This week, as part of our career series, we’re following Petra* to find out what a day in the life of an aerospace engineer really looks like.
Petra* is 35 and has been working in the engineering industry for over a decade. She has a BSc in aerospace engineering and an MSc in systems engineering, and her previous roles have included everything from a cashier in a pharmacy (she used her discount to buy all the make-up) to being the engineering technical lead of over 50 systems engineers, working across commercial and military projects. Right after university she worked for NASA on the space shuttle program for four years, before switching to working on aircraft due to the space shuttle program ending.
And, if you’re wondering what an aerospace engineer actually is, Petra* explains it as: “Another name for a rocket scientist. Aerospace engineers design rockets, spacecraft, aircraft, aircraft components, anything that flies in the skies or in space”.
This is what a day in Petra’s* life looks like…
7.30am: “I stay in bed for a few minutes checking my mobile for any messages that came in overnight, as I am an expat in the UK and the time difference means all my friends and family are a few hours behind. I then brush my teeth, do my face routine, change into loungewear and head downstairs. I feed and cuddle my dog for a bit, he’s 15 and has become very attached to me.”
8am: “Getting to work for me means turning on my computer and logging in to the VPN from my home office. I start up Microsoft Teams, I check emails, and slowly fire up other applications I need to perform my job. Typically, in the morning, my team are itching with questions, so when I go online, I get a lot of messages at once. I spend an hour catching up with other engineers on calls (wireless headset for the win) and answering questions.”
9am: “There is a daily catch up with the other managers and leads of the project to set up priorities for the day. And, depending if my husband is working from home or not, I get a nice breakfast delivered to my desk around this time too!”
10am: “I spend my time mostly at my home office desk. I do have to go to the office from time to time to bigger meetings (e.g. with the company executives), or head to the avionics lab when I’m doing testing of a product. Around 10am I have daily CCB (configuration control board) meeting. I am the systems technical lead and required at every single one of these meetings to ensure the changes proposed make sense in the big picture of our current product. I am responsible for hundreds of product requirements.”
“I knew I wanted to get into aerospace engineering because when I was a kid I was always fascinated with airplanes, rockets, the space shuttle, and anything air and space. I’m also a very “tech-y” person – for example, in my house, it’s me buying and installing all the gadgets, not my husband!”
10.30am: “I have an hour meeting organized with some members of my team to discuss an issue we found during requirements validation. The senior engineer wants it fixed one way, the junior a different way. Decision is up to me. I agree with the junior engineer so we move forward with the proposed fix. Rarely people argue about my decisions. If they disagree, we discuss it and always reach a pragmatic solution.”
11.30am: “Another meeting, now to discuss the entry criteria of a design audit. This audit is performed by our customer’s FAA (US Federal Aviation Administration) representatives. Anxiety hits its peak at this time!”
12.30pm: “I should be eating and taking a break, but I am eating and working. This happens pretty much daily. I have a full-time contract, which is 37 hours a week. However, I do a lot of overtime, so typically work about 48-55 hours per week. Thankfully it’s paid overtime though, so even though it is exhausting sometimes, the paycheck is worth it!”
1.30pm: “Time for our meeting with our US site. We discuss tasks that need their input and issues we have found. There’s a few managers present. The technical call becomes a schedule discussion. When will we be ready to deliver to the customer?”
2pm: “A requirements document needs to be released. A member of my team has to work overtime the day before to get the document at its proper configuration control and the initial meeting minutes ready. One of the chief engineers doesn’t agree with the status of a specific requirement validation. We can’t release the document until we fill a Problem Report and get it approved at the CCB.”
3pm: “Meeting with the customer. Lots of managers. They talk schedule. Customer gets angry because we are slipping our date. We explain the increase in scope due to issues found during validation and verification. We need to ensure we do everything properly for the safety of the aircraft. Things get elevated to the executives, the customer’s CEO calls our CEO…. Here we go again.”
4pm: “I am listening in to a technical meeting to ensure it doesn’t derail. I do work in the background and answer the 15 pending messages from my team and some of the 300-ish unread emails in my inbox.”
5pm: “A lot of the engineers have logged off which means I can get an hour of peace where I can do proper work. I organize meetings for the next day, I provide project metrics to the manager, I write down my action/to-do list on my trusty pukka pad, and then by 6pm I am usually done.”
“My days have changed a lot since covid. My wake-up time used to be 6am, to take shower and get ready. I am one of the lucky ones that can do my job from home and I also now have a proper office space in my house. I have given it so much attention, that I now dread if I have to go to the office because my desk space is so much more comfortable at home. Additionally, the emails I receive has doubled, and the number of meetings has tripled. Many times, my whole morning is spent jumping from meeting to meeting.”
7pm: “I am lucky that my husband understands my long days, so he typically cooks dinner. When I finish, he is either starting or in the middle of cooking. I go to the kitchen to help him and we talk about our days and vent. We eat dinner, which is usually some sort of pasta dish with an occasional glass of wine, then we watch TV, and walk the dog. Some days I play video games too. Right now, I’m very into my Nintendo Switch. I’m loving Mario Kart 8 and unlocking all the karts and motorbikes.
10.30pm: I usually head to bed around 10.30 or 11pm. The last thing I do before I switch off is check my work phone to get mentally ready for meetings the next day. Especially since occasionally colleagues organise meetings for 8am.
You can read more in our 24 hours careers series here.