Meet: Mike Wong
Aeronautical Engineer and Computer Programmer, Military Technology
Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA
Who I Am
My occupation is as an aeronautical engineer and computer programmer.
I work for a contractor at NASA Ames in a field called computational fluid
dynamics (CFD for short). CFD is a branch of aeronautics in which computers
are used to simulate the flow of air around and/or through aircraft. Engineers
study the computer generated flow fields to develop more aerodynamically
efficient aircraft shapes. Using the computer to study aerodynamics allows
us to more easily see how aircraft will fly before they are actually built,
and it helps us to design them better. I'm responsible for modeling the
geometry of aircraft on the computer as well as running the computer code
which simulates the airflow. I work as part of a team which performs research
at NASA to develop advanced aircraft.
My Career Path
I went to college to learn about math, science, and computers, and to
earn a degree in mechanical engineering. I studied at the University of
California at Berkeley located in the San Francisco Bay Area. Its campus
is built on the slope of a hill which overlooks San Francisco and the
Golden Gate Bridge. It is a densely populated campus with many students
like myself who are usually pretty busy. Yet, for most of my time there,
I didn't quite know what I was going to do for a career.
At first I thought that I'd go into robotics because
it sounded practical. I liked aeronautics very much, but I didn't think
that there were many jobs in it, and it seemed less likely to happen early
on. Robotics is a good field, but as I took courses in college, I became
less interested in that area and more interested in fluid flow. I also
liked computers, and would take extra computer courses. I'd often work
long hours writing computer programs for class projects because I liked
it. I was first introduced to NASA Ames as a junior in engineering school.
My fluid mechanics professor treated us to a tour here. Afterward, I told
her how much I liked the tour, and she suggested that if I were interested,
there was some NASA computer code that she needed translated for the computer
system at Berkeley. Naturally, I took advantage of the opportunity.
So, that was the beginning of my career. When I was
searching for a job, somebody saw my resume and was impressed to see that
I had experience with NASA code. I've been working on various tasks in
research with a BS degree in mechanical engineering for nine years at
Ames. During this time, I've been a part of very interesting projects
involving the analysis of supersonic and hypersonic flight vehicles and
jet intakes. I'm glad that I took the aeronautics career path and am grateful
to my professor who was willing to extend help to me and allow me to find
something that I liked doing.
Pluses and Minuses
A career in engineering, as any job, has positives and negatives. Engineers
often work on difficult and complex problems. It requires me to focus
on solving the problem, and often I count on the advice of others. It
can be challenging at times, but help is all around. The rewards are in
the satisfaction of seeing a model "fly" inside of the computer, of knowing
that it will help somebody design a better airplane, and of contributing
to the advancement of flight.
As a kid, influence in aeronautics and space was all around me. I liked
paper airplanes. My room was always littered with various types that I
made from paper airplane books or that someone taught me how to make.
I was fascinated by how they flew. I also enjoyed watching Star Trek.
(Back then it was the Star Trek with Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock.) As an
asian, I also enjoyed seeing a character named Mr. Sulu on Star Trek because
he was a pretty cool character and was responsible for piloting the Starship
Enterprise. I'd imagine what space travel would be like in the future.
It's important that you find out what you like to do. In my immediate
family, my brother became a California Highway Patrol Officer and my sister
was a salesperson for awhile and is now a computer instructor for a clothing
store chain, and both are very satisfied with their jobs. Our parents
gave us the freedom and support to choose what we'd like to do. Sometimes,
this takes awhile. It's important to study, but it's also important to
enjoy yourself while in school and to develop many interests. If you find
that you like science and math, pursue your interests, and take as many
classes on them as you can. Talk to your parents about it, and ask for
their help. I'm sure that they'd be glad to help you get started in your
My plans are to continue in my job for awhile. In engineering, there is
always much to learn, and I find that I am continually developing new
skills and becoming better at my job. I plan to stay at Ames for at least
a few more years. I am currently single and have no children. If I were
to get married and have kids, I'd encourage them to find something that
they're good at doing and that they'd enjoy. I think that there are great
things to come in the next century, and learning about science is the
key to understanding them and perhaps influencing them.