The Happy Engineer Podcast

015: Career Rocket Fuel with Brian Mejeur

Does hearing “it can’t be done” motivate you, or shut you down? What role does passion play in your mental health at work? How do you show the world (and LinkedIn) your engineering career growth goals without rocking the boat at your current company?

In this episode, launch into these questions and more with former SpaceX engineer, Brian Mejeur. His team pioneered the refurbishment process of rocket engines. After six years at SpaceX, he moved on as acting Head of US Drone Operations at a drone data tech startup. 

It’s time to geek out and accelerate your career with a propulsion engineer turned COO/CTO.

Brian has wisdom for you from both sides of the coin. Big company, and small company. Engineer doing the job, and now a recruiter searching for the best engineers on the planet. He’s the Founder of AdAstra Talent Acquisition with his wife and business partner, Seyka (a former guest on episode 10). 

Outside of work, Brian is a new father, world traveler, hiker, and loves adventure.

So press play and let’s chat… and discover the deeper meaning of being a Lifestyle Engineer!

 

The Happy Engineer Podcast

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ROCKET FUEL FOR ENGINEERING CAREER GROWTH & MORE

Brian’s path included leaving a traditional engineering role and starting his own organization in talent management and recruiting for engineers. But don’t take this conversation and assume the way to happiness and success is to leave your company, and start your own business (or leave engineering and do something else).

That’s not the point at all.

It’s that willingness to reflect and be honest and authentic about what you love. Doing what you want to be doing and the willingness to do new things, experiment with new things and go get that understanding. It’s wayfinding. It’s pathfinding. Saying, “I’m not exactly sure what I want or what I need, so I’m going to try out a few different things to find out which one fits me best.”

It’s a process of trying different things and evaluating how you feel doing each one of them. That process, that willingness to expand what we do before we narrow it down to the sweet spot. It’s just like the design process. Where we innovate and we expand concepts and we look at the broadest possible inference space to solve the problem. And then we narrow back down and we converge on a single solution. That same process is happening in your career and in your life. 

If you feel stuck, if you feel confused about what to do next. What I want you to realize from this conversation with Brian is that the antidote to indecision is to make more decisions. The antidote is to go experience more, try new things, widen the aperture. Which leads to a key point from Elon.

A company is the sum of its vectors. – Elon Musk

I want to highlight this powerful statement for you because it’s exactly why, in my coaching, I talk about the importance of people. People is a pillar of the Lifestyle Engineering Blueprint. You can be the top talent, the smartest person on your team, and have more experience than anyone else on your team. But the truth is that you are limited in terms of results and momentum in a single direction. And if you want to have a big influence, and create big results, you must become the kind of engineering leader who aligns the vectors of more people on your team, across the organization toward a single point. To do this better than anyone else begins with knowing exactly what point you are aiming for (hence the connection above).

The company is the sum of all its vectors. That goes for your department, that goes for the entire company. So take that to heart and ask yourself the question today, “Where is the energy of the organization, are they pointing in opposite directions? Where are we burning energy unnecessarily?”

What you need to do is align everything in a single direction. If you don’t have clarity on that chief definite aim for you and your team, if the vectors are not all pointing in the same direction, then you’re going to constantly be pushing against each other, wasting energy. That is so frustrating.

Go find your passion, follow your passion, live your passion. Passion is something that you create. Passion is not about the work itself. You can be passionate about anything. You can create passion from nothing. There are going to be specific spaces and places where you will naturally resonate and find a frequency. That’s going to actually create a more natural harmonic around passion for you.

And that’s why the breadth of the exploration is so important, but also to live a passionate life is something that you are able to do in any context and in any circumstance. What I like about this conversation with Brian is linking this idea of passion with our mental health. And I will tell you with the hundreds of engineers who I have coached over the years at OACO, that there is absolutely a connection between living a life that is passionate and happy and experiencing what you would describe as positive mental health.

If you’re stressed, angry, frustrated, and in a negative place all the time, odds are really, really good that you are not experiencing passion day to day in your career. So to look at passion and ask the question, how can I create more passionate experiences in my day to day life in my. It’s absolutely a winning formula for creating happiness and positive mental health as well.

Remember burnout and mental health issues that so many of you face every single day, every single week, I talked to engineers around the world every week who are burned out and absolutely dying inside. But the core root cause of that is not the things that you are. It’s not the long hours. It’s not that difficult-to-work-with boss. It’s not the lousy project assignment that you’ve been given. It’s what you are not doing. That is the primary cause. So if you’re not living with passion, if you’re not experiencing passion in your day-to-day life, that is the place to begin. What are those small things you can start to get passionate about?

  • What could you add in right now this week to start triggering that more?
  • And do you need to widen the aperture to find something else?
  • If you need help navigating that, then get a coach. That’s exactly what we do at OACO and help our clients find clarity and to get into the sweet spot of their passion zone.

One more thing I want to highlight here. It was what Brian talked about. This idea of breaking out of your role way too often, we let the boundaries of what our boss tells us are the priorities be the only thing that influences our work. And listen, I am a believer. We want to be all about what our boss says are the priorities.

Our job is to make our boss look good to deliver on their targets and their objectives. And if we’re not doing that, then we’re not doing our job. So don’t hear me the wrong way here, but I really appreciate Brian’s point that you have an option to bring your own creativity and desires to the conversation with your boss. Expand what you’re doing and create something unique and special. So don’t let the boundaries that are set for you be permanent. Go and challenge, go and ask for special assignments and special opportunities. Be willing to do it on your own time if that’s what needs to happen at the beginning.

But if you have a great business case on how it will create value for the organization, be courageous and go ask for that. It’s not only going to help trigger the passion that we just talked about, but it’s also a really useful way for you to set yourself up for the next level, whether that’s changing companies or promotion within your current organization.

Very often the preparation for that next level begins through some special assignment or some special opportunity that you create rather than something that’s handed to you. That’s initiative and leadership. So go and do that. If there’s something that you’ve been wishing you could be a part of or a project you wish that you could undertake in your role, then frame that up and go ask for that opportunity.

Do it this week, don’t hesitate. Don’t wait for perfection. Don’t sit around and wait for your calendar to be empty. It won’t be, you’re always going to be busy. You’re always going to have things to do. Go make that happen this week. Hey, tons to take action on here. Remember knowledge is not power. It’s the knowledge that you use – that’s power.

Get help, get accountability, get coaching, and let’s create new and powerful results faster than ever through the work that you’re doing to build the career and life you desire. Remember these conversations are just the tip of the iceberg. You need proven systems, you need the accountability and coaching to help you accelerate exactly where you’re stuck.

So go get it. Take action. And as always, let’s do this.

 

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ABOUT BRIAN MEJEUR

Brian is from St. Joseph, MI and went to the University of Michigan where he obtained his BS and MS in Aerospace Engineering and a Math Minor. He was a Propulsion Engineer and Launch Operations Engineer during his six year tenure at SpaceX where he pioneered the refurbishment process of rocket engines. After, he continued on to a drone data tech startup, where he was the acting Head of US Drone Operations and a Product Manager. Today he’s the Co-Founder of AdAstra Talent Acquisition with his wife and business partner, Seyka (a previous podcast guest and collaborating coach at OACO!). 

At AdAstra he leverages his technical background to place the best engineers and senior leadership at space and drone startups around the country. Outside of work, Brian is a new father, world traveler, hiker, and generally loves adventure and trying new things.

 

LINKS MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE

 

FULL EPISODE TRANSCRIPT:

Please note the full transcript is 90-95% accuracy. Reference the podcast audio to confirm exact quotations.

[00:00:00] Zach White: Brian, it’s awesome to have you here, man. Thank you so much for making time to be with us and the engineer listening. I can’t wait to see where we can go with your story. Your bio is just full of places that we want to explore. So thanks again for making time today, man.

[00:00:14] Brian Mejeur: Oh, thank you so much for having me really looking forward to chatting with you.

Expand to Read Full Transcript

[00:00:19] Zach White: Awesome. Boy, we gotta be engineers for just a moment and I’m curious. Your time at space X, what a, an awesome organization. So many people would love to be a part of that organization and they’ve done some incredible engineering. And so just take us back to your, your space X days for a moment, what would you say of all the things you faced at space X? what is the gnarliest challenge that, you know, from an engineering career growth perspective,

[00:00:47] what’s the one that really was just a tough challenge for you and feel free to geek out with us a little bit. Like what stands out to you as the gnarliest challenge in your space X days?

[00:00:56] Brian Mejeur: I mean, first, first plants or some, some fun, interesting Corky projects, even as an intern, you can, you really get a lot of responsibility.

[00:01:05] I got to dive deep on some wild projects as, as an intern and a couple of different groups, but I think for me, my biggest accomplishment of the things that I worked on the most I was most proud of was engine refurbishment. So typically. Rockets or single use. We, we launched satellites. In order to get them up there, it’s, it’s difficult beading Earth’s gravity and getting those fast enough to get into orbit as it.

[00:01:32] So we usually don’t try to get the stages and, yeah,

[00:01:36] Zach White: I’m sorry. I have difficult beating Earth’s gravity. All I can think of is that movie, white men can’t jump or whatever. That’ll

[00:01:43] I’m sorry. Keep, keep going. Oh, you’re good. Yeah.

[00:01:46] Brian Mejeur: So we typically in history we’ve thrown a rockets away. We just trashed them in the ocean or they burn up on our entry. And so that was a big thing. Space X is pioneered was the ability to fly these first stages back to either a drone ship or the nearby the launch pad and land them and then do refurbishment and then fly them again.

[00:02:11] I mean, I had a, I even in my master’s degree at Michigan was told we had a seminar class and we had someone from old aerospace come in. He was the inventor designer of a, of a launch vehicle. And he basically spent like half or more of his, his presentation. Just talking about how reusability won’t work, just bashing Ilan, bashing space X saying that there’s no point in trying innovation, because look, we tried on the space shuttle to make her use the bowl.

[00:02:39] It was way less cost-effective, you know, just all of these reasons. And then, you know, w proved them wrong, right? It’s it’s way more cost-effective and it’s way better, but we didn’t know what we were doing in a lot of ways. And come end of 2015, we recovered our first state. Our first, first age and I signed up, I said, Hey, I want to go figure out how we can fly these again.

[00:03:03] And so did a lot of traveling and figuring out how to make sure these engines could fly again. What sort of inspections do we have to do? What sort of rework we have to do and how to do that while on the vehicle or off the vehicle. And, and I think the quickest summary of, of a big project was not the first time we flew some, some of those engines are stage, but we actually took off engines from three different rockets and then put them all on the first Falcon heavy demo and flew a bunch of just kind of beaten, battered and abused engines on that Falcon heavy demo flight that 27 engines, most of those had already flown to space and were refurbished by.

[00:03:47] My myself and, and all of the teams grounding us that got that done. And it was wild project.

[00:03:54] Zach White: That’s amazing. I want to touch on this idea. You just mentioned that there was a spirit of like, Hey, we’re going to innovate and prove, you know, this guy from, from your seminar class wrong and as a mindset to drive you, to keep you going, when do you know, failure after failure or, or technical hurdle again and again, and again, to, to overcome those challenges, how did that culture, that mindset of like, we’re going to do this.

[00:04:24] We’re going to prove that old school thinking wrong. How did that show up for you as an individual engineer or on the team at space?

[00:04:33] Brian Mejeur: It’s a good question. I think, you know, there’s a lot we could say about Elon Musk, right? There’s he’s quite the character and he’s, but he’s quite the visionary and a dreamer.

[00:04:42] He does have the physics and engineering background. And I think this is a case of his leadership being really strong. You know, he looked at these problems from a first principles thinking and knew that it was physically possible to do this and to make this happen and that without this, we wouldn’t be able to make space more accessible.

[00:05:05] We wouldn’t be able to go to Mars, colonize, Mars, or make space more for everybody. And so. It was really just this idea of, you know, every talk he gave you to say, you know, rockets need to be more like aircraft. We don’t throw an airplane away after a single use. So we have to get the cost of launch down to basically the cost of fuel.

[00:05:24] And so it was just thinking through that and realizing that, Hey, this, you know, it’s not going to be easy, but it is within the limits of physics to have it be done. And so we’re going to get the smartest people in the group in the world and working on it and we’re going to try and we’re going to fail and we’re gonna try, we’re going to fail, but we’re going to keep being closer and we’re going to figure it out.

[00:05:44] And so it’s just having that right culture and that right mindset and surrounded by people who are, all moving the same direction. I think. I’ve really appreciated. One thing that really appreciated that Ilan once said was, you know, a company is the sum of all of its vectors, where your employees are vectors.

[00:06:02] It’s not just the magnitude, right. You know, someone can be a high producer and have a large magnitude, but if they’re not pointed in the right direction, if the companies, if all those employees aren’t pointing the right direction, they can do more harm than good. And so it’s really about getting people who are all doing a lot and all move in the right direction.

[00:06:19] Zach White: I love that the company is the sum of all its factors. Amazing. So Brian, let’s, let’s back up then a moment, you know, engineers stereotypically are categorized as. Being, you know, risk averse, conservative, unwilling to challenge. Things are kind of status quo. Thinkers may maybe even boring if I’m just being totally blunt, right?

[00:06:42] Like boring and your life, your story is anything, but that. I’m really interested if you were to just go back in your memory bank and say like, what was one of the earliest moments for you where you felt that kind of facing fear facing a big challenge and you had that courage to just go for it, right.

[00:07:04] To step up to the plate. In spite of that fear, where was the first part of your life, where you remember that being a part of who Brian is.

[00:07:13] Brian Mejeur: I think one time that that stands out for me is actually when I, when I left space, X was a pretty difficult decision. It was, there was so much to love about my time and my work space X, the people, the culture, the technology, everything about it. There’s so much to love about it, but it just wasn’t quite working for me at the time.

[00:07:37] I wasn’t my, role. Wasn’t kind of sparking that true intrinsic, like passion in me. so I was looking for something else. And then I also was having some, you know, Ah, how do I say it kinda, it they’re almost like burnout, but kind of, it was starting to impact my mental health a bit too. And so it was, it just took a bit to realize that, Hey, this is, um, this is no longer the right fit for me as much as I want it to be as much as I want it to be a place, I can stay a bit longer, get extract, more value out of and put more value into it.

[00:08:12] I, I, there were some warning signs that this was starting to kind of not be the right fit and also that my kind of migraines getting worse. And it was just, I could, I could feel this weight of responsibility also working anywhere. You’re putting humans on the rocket. You’re putting billions of dollars of satellites on the rocket.

[00:08:31] There’s, it’s highly dangerous. And I just felt a lot of. Stress and pressure in a way that I wasn’t quite able to manage the way that I would have liked to. And wasn’t able to also quite get in the role that, you know, you know, really sparked that excitement. And so it was both decision, so I think it was actually knowing when to leave and when to make the next step in my career, that was pretty tough and took, took some

[00:08:59] Zach White: courage.

[00:09:00] So, There’s a couple of really key things you said. I want to connect the dots and I know the engineer listening can relate to these same questions around engineering career growth cause I’ve had these questions and you talked about intrinsic passion and this idea of passion and enthusiasm at work comes up a lot. And am I feeling that day-to-day and everybody’s kind of chasing passion and what that looks like.

[00:09:21] mental health, the stress, the pressure ability to deal with that. From your experience, Brian, do you feel like those two ideas are connected in some way? And if so, how, like what role does passion play in our mental health and ability to handle stress?

[00:09:38] Brian Mejeur: Yeah, it’s, it’s a great question. I think if you’re, if you’re working on something you’re passionate about, if you’re enjoying what you’re doing and you’re able to.

[00:09:46] derive a lot of joy from that and keep stress out of it. I think that does help your mental health. I think in my case, at least it’s interesting because sometimes that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes if I’m passionate about something, I get really excited. I get really wired about it. My brain is just always turning day and night.

[00:10:09] I won’t be able to fall asleep. It even turns into this thing where my I’m half asleep and my brain is trying to solve a problem. That’s similar, but it actually doesn’t exist. And I can’t even wake up enough to reset. And so for me, it’s about finding those things that you’re passionate about working on those things, but then also having the right boundaries and work-life balance too.

[00:10:36] Prioritize your mental health so that you can be highly productive during, during . Those hours that you want to be, want to be working in the other hours that you, that you don’t, you can step into your, you know, your parasympathetic nervous system and really unwind and do what your body needs. And everyone’s going to be different on how they achieve that.

[00:10:55] For me, it’s taking breaks, it’s maybe meditation or movement. Um, or even for me, it’s, I’ve never been one that really likes to eat at my desk. I like to take . , that lunch or dinner and just, you know, enjoy my meal and step away from my work,

[00:11:12] Zach White: this idea of boundaries and balance, you know, keeps coming up and every engineer, this thing is we’re building careers.

[00:11:19] You know, you move up, you move up, you move up, you go for bigger success. And we often find ourselves facing challenges and trade-offs around those two areas. So from your experience and whether it’s at space X or with what you do now and helping engineers, finding, you know, the great fits with new organizations, how do you see boundaries and balance playing out as an engineer in industry today?

[00:11:43] What is a healthy boundary? What’s an unhealthy boundary. What is healthy balance, unhealthy balance? balance? Like how do you look at those ideas brand?

[00:11:50] Brian Mejeur: Honestly, it’s something I still struggle with a lot it’s difficult when you’re in a role that there is. Some reason for it to continue after hours at space X, that was, I was tied to production in some ways, and they’re working around the clock.

[00:12:06] And so I was able to convince my brain that I would need to check my email or have my phone on me all the time and now less so, but there’s still things happening with candidates or clients. And I’m always eager and excited to be on top of those, those problems. But I think it’s, it’s really knowing when there are times to, to shut off, to put your phone on airplane mode, to not check your email.

[00:12:29] You know, I had to make the tough decision. If you will, to turn notifications for my email off my phone, even the, you know, the circle on the icon, can’t see that I’m going to check it. And even today I still came up a click and see what what’s there. And it’s, it’s, it’s, it is addictive to me and I think.

[00:12:48] It’s difficult, but it’s, it’s knowing it’s catching yourself, right? It’s so much of how we can improve and be our best self is reflective and looking out for the things that you’re doing that might actually be harming you. And so I’m working hard on at dinner time. I put away my phone, I don’t check my email the rest of the night or on the weekend.

[00:13:10] And I check it maybe once a day or something like that. Try to try to establish those first, identify those things that are actually harming me and then working out what boundaries to, um, protect myself from them.

[00:13:24] Zach White: Yeah. Brian, I, I really appreciate it. I just want to acknowledge you for being honest, that it it’s hard.

[00:13:29] I mean, you’re, you’re a guy who’s made courageous decisions to shape your life. Towards your goals and dreams in a, in a powerful way where a lot of people wouldn’t make those decisions and it’s still hard. but the engineer listening and seeking engineering career growth, you’ll be encouraged. If you struggle with this, it is hard. It is hard.

[00:13:45] And that’s part of why, you know, having the support and a coach and people who can help you with those things can be really, really valuable. So Brian, tell us, you know, your story then from space X to today, boil it down to a nutshell. Cause there’s so many things in there, but just really quick to tell us, you know, what all has, has transpired and catch us up in, in the life of Brian from, from those days on rockets to where we are right now.

[00:14:05] Brian Mejeur: I think it even goes back before that, because I’ve always been this person who did well and, you know, math and physics. And so I just naturally fell right into engineering. It was very natural for me to get into that realm of, of study and to succeed in it. But at the same time, I always had this part of me that was like, is this really who I am?

[00:14:34] Am I the person who’s solving really tough technical challenges? Am I, am I always crunching numbers or whatever it may be? And it just didn’t quite feel right. And I think I always had in my mind that there was something else out there for me at some point. Um, but when I was in college and I heard about space X for the first time, I knew that that’s where I at least wanted to start.

[00:14:58] And so it was too exciting to, to not. And so didn’t get my first internship there. You know, knocked on the door. The same person interviewed me and said no, the last year. And he said, yes, the next time. And so, but it still was there that feeling, even at space X of this, isn’t quite right, that, you know, that intrinsic, what is this?

[00:15:18] What, like, what am I doing? What am I made for?

[00:15:21] Zach White: And so, Hey, Brian, let me stop you really quick because I know the engineers out there, a lot of are going to relate to what you just said about, I knew space X is where I wanted to start. And whether it’s a college student who has a dream company, they want to go to first or an engineer, engineering manager, director, VP.

[00:15:38] It doesn’t matter what level who has that like target. This is the place I want to go. Can you really quick give us a detour? Like, what was it that you did to put space X in the bullseye and then get it? You know, a lot of people have a dream company, but they don’t actually get there. What would you tell an engineer desiring engineering career growth who has something like, oh, I would love to work at this place, but maybe they’re feeling discouraged.

[00:16:02] Like it’s, it’s never going to happen. It’s too competitive or I’m not good enough for that. Like, what’s the secret to landing where you want to land?

[00:16:10] Brian Mejeur: Oh man, that’s a good question. I wish I had, you know, a special, special secret to share the unlocks that problem. Cause that is a big problem that we, we run across a lot of people who are looking to transition into our industry or find a, get a role at a specific company.

[00:16:28] And it’s, it’s it, isn’t easy there isn’t, there isn’t a single secret for, for me. I, yeah, I think it was largely about making, identifying where I wanted to be and then just working hard towards it. I, one thing I did that was a little unique was I was ahead of schedule and so I was able to. With my, with my college courses.

[00:16:45] So I was able to start an internship in January instead of the summer. And, you know, I still like to think and hope I would have got, been able to get a summer internship, but it was a different competition right there. So many fewer people applying through a few response for sure. But it was just different.

[00:17:01] Right. I said, I reached out to this contract, they had, and I said, Hey, I’m, I’m going to be available in January. Can I, can I work for you in January? And that was one way. And. But I just, I worked hard in school. Got good grades. I had really great internships, you know, each year I got a progressively more relevant internship.

[00:17:20] And so I actually owe a lot of things to someone in high school who had an engineering course in St. Joseph high school. Um, and that set me up to get a drafting internship before I even started college, which then leveraged that to Whirlpool actually the moral pool, GE aviation, you know, and so just kind of building on these things to get me closer and closer to my goal for a lot of people, um, that succeed space X or companies like it, they’re doing student project groups.

[00:17:52] I was actually one of the very few people at space X. Who’d never did a student project group, but we see this time and time again at space X and at most of our clients, they really value. People who get involved with these student groups are using their hands. They’re solving practical problems through practical means, and I think that’s really highly valued.

[00:18:15] And so I think the one tool that I’d recommend is actually not the path I took when that’d be to prioritize getting involved in those groups by hall FYI, the most reputable one by far is formula SAE. That is always our, our clients. Number one preference for

[00:18:32] Zach White: looking at sure. So for our college engineers, listening to this take take notes.

[00:18:38] Brian’s given you some gold here, but there’s two things I want everybody to hear. It doesn’t matter what career stage you’re at that Brian’s giving us. First thing is that the goal never changed to get to space X as that bulls. Yeah. Always held that in your mind, but you didn’t constrain yourself to what traditionally we might call the shortest distance between two points.

[00:19:00] Like I have to go straight to space X for my first internship, or it’s a failure that willingness to say, well, what’s just the next step closer. What’s the next step closer. What’s the next step closer. And then, you know, you had the courage to reach out and say I’m available in January. And a lot of my clients, I see this.

[00:19:16] And with engineers, I talked to all around the world. It’s like, Zach, I want to work for Facebook. I really want to work at Google. I really want to work at Nissan. You’ll fill in the blank. Well, great. You know, if that opportunity is not there as the next open door to take a different opportunity, it doesn’t mean you’re not going to land still at Facebook.

[00:19:35] Right. There may be a couple of next steps closer. You need to take first. So it doesn’t matter again where you’re at. Brian’s story is absolutely relevant in that way. How can you focus on the end game, but just keep taking steps towards it. One by one by one. So, Brian, I interrupted you, man. You were telling us about this feeling you had of like, I’m so great at math and science.

[00:19:57] I’m landing now in space X, but there’s that feeling underneath it, all that there’s something more, there’s something else you have continue for us where that.

[00:20:06] Brian Mejeur: Yeah, my next role was the bay area where I had this urge to, to try an early stage startup and see what that experience was like. Uh, being able to wear a lot of different hats and, um, be around that energy and which in some ways, space X had, but not in terms of the size at all.

[00:20:26] And so I knew that I could kind of get, get to flex some muscles and learn more management, learn more sides of the business and, and just try different things. And so that’s the opportunity I, I took and it, I was a really valuable learning experience. It was going fairly well, but it wasn’t until Saika my wife and I, and I’m sure some of your listeners know no psycho well, but, um, we just, we were just talking one day or we were talking all the time.

[00:20:57] Right? We just had this moment of epiphany of how could we not thought of this already, but my background as an engineer, but wanting to get more into the business and operational management, but still being kind of, you know, still being close to the tech, still being involved with these companies, Matt matches so well with her background in recruiting and talent management that we could form our own company, uh, providing talent to, to engineers in our industry.

[00:21:26] And so it was just so obvious once, once we thought of it then it was also right around then that it clicked that this, this does like check pretty much all of my boxes, right. I still get to, to still love nerding out about space. I still love understanding how things work and, and helping people to.

[00:21:48] Build these highly technical things, but I want to, I want to do it from a different angle and a different approach. And this allowed, allowed me to do that. And while also kind of setting ourselves up in a way that we were really excited about at this stage

[00:22:02] Zach White: in life. That’s amazing. So tell us, tell us about ad Astra and what you do a little bit.

[00:22:09] And then I want to unpack some, some nuggets of wisdom for the engineers who, you know, they’re looking to make transitions and, and build their careers, but tell us first, what do you do? What are your philosophies around engineering career growth, talent and how your organization works?

[00:22:24] Brian Mejeur: Yeah, for sure. So ad Astra partners with all startups, so all new agile, disruptive companies, specifically in the space industry, and then also we’re, we’re getting into the autonomous drone transportation space as well.

[00:22:42] And so. We go to these companies, um, often we’re already partnered or we know someone there, or they heard about us through someone else and come to us for help. And they, they give us these roles that they’re having a hard time filling we go and we search sometimes our network, but often we’re, we’re just looking for all the best people that can do this job.

[00:22:55] And so we were targeting specific people for very, very specific, highly technical and leadership roles within our, within our client’s companies. So that’s, that’s kind of in a, in a, just what I’d asked her does.

[00:23:08] Zach White: So when you take a broad brush of all these organizations, and I mean, we’re talking about a slice of, of industry and as one lens, but yeah.

[00:23:17] You know, a lot of engineers. I can still take lessons, I think, from what you see across that client base, what, what are organizations looking for that is the makeup of a top talent world-class engineering leader.

[00:23:33] Brian Mejeur: the biggest thing that comes to mind right off the bat is basically no, none of these smaller companies, especially in these modern companies are really looking for project management or just people leadership.

[00:23:48] That’s mostly not of interest until they’re at least a couple hundred employees, um, large. And, and even then it’s still a bit rare or there’s only a few of people like that in the whole company. They really want people who are not afraid of getting their hands dirty and doing the individual contributor, you know, hands-on grunt work.

[00:24:09] And It’s a little bit about being, being humble and just being excited to be working on, uh, the mission of the company and working with the other people at the company to do whatever it takes to, to help that mission succeed. And so if you’re really motivated by management and people management specifically, it’s going to be a little tough to get into a company like most of our clients, if that’s your siloed focus.

[00:24:36] And so still keeping your technical chops, you know, sharp those, those skills sharpened and willingness to do them. And, um, step into other arenas in the company and grab, grab responsibility. That’s how you’re gonna, that’s how you’re going to succeed at these, these organizations searching for the need that the company and grabbing it and just doing it.

[00:24:57] Zach White: Believe that, that mindset, that culture around startups is something that large, you know, fortune 500 type organizations want to adopt or need to adopt to advance and really be competitive. Or do you think it really is a unique thing about the startup culture?

[00:25:16] Brian Mejeur: Man, that’s a good question. I’ve been mostly disconnected from these larger, larger organizations some time now. And space X is for example, gotten to be 5,006,000 employees and. They’ve often said gunshot, all the presidents often said that their biggest issue is how do they stay small while getting large, right?

[00:25:38] How do they keep this energy, this startup energy as a larger organization? And so it is a really tough problem. And I don’t know how I don’t have a good answer right off the bat, off the bat of how large organizations could do that because there’s, there are logical reasons to having specialists in developing specialists, but then those skills don’t translate very well to a lot of our organizations because people are, have been so siloed into developing very niche, um, new skills.

[00:26:11] And aren’t used to running fast and running without a lot of guidance or a lot of barriers. And so I do think that. At least at the very minimum need to be looking. These large organizations need to be looking for ways to cut down on red tape and bureaucracy. There’s so much that doesn’t get done just because of, of that red tape and it really the ability to innovate.

[00:26:35] Zach White: So if the engineer listening says, you know, gosh, Brian, the idea of getting away from the red tape and bureaucracy and working in a small startup environment, like your clients really excites me, but maybe they’ve been in engineering for a decade or more in a big company and they don’t have that experience.

[00:26:52] What would be a couple of tactical things or practical things that they could be doing to start preparing themselves to be a great candidate in that different environment?

[00:27:03] Brian Mejeur: I think there’s, there’s a couple of things that come to mind. One would be. within your own company Trying to break out of  and try to break out what you’ve been doing and take on a different role, even if it’s just for six or 12 months or whatever it may be, try to take on some other responsibilities show that you can do more than this one thing you’ve been doing for the last decade or two.

[00:27:23] I think another thing is even just advertising your desire to be dynamic is, is huge. You know, if we come across a resume and that’s on a bullet at the top about who they are, is they’re motivated to be in this environment, um, or they have That passion for it, or they, I don’t know, kind of anything.

[00:27:45] It could be. There’s just, you got to show me if I’m just looking at a LinkedIn profile and I just. Boeing Lockheed, Boeing. And there’s nothing on there that has anything to suggest that you’re interested in doing anything outside of the big aerospace. It’s likely not going to be a good fit, but maybe you start, start a company on the side, selling potted plants or what in the now I’m like, oh, this guy’s a hustler.

[00:28:12] Or, you know, this, this woman can really do other things. It’s not just this one thing. It could really be anything, but it’s also about showing it and demonstrating it and then talking about and showing that enthusiasm and that passion and the way you communicate.

[00:28:28] Zach White: I think that’s great to look at what you can bring outside.

[00:28:32] Th the typical job description and add that end. So, Brian, when you say like advertise it, sometimes engineers, I talked to get really nervous about their current company finding out that they are interested in moving into the startup space and like, what do I do? How do I navigate that? I know that’s a really specific question, but it comes up a lot.

[00:28:49] Do you have any advice for folks in that space?

[00:28:54] Brian Mejeur: Well, the, the easy one was doesn’t solve the problem. And last question, but the easy one on LinkedIn is to say that you’re open to work, that doesn’t show up to your employer and only shows up, um, to, to recruiters and people like myself, assuming you don’t make it public.

[00:29:08] There’s an option for that. Otherwise I would just look to maybe even just include a quick summary about who you are at the top of your, um, about you and just use the. They’re kind of gimmicky, right? But those words, that kind of identity that are associated with the startup world, you know, dynamically, I’m eager to be in a, in a fast paced environment.

[00:29:32] I like to solve problems and cut through red tape. Like, you’re not saying you want to leave your company, but you know, if I see if I see that on someone who works at Boeing and probably thinking they maybe want to leave their company. Right. Um, so I think, I think you can be a little creative there, and maybe even depending on your supervisor, you can be direct about that.

[00:29:51] We’ve, we’ve hired people who have talked to their employee about the job offer that they’re going to their employer about the job offer they’re giddy. And so maybe depending on your relationship with your employer, then. Support that, because they know that that’s is where you’ll thrive and do the best.

[00:30:09] So I can’t say I recommend that for everyone.

[00:30:11] Zach White: I’d be very careful. Yeah. Yeah, totally. Yeah. So, so you know, everybody listening, Brian’s not telling you to go tell your boss, you want to quit, but at the same time, Brian, I really do think sometimes we make that out to be a scarier, bigger thing than it actually is.

[00:30:27] And if you’re, if your heart is no longer in it with the company that you work for, to be honest about that with your leader in a way that says, Hey, I’m not telling you I’m leaving in two weeks, but what I’m telling you is that I’m having a hard time seeing myself in this organization for the longterm.

[00:30:44] And, and I’d like to maximize the value and opportunity both that I’m giving the company and receiving, but also, you know, work with you on finding a great fit. You might be surprised, uh, how, how. Your leadership and your company would respond to that in supporting your transition rather than you feeling alone.

[00:31:03] Brian Mejeur: And a couple of their notes about that too. I mean, a large organization isn’t policing LinkedIn. No. So you’re now just worried about if someone stumbles across it and so you need to sort out what sort of risk you’re willing to take there. Um, but then the other item is, you know, if you’re developed, if you’re providing lots of value to your organization, they’re not going to let go of you for something that you say about your interests on a social media platform, right?

[00:31:33] If you’re a developer, if you’re delivering, then they’re going to want to keep you, or at least have a close relationship with you. And that’s not going to be a factor.

[00:31:42] Zach White: Awesome. So, Brian, I know we’re running short on time and there’s so much about, you know, job transition and engineering career growth and the industry I want to ask you about, but one question that I’d love your unique perspective on having been an engineer.

[00:31:56] You worked at space X, you’ve worked in startups and now doing, you know, talent placement and recruiting in your own companies, really broad perspective. A lot of times when we’re looking for that next role, if it’s a new company, there’s a challenge in really understanding, like, what is that company like?

[00:32:16] What are its values? What’s the culture there, you know, will it be a fit for me? do I want to make this decision? Is it a go or no go. And especially around values and culture. Everybody wants to know like, how do I assess that before I’ve actually landed the job? And I go. You know, what might be the hard way.

[00:32:34] Do you have any advice or tactics that you recommend for your clients? You know, people who are considering you’re, you’re working for your clients or, uh, just for the average engineer seeking that answer, is it a fit? What would they look for?

[00:32:50] Brian Mejeur: Yeah, so really great questions. So definitely want to just take the interview process methodically and absorb everything you can during that whole process.

[00:33:01] You know, the, the company isn’t just interviewing you, you’re also interviewing the company. And so there’s a couple ways that you need to think about that. And one is what are the questions that they’re asking? How is this process going . And how, what can I learn from, from those items? And then also realizing that you get to ask questions, you get to get your questions answered before you, you start a job.

[00:33:25] And that is not a show of weakness at all. That is a show of strength, but it needs to be done tactfully, of course, you know, with compassion w you know, with, with the right amount of IQ of how to navigate that. And that’s one thing that, shameless plug here is that we’re really helpful for. We can have much, we have really candid conversations with candidates and help, help them figure out how to get their answers, the answers that they need before they can say yes to an offer.

[00:33:54] Just knowing when the right time is to ask questions, typically, you know, you should have some time at the end of an interview, we’ve even had candidates come back and say, that interview process was a little quick. I want another interview, right? I want to talk to T I want to talk to who my colleagues will be.

[00:34:10] My, my peers, I haven’t met those people. I’d like to talk to them and ask them what they have to say about working for this, for this company. And so all these things are on the table and they’re not an issue or a problem just, you know, find the right opportunity for . Them and ask gently. But, but also firmly, right?

[00:34:32] Just say, Hey, I need, I need this. And that’s, that’s no, that’s no problem. You need to get the information you get in order to make a decision. And so, and even if at the end of the day, you’re you have uncertainties, whether it be about culture or compensation and there’s, there’s a gap. Um, we always recommend that you just state that gap and just say, Hey, this is, this is what I need in order to be able to say yes to, this role.

[00:34:56] And if that’s another interview, if that’s more money, if it’s whatever it might be, just state what you need. And they might say no, and then you say, okay, wasn’t able to get what I need and you walk away and everything’s okay. Or there, maybe they’re able to provide it and, and they’re happy to provide it.

[00:35:12] And now everyone everyone’s.

[00:35:15] Zach White: This is a great mindset shift for the engineer, listening that you don’t have to just play within the boundaries of the company’s interview process. You can be a participant in shaping that. And, uh, and it’s not a shameless plug at all. Brian and his wife Sikka and their team at Astra.

[00:35:32] If you happen to fall in their niche around aerospace and what they do absolutely should reach out to them because they’re fantastic at this. And it has a lot in common with coaching this idea of not tackling that alone, being able to have those, those conversations. And I know Seiko and Brian are great coaches as well.

[00:35:49] So Brian man, thank you so much. There’s a thousand things I want to ask, but let’s let’s land the plane here. Yeah. This is the happy engineer podcast. And one of the things that I have found and really believes that great engineering career growth it’s like great coaching in that, the question. We ask our really important, great questions, help to shape our lives and questions lead and answers follow.

[00:36:13] So if the engineer listening to this conversation wants to be happy. What is the best question you would lead them with?

[00:36:21] Brian Mejeur: So I would encourage, you know, the engineers out there to think about what areas of your company or industry or your business that you’re undervaluing that have a larger impact than you realize. So quick, quick example for that might be, you know, your, your idea for a product at your company is getting shot down, even though it solves a problem or a need.

[00:36:42] But the reality is that. It’s a marketing problem. You don’t know, you don’t have a way of selling it because it would require too much educating and other public to convince them that there’s a problem to be solved or something like that. And you just can be frustrated because you have this great solution.

[00:36:59] And so I think there’s a lot of opportunity to have engineers become more ingrained with what’s going on around them. If they’re thinking about what areas they’re not valuing of within their, within their company and their industry.

[00:37:17] Zach White: This is a really interesting question. Oh, I love having engineers on our podcast because thinking about your life, your company, your team, you could almost pick any context and apply this question.

[00:37:29] What are the areas that you’re currently under? Look at it from a new perspective, a new lens, and then take action to go get into those spaces and, you know, incredibly fulfilling and happy zones of your life could be under utilized. It could be totally missed just because we’re not seeing that. Brian.

[00:37:48] That’s awesome, man. I really love it. Thanks. Thanks for that. And there’s so much more we could dig into, but I can’t thank you enough for the time today. So tell the engineer listening. If they want to know more about Brian and ad Astra and the work that you do, where can they go to get more from you?

[00:38:03] Brian Mejeur: Yeah, for sure. The best place to find us is on LinkedIn. We have our company page ad Astra town acquisition, and so that’s, that’s the best place. We also have our [email protected], but honestly, following us on LinkedIn is, is the best connect with connecting me, checked with sake on LinkedIn, and we’d be happy to.

[00:38:22] Yeah, be in connection

[00:38:24] Zach White: with you. Perfect. I’ll put those links in our show notes. So if you’re listening and you want to go out to the Oasis of courage website and find that, uh, you’ll be able to get, get those links and Brian again, just thanks for, for leading the way for helping engineers every day to advance in their dreams, to help the companies they work for to find great talent and for sharing your wisdom with us today, this has been really great.

[00:38:46] We’ll have to find a time to reconnect and touch the other 20 areas of your story that we didn’t even bring up today. Brother. Thank you so much.

[00:38:55] Brian Mejeur: You’re welcome. And thanks so much for having me. This is a lot of fun.

 

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