Nov 20, 2022
I recently accepted a job offer to work at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, AL. This is a bit of a dream come true for me. I've been working in a similar field for a number of years now, and really the only reason I would leave my job is if I got an offer from NASA. The offer came, I accepted; I start in a couple weeks.
The process started a few months ago. My wife had just gotten a new job and had a fairly good experience navigating the job market. I decided to put my hat in the ring just to sort of test the waters. I applied to a few NASA positions, not really expecting to hear back. Sure enough I got some rejections, and I submitted more applications. Eventually I got an email offering a virtual interview. Despite it being in a geographic location that didn't particularly appeal to me (Alabama), I decided to at least go through the interview process to work on the skills that I hadn't really used since I interviewed for my current job nearly 20 years prior.
Since it had been such a long time since my last interview, I did a bunch of prep work to get ready for some of the tough questions that often come up in interviews, like "Tell us about a time when [some negative thing happened] and how you overcame that" or "How do you deal with interpersonal conflict in a stressful job environment" and things like that. I actually spent quite a bit of time and energy preparing which, again, I viewed at least as good practice for any other future job interviews that might come along.
I put on a suit and tie and seriously considered not wearing pants because (a) the video only captured me from above the waist, and (b) it was a hot summer day in my house and I was sweating more than usual due to the stress of the interview. The interview itself consisted of a panel of people asking me fairly simple questions about my work experience and things like that. One of the questions was, "Why do you want to work for NASA?" My answer was prepared and heartfelt: If I could do the same type of work I'm currently doing (flight dynamics modeling and trajectory simulations) but for a different overall mission (scientific discovery and space exploration vs. military and defense), that would be extremely attractive to me.
For a few weeks after the interview, I sort of agonized a bit. I tried not to get too ahead of myself, but I wanted to be prepared for whatever answer came: (a) rejection, (b) an ok offer that might be reasonable to decline, or (c) a great offer that would be foolish to reject.
Then came the initial offer via email. It was a pretty good offer. Once they did some employment verification and whatnot, that offer became a very good offer. They even invited me to counteroffer to account for things like moving expenses and whatnot. I submitted a counteroffer, not expecting much from a government organization, and they came back with an even better offer.
I had about a month to make a decision, and I agonized quite a bit more. The idea of moving out of New Jersey was the biggest downside, not because New Jersey is particularly great, but because it's home. We own a house here, we have friends and family here, we know where the best pizza places are. And Alabama isn't exactly the most attractive place to live. The prospect of selling our house, moving away from our home, and buying a house in a faraway southern state was a bit of a roadblock.
I did some research. I got some advice from friends. I traveled down to Huntsville to check things out firsthand. I did a lot of thinking. I came back home thinking I would probably decline the job offer because it just wasn't the right time. My wife was working on some things in her new job and she wasn't ready to leave. My thought was that I'd decline this offer, then maybe try again in a year or two when we were more ready for such a big change.
My wife, bless her heart, pointed out that my job offer was currently on the table, while her career goals were more long-term. It would be foolish to reject the "current actual" vs. hoping for the "future potential." Plus there'd be no guarantee that this offer would come around again in the future. We were eating lunch at a local restaurant, and our conversation started with "I think I'll decline the offer" and ended with "I think I'll accept the offer."
I was looking back at some really old emails, and I happened to find some previous times I had to applied to NASA: once in 2007, once in 2008, and once in 2013. What I hadn't realized at the time is that the positions I applied for were all essentially the same position, in the same group, at the same NASA location. In 2022, I got that job, in that group, at that NASA location.