and air-to-surface missions. With this system, the F/A-18 aircraft can make high-resolution radar ground maps and perform precision strike missions. I work with a team to develop and evaluate new requirements for enhanced air-to-air capabilities. In between meetings, lab sessions and flight events, a typical day at Boeing China Lake always involves hands-on interaction with many engineers across various functions.

How did you get your job? I never applied online – I was blessed with the time, means and access to network with engineers at Boeing. In 2014, I received a scholarship from the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center through the Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Awards Conference (HENAAC) organization. That same year, I had the unique opportunity to attend the 2014 Great Minds in STEM (GMiS) Conference (a non-profit organization that focuses on STEM educational awareness programs and provides resources for Hispanic students) in New Orleans, Louisiana, and was recruited for the Boeing College Bowl team. I ended up getting an interview for the Boeing China Lake site and was selected as an intern for the summer 2015 cohort. Later, I applied for and received another HENAAC scholarship sponsored by Lockheed Martin. At the 2015 GMiS Conference, which was held in Pasadena, California, I received my full-time offer of employment. It was an incredibly rewarding journey to transition from intern to engineer.

Karina Quintana, flight test engineer at Boeing.

Karina Quintana, flight test engineer at Boeing.

What was your greatest fear going into your first job, and how did you face it or overcome it? Having been a previous intern at the Boeing China Lake site, I met so many subject matter experts that contribute to the success of integrating new capabilities onto the F/A-18 and EA-18G platforms. Part of me had impostor syndrome because I was unsure if I had the necessary technical skills to be prepared for my first full-time engineering career after gaining my college degree. I overcame this by participating in regular training sessions, shadowing senior engineers in the lab and reading documentation to stay up-to-date on the radar functionality. Having discussions and study sessions with my teammates helped reinforce the background knowledge I had on Radio Frequency (RF) theory, which I apply on a daily basis to understand and test the Radar operation, functionality and performance in lab and flight events. This also proved that no matter the age there is always opportunity for continuous learning.

What surprised you the most about your first job? The majority of my teammates each have more than 15 years of experience in the test and evaluation of the F/A-18 radar. They were so willing and able to bridge the knowledge transfer gap that exists between the entry-level engineers and the more experienced folks. I was surprised at how complex the design of new software for a mature system could be and was glad to be mentored by developers who taught me the interface changes.

What advice do you have for those beginning the job search process? Do not be satisfied until you know what you are capable of. Push hard as an act of self-discovery. The job search process is competitive and requires you to step outside of your comfort zone. It may be intimidating not knowing what a company or its employees have to offer so start looking early to gain an understanding. Determine if their mission and values align with your own goals. I recommend attending STEM conferences since these serve as great opportunities to meet with recruiters, demonstrate your potential and practice the interview process.

How does your job connect back to your coursework? Every day, I apply the theories I learned in the communication systems, antenna theory, digital signal processing and radio frequency circuits courses I took at FIU. It’s exciting to see the practical applications of these courses, as well as to use the MATLAB and programming skills I gained to support radar data analysis.

How has your transition from school to work? How do you balance your time? I’ve continued my higher education in electrical engineering through the University of Southern California’s Distance Education Network program. I am pursuing my master’s degree part-time while working full-time so I dedicate specific periods during the week to watch video lectures, study and do homework. On the weekends, I hang out with friends, travel and enjoy the beauty of the California desert.

What’s been the coolest thing about your job so far? I’ve been able to participate in advanced tactical training provided by the Strike Fighter Weapons School Pacific and the Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron One. These have provided me with a perspective of the rigor and effort Naval and Marine test pilots employ to be qualified with advanced systems and sensors. Through these trainings, I’ve also visited various military installations and the squadrons based there.