Ever since she was seven, Andrea Boyd has been in love with the planets, stars and the vast unknown that is space. And ever since she was seven, Andrea has wanted to be an engineer, to work with the organisations that are sending humanity to the moon and beyond.
She is now working at her dream career as a Flight Operations Engineer for the International Space Station (ISS), but it’s been a long journey to get there. Leaders in Heels had the opportunity to sit down with Andrea and talk about how she made her passion into her career.
Thanks for your time, Andrea! It’s incredible that you’ve known your passion since you were seven.
I fell in love with space when I was young, and deciding on your career from childhood really makes a difference. I loved collecting old parts and using them to put things together again. On the other hand, I also loved playing with Barbies and building houses—you can like both!
Why an engineer?
The majority of people who work in space-related fields are all engineers. They have the mindset of problem-solving. Most situations don’t have a clear answer, and you need to find a solution based on the information that you have on hand.
You worked in the mining sector initially. How do you go from that to becoming a Flight Operations Engineer with the ISS?
While I was a professional engineer in mining, I also worked on space-related items on the side and developed different skills beyond my career. It’s incredibly important to have a wide skill-set, because you never know what you’ll need. Volunteer experience in the industry counts for a lot. For example, I participated in many international teamwork space projects, and networked and travelled a lot.
Even when I was in school, I did a lot of extra-curricular activities related to space, such as SpaceCamp [run by the South Australian Space School]. There are a lot of activities in all Australian cities for students who are interested!
In addition, mining also has a lot of complex control systems, like Mission Control. So there was an overlap of skills, which helped.
How did this particular job come about?
I researched a lot of jobs in the space industry, and found this one online on a site similar to Seek. It’s all about networking so you hear about the job or know where to go to find the kind of jobs you want. Look out for opportunities, and apply! You’ll never get a job you don’t apply for.
What was the hardest part about applying to work with the ISS?
The agency is based in Europe, so I took a huge chance by buying a one-way ticket with no guarantee I would be hired. I quit my job, flew over there, and put everything into applying. It was a huge risk!
Was there a lot of additional training afterwards?
To work in Mission Control, you have to undergo a year of training. There are theory lessons, tests, and practicals. We also had to manage a lot of simulated situations. The training gave me a lot of confidence when I started working in actual Mission Control. Confidence isn’t a natural thing, and I think women and girls, especially, struggle with it.
If confidence isn’t natural, how have you developed it?
It’s about being more comfortable with failing. I’ve learned to try anyway. I’ll train as best I can, give it a go, and if I fail then I’ll train harder and try it again.
Do you have any experiences you don’t mind talking about?
I’ve applied for many projects and scholarships over the years. There have been big ones I went for and failed. But each time, I picked myself up and kept working on my skills, and kept applying for others.
There was one big application that I worked on for eighteen months. I really wanted it… but I failed. I didn’t get in. I was absolutely devastated. I didn’t give up on in, and two years later, I finally got it!
There are so many paths to achieve your dream. Don’t let rejection get you down.
That’s great advice! Before we finish the interview, is there any other advice you’d like to give others who are pursuing their passion?
Have the big dream, and go towards it. As you work at it, you’ll get better at it. Iterate! Dream it, train for it, then do it! Training and networking will also help.
Andrea Boyd was interviewed as part of a promotion for the latest Barbie film by Mattel – Barbie: Starlight Adventure. The movie empowers young girls and boys to know that yes, they too can go into space.