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Meet: Mike Wong

Aeronautical Engineer and Computer Programmer, Military Technology
Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA

My Journals

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.

Early Influences
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 engineering career.

My Plans
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.


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