This is my third of three summaries of what I observed at the AIAA Space 2018 Forum (the other posts can be found here and here). This isn’t necessarily the last posting on this conference…I might write later about my overall impressions of the space business in a separate entry in a week or two. However, these entries are long enough (this entry runs over 3,300 words, my apologies), so let’s get to it. Continue reading “Impressions from AIAA Space 2018, Part 3”
It’s been around 10 years since I last attended a conference for the American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), the professional association for aerospace engineers. I attended the AIAA Space 2018 Forum this week, and it felt like a different experience from when I was a NASA contractor 2006-2012. I also wasn’t attending as a reporter or for a job, just Bart Leahy, AIAA Member and interested space geek. Part of that could be my age, part of it was a reflection of what’s happening in the space business now. Exciting times to be in the business or just observing it as an interested member of the public. What follows are some of my notes from the various sessions for your reference. Continue reading “Impressions from AIAA Space 2018, Part 1”
My professional blog, Heroic Technical Writing, is a public education service. My goal was and is to honestly help people seeking advice about the business of technical writing. I’m not interested in putting up a pay wall, though I might write a book at some point. That’s about as far as my selfishness goes here.
Most of the time, I write blogs for a generalized technical writing community of students and professionals who check out my writing from all over the world. Every month or two, a reader contacts me directly asking for specific advice about their particular situation. What’s amusing to me is that a lot of the people who contact me directly all have the same intention: they want my job!
I understand that passion–I had it for years and it took me nearly 25 years to finally achieve it, so I appreciate that people think I have some magic formula for helping them reach the same destination.
There are a couple of ironic twists to the advice I release out into the world like a kid blowing soap bubbles in the park. The first amusing part is that I no longer earn my living as a space writer, and haven’t since I was downsized out of my full-time job (through no fault of mine or my employer’s, I hasten to add) in 2013. I do some space work, but that’s not my primary source of income. The other thing that amuses me is that as I offer advice or even suggest points of contact, it occurs to me that I am creating a cadre of potential competitors for future work.
I still offer the help. Part of it is because I genuinely want to help. Also, I suppose I’m confident enough in my abilities that I feel I could get specific work if I pursued it (I’m on a contract right now, so there hasn’t been a big rush). And the last reason why I keep helping is that I’m trying to develop what some folks call an “abundance mentality,” as opposed to a scarcity mentality.
Scarcity vs. abundance
A person with a scarcity mentality sees the world as a zero-sum game: if I get a job, someone else will not get it. Or they think, as I suggested above, that helping others get a job in my field creates my pool of competitors and reduces my chances. There are, in fact, only so many full-time “space writers” out there–and I know or have met many of the best in the business. Surely I can’t afford to flood the market with proteges who might take the food out of my rice bowl! The scarcity mindset says, “I need to protect what’s mine!”
That’s one perspective. The abundance mindset, however, says that people can create their own jobs and careers. People thinking this way believe that the economic pie can and will continue to expand and that people can create their own special niches as the professional ecosystem diversifies and grows. The abundance mindset says, “There will always be more opportunity!”
And space is an expanding field (no pun intended). It isn’t just NASA or the Defense Department anymore. There is now a small but steadily growing entrepreneurial sector with companies starting to compete not just for launch vehicles but also satellites, space stations, asteroid-mining equipment, and other types of hardware. The sooner those private-sector companies reach and expand their respective customer bases, the sooner we’ll see additional start-ups to support the markets that the primary space companies create. And as the space market expands, there will also be more opportunities for government to settle in along the edges, should you wish to work in the civil service.
Thinking differently about your path
The point being, to be a writer in the space industry, you don’t have to be working directly for NASA or one of its contractors, though that’s still a good option when the jobs are available. Likewise, if you’re not a space enthusiast but care deeply about animals, hunger, or nuclear power, there are alternative ways to support those causes that don’t require you to be right on the front lines. I also know people whose actual job descriptions are nowhere close to scientist or engineer, but because they work at NASA, they take immense pride in “doing their part” for the space program.
No one needs to follow the exact path I did to get a job as a space writer–in fact, I highly recommend that you don’t: chose an easier route! However, there are many ways to serve a cause that you believe in, and having an abundance mentality allows you to be open to multiple possibilities and multiple ways of reaching your preferred destination. And you might find something along the way toward your goal that you like even better.
So if you are a seeker of advice, fear not: I will continue to give whatever wisdom I can offer. If you manage to get the same type of job I have, fantastic! Space is a difficult business and it could use all the good communicators it can find. Just remember to say thank you if I helped and to pay it forward if you get to a point where you’re able to help others. Think abundantly!
Sometime in the last year I decided to start making my salads upside down.
Some of you might get this immediately, especially if you’re not a huge fan of lettuce, spinach, kale, arugula, or any of those other leafy greens that always seem to form the base of any salad you’ve seen. That bed of green stuff is covered with cucumbers or tomatoes or something mildly interesting, and then those items are garnished with cheese, olives, peppers, and things that actually stimulate your taste buds.
I frickin’ hate salad because eventually, once I get through the interesting stuff on top, I’m left with lettuce. And like I said, I’m not a fan.
So earlier this year, being the only grownup in my home, I made the unilateral decision to put the interesting stuff into the salad bowl first: cheese, peppers, olives, marinated artichokes, what have you. Then the tomatoes go in, then cucumbers and, occasionally, the stupid lettuce. No, it won’t win any aesthetic or culinary awards, but it’s finally in a form I don’t mind eating because the good stuff comes at the end.
I work and pay my bills this way, too, so I guess that’s where it started. I try to do the big, ugly, un-fun projects (editing or re-editing large documents, for example) first so I can savor the time doing things that I enjoy, like creative copy or maybe even fiction. I pay the big, scary bills (rent, credit card, utilities, car payment) before I set aside money to go out later in the week.
The logic to this approach, is that I need to do the boring, unglamorous stuff first so I have something to look forward to at the end of it. Consume all that interesting stuff up front and you’re left with a long, hard slog afterward.
Next step: eating ice cream sundaes upside down. Anyone with me?