Preface: I realize this post is way too long for anyone to actually read it, and that’s fine. My audience for this post is really myself and anyone who seriously loves us and wants to know how I think and why we did such a crazy thing like move to LA. It doesn’t bother me if no-one ever reads this post, because I know that someday I will need it to remind myself of the promises of God.
Whew, it’s been a long time since I’ve blogged and a lot has happened already in 2014.
- AZ, Jan 8th: contacted by SpaceX
- AZ, Jan 16h: phone interview
- AZ, Jan 23rd: submit practical exam (20hrs effort)
- AZ, Feb 4th: submit exam presentation, updated resume, and letter to Elon
- CA1, Feb 5-6: job interview in CA
- AZ, Feb 8-9: Nate and Hannah’s birthday
- France, Feb 9th: fly to France for work
- France, Feb 21st: salary negotiation, accept job offer
- France, Feb 24th: return from France
- AZ, Feb 24th: submit letter of resignation
- TX, Mar 1-6: CLA Summit in TX
- CA2, Mar 6-9: House hunting in CA
- AZ, Mar 21st: last day at Orbital
- AZ, Mar 24th: movers take our stuff
- CA3, Mar 27th: drive to CA temporary hotel
- CA4, Mar 29th: move into apartment
- CA5, April 7th: first day at SpaceX
Also note that each CA line was at a different location. For a while it was becoming difficult to remember where I was when I would wake up in the middle of the night.
Since starting at SpaceX, life has returned to a normal rhythm, unfortunately the rhythm has a really fast beat. SpaceX has had many successful launches since then, and I’m deeply entrenched in my first big project.
Before I get too far removed from the decisions that led us here, I need to document why we made this decision and what kind of confirmations we’ve received that this was the right thing to do.
Ready for Something New
When LDCM launched in 2/2013, I started to question whether I wanted to repeat another satellite lifecycle at Orbital. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy my job or that I didn’t like Orbital. On the contrary, I enjoyed my job most of the time and think Orbital is fine family company to work for. But the lifecycle of a satellite is so long compared to most fields of engineering. In my 9 years at General Dynamics/Orbital, I had only worked on 3 programs to that point: C/NOFS, GeoEye-1, and LDCM. And the type of work from one program to the next was all very similar: database management and tool development, scripting, minor AstroRT feature and performance enhancements. It didn’t feel like we had many any major advancements any one of those areas, and the idea of doing that same work again wasn’t super appealing. My manager did her best to address this by putting me on different kinds of projects after LDCM. For OCO-2 I learned about MAESTRO, solaris, and linux. For Iridium NEXT I got to develop RF automation tests. These were both learning opportunities and a departure I from the work I had done for the previous 8 years, and I appreciate that. However, I was slated to move back onto ICESat-2 as my work for Iriduim NEXT came to a conclusion, and I still had the same feeling I had following LDCM launch…am I going to do this again? I would have been happy doing it again, it just seemed if I were going to make a change, this was an opportune time to do it.
CLA Summit, LabVIEW Champion
Also converging on March 2014 was the completion of my stint as CLA Summit cochair, which started in March 2012, and culminated in a successful technical conference of ~120 of the best LabVIEW programmers and ~30 technical presentations in the country. For volunteering to head up this conference I was named a LabVIEW Champion, which is an honor given to people “who have made significant contributions to the LabVIEW Community”. There are currently ~65 LabVIEW Champions in the world. Because I was regularly communicating with some of the leading figures in the LabVIEW community, I started to feel that perhaps I was not taking advantage of an excellent opportunity to spring-board to a new job. Indeed, if I had been looking for a job at the time of the CLA Summit, I probably could have taken a good job just about anywhere in the country. But I was still mostly happy with my current job, and cannot say enough how satisfied we were with our home, neighborhood, town, and church. That’s a hard combination to beat.
I had also received several prophetic words, some from complete strangers, that they felt that I would soon be promoted to positions of great influence, both technical and spiritual. The most significant of these prophetic words came in April and Dec 2012. I didn’t see how these prophetic words would come to pass in a significant way in my current job.
Appeal of Manned Missions
Working on manned missions has always been a desire of mine, but one that I never pursued because I thought the opportunity was too small. This especially proved to be true around 2010 when NASA announced the Shuttles would be retired in 2011. When I learned about Orbital’s ISS resupply contract (Orbital won the contract in 2008, but I did not get acquired by Orbital until mid 2010), I actually told my boss I would be willing to relocate to Virginia and give up working with LabVIEW if it meant having an opportunity to work on manned missions. I was disappointed to learn that Orbital’s resupply vehicle Cygnus would never carry astronauts, and Orbital apparently has no interest in getting involved in transporting people. So when SpaceX called and asked if I was interested in helping put people on Mars, you can imagine how much it piqued my interest. Personally, I’m not sure that Mars in and of itself makes that much sense. It would be unpleasant to live there to say the least, and as of yet there’s no evidence that it has any natural resources that would be economical for us to harvest. But I do believe that space travel is a worthy goal, setting goals that stretch the human race is a worthy goal. And for those reasons, I think Mars is an excellent objective as the next step in our technological evolution.
God’s Vision for Graphical Programming
I have said much in the past about what I believe is God’s vision for graphical programming. I think God will use it to do miraculous things in our world. I think graphical programming will become of the wave of the future that allows software to continue to facilitate change and improve our world. In order for that to happen, graphical programming needs to overcome prejudice in the Software Engineering industry. Most computer scientists and software engineers see graphical programming as something meant for toys, or perhaps used in labs to do simple test and measurement tasks, that it can never provide the performance and flexibility needed to be a general purpose programming language. I believe God has called me to help overcome that prejudice, and that is why I am now a LabVIEW Champion. It’s not LabVIEW specifically that I’m promoting, though LabVIEW is the only graphical programming language that I am familiar with. In reality I think LabVIEW needs more competition to drive improvements. LabVIEW and graphical programming needs good publicity, it needs case studies, it needs case studies to show the software industry that graphical programming can be used as a general purpose language. I believed that my job at Orbital was fulfilling this mission. I maintained a large application written in LabVIEW and Orbital had many successful missions using it. However, General Dynamics and Orbital were not good at self-promoting its software capabilities. As a result, few people, even within National Instruments, realized that Orbital maintains a large LabVIEW application. If nobody knows about it, its impact on the software industry is extremely small.
Now contrast that with SpaceX. NI loves to showcase what SpaceX is doing with LabVIEW, and NI bends over backwards to support SpaceX. The LabVIEW community is rooting for SpaceX, everybody wants to see SpaceX be successful. And SpaceX is not afraid to put more development dollars into its Ground Software to make a vibrant product. With Orbital it’s always just enough to get the job done, which is not a good place to be for long term product maintenance. Clearly, my objective of bringing good exposure to graphical programming is better served at SpaceX. If I’m going to proclaim that this is one of my life’s purposes, then to be a man of good integrity I must take advantage of opportunities that help achieve that purpose.
I was also strongly attracted to the fact that the SpaceX work force is very young and secular. I hope that over time, through building relationships and positive modeling, I can help shape the SpaceX culture and environment to be more family and God-friendly. I hope that directly or indirectly I can be a mentor the people on my team.
When it comes down to it, the decision was easy because every time I asked God whether this was something I should do, I got a very clear response: “GO”, every time. Although I wasn’t interested in relocating, especially to CA, I feel like God was speaking clearly to me, and all of the pieces seemed to fall into place from there.
The trick is to be obedient to that word. Not over analyze, second guess, or let your flesh get in the way. This can be a struggle, particularly when talking to many people who were negative to the relocation. The most common objections I heard against the relocation were about the destination, Los Angeles, and the fact that we’ll likely see family less. Both of those are unfortunate realities, but comfort and happiness isn’t God’s objective, and it shouldn’t be ours. Simply trust that he will protect and provide, and don’t listen to the doubters. The best place you can be, where-ever that is, is where God wants you to be. (thanks Robert Keil) We’re trusting God will do the rest.
The lives of Joshua and Daniel were also great inspirations to me during this time. Joshua had a hard job, he had to lead a fickle people to defeat giants in Canaan. But God promised to go before him. Josh 1:3: “I will give you every place where you set your foot”. Josh 1:9: “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” 4 times in this capture God tells Joshua to be Strong and Courageous. I believe I am being asked to occupy CA in the same way.
Daniel likely didn’t want to be taken to Babylon, and likely didn’t want to serve pagan Kings. But he did so to the best of his ability and through his faithfulness was able to bless both the Babylonians and the Israelites. I pray that I can have same trust in God and impact on the Kingdom.
Several logistical matters fell into place nicely. We both rented out our house and found a new place to live essentially in 1 day each. We have great tenants in AZ, and we have a great Christian landlord here in CA. The place we were staying was outside of our search parameters. We were pretty certain we were only interested in a single family detached home. Our relator urged us to look at this townhouse based on its price, quality, size, and distance to work. She was right. We’re renting a townhouse for $2100 a month for a 4 bedroom, 2.5 bath, gated community with a pool. That is a tremendous deal considering housing is about 2.5x more expensive here than it was in Gilbert, AZ. We’re not crazy about the townhouse or the location. We miss living in a suburban neighborhood. But we are absolutely convinced that God has blessed us with this place and a great landlord for the time being, and we are thankful for it.
It may also have been a blessing that our dog passed away late in 2013. Finding a place for a large dog definitely limits your options here. And we were fortunate to find a quick home for our bunny, as we no longer had a back yard to keep him in.
And coincidentally, the vehicle registration on our van expired just after we moved, so we didn’t need to renew it in AZ. J
I’m sure there have been more confirmations and motivating reasons to make the move, I have already waited too long to capture these thoughts. But I think this is more than sufficient motivation and encouragement to stay the course until further notice. We are feeling very blessed here, and LA does have a variety of new things for us to experience. I expect through God’s providence that I will be successful at work and at home, and we shall find our grove in ministry very soon.