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From School to Space: An Array of Engineers Co-op Experience

Author: Pedro Takayanagui


As I get to my last engineering co-op rotation at Array of Engineers and my final year in college, I still remember the feelings I had prior to starting work and having the incredible opportunity to work on space projects. Sure, I was excited. It was going to be my first engineering job, a remarkable step of my college journey, and I knew I had much to learn. But, as a first-time intern, I was also nervous. Besides all the effort and preparation, I was really hoping to be fully ready and prepared for this experience. After more than a year working as a co-op, I can say that the company culture and co-workers at Array of Engineers, allied with my mindset and determination, were key aspects that helped me have a productive and successful experience.


The term “company culture” is widely known, but we just realize the meaning and importance of it once we get to our first professional job. It turns out that work isn’t just work. Although the assignments you complete are key for your professional development, the greatest life and career’s impact comes from the people you work with. In fact, being surrounded by supportive colleagues helped to positively shape my job experience and performance. What I found at Array of Engineers is a work environment that truly cares about young engineers. Growth in different areas of expertise is promoted through opportunities for co-ops and interns to work on complex projects while receiving great mentorship. The company’s wide scope of projects spans PCB design, software development and verification, firmware design, web application development, and last but not least, automated software and hardware testing. Most of these projects have applications in the space, aerospace, defense, medical, automotive, and IoT industries.


Speaking of work, my experience at Array of Engineers has been focused on space projects, specifically for a partner that provides solutions for NASA, JPL, and Northrop Grumman missions. For instance, a project that I am heavily involved in consists in the development and testing of motor controllers, controlled by a field-programmable gate array (or more commonly known as an FPGA). These motor controllers will be used on various spacecraft on missions to extend the life of satellites in-orbit. Some of my tasks have been code development in Verilog, test benches, hardware testing, producing test reports that verify the correct functionality of each mission's requirement, and assisting our partners with any additional needs that arise.


One can imagine that transitioning from school assignments to real-world projects that will be sent to space is an exciting but fairly large step. That is where a determined and focused mindset comes in handy. It is a gradual process, but with time, asking questions, using the available resources, and having attention to detail, you will start to build up your confidence and make meaningful impacts for your team.


It is also important to know how to deal with moments when things do not go as expected. No matter what project you work on or which tasks you have, you might miss something on a line of code, be unsure of a component on the PCB, or even worry you may have damaged expensive space flight hardware (it took some days, but it was actually a simple software communication issue). No matter what undesired event happens, it is crucial to remain calm, and have an analytical and out-of-the-box thinking to solve the problem. Moreover, embracing your mistakes, understanding what went wrong, and preparing yourself so it does not happen again is key for your growth and performance. Additionally, having supportive and engaged mentors to review my work and provide feedback has been a key part of my engineering development. After all, as the poet poet Nikki Giovanni would say “mistakes are a fact of life. It is the response to error that counts."


Besides all the technical knowledge that you obtain, another valuable component for a young engineer to absorb is experience. Of course, you will learn so many new things through the projects you complete, but what I find very unique and meaningful is the opportunity to learn from your co-workers. Honestly, I am a shy person and I am continually improving in that regard. But from the experiences I have had, there is so much to learn from the people around you by simply asking about their day, their career, or how their current projects are going. Reflecting on my entire co-op and college experience, both personally and professionally, a lesson I will not forget is that we should never stop seeking to learn new things.


 

Pedro Takayanagui is an electrical engineering co-op at Array of Engineers, where he supports various space projects such as FPGA code development and testing for satellites. Pedro is studying electrical engineering at Grand Valley State University.

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