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Fanboying at the Career Fair by Allan K. '17

SpaceX, CubeSats, and free stuff, oh my!

Picture for me, if you will, all your favorite celebrities. These are people you’re in awe of, people you follow on Twitter, people you hold as your role models. They are rock stars and movie stars and talk show hosts and the fabulous glamorous divas of popular culture.

Got it?

Now imagine that they all convened at one place to throw a huge concert, and afterwards there’s a gigantic meet-and-greet. They come armed with free samples of their new music, t-shirts, posters, bracelets, branded water bottles. And they don’t just want to meet you–they’re looking for people to go and work for them. People are dressing to the nines and lining up around the block to get in for the chance to talk, face-to-face, with these celebrities, trying to impress them, make friends with them, prove that they’re their number one fans.

Get a picture of the pushing crowds and the buzz of excitement. Get a picture of the banners and posters advertising each celebrity, saying, “Come to us! Come meet us! We’re super cool!” Get a picture of all the toys and candy and stickers everyone is giving away.

That’s what the MIT Career Fair is like. All the rock stars of the science and engineering world came out to the Johnson Athletic Center looking for new friends to make. DropBox, Facebook, Google, Apple, SpaceX (more on SpaceX later)…they were all there. And the line really did stretch all the way down to Mass Ave and around the corner. It took a long, hot hour just to get inside.

Now, being a freshman, going to the career fair was kind of like being the twelve-year-old at your big brother’s birthday party. You’re kind of cute and everyone smiles at you and gives you cookies, but in the end, most of the people are there for the cool kids: the upperclassmen and grad students with UROPs and past internships and industry experience and higher-level coursework under their belts. That didn’t stop me and a good fraction of the freshman class from going to check it out anyway, because, hey, why not? There’s no reason to pass up a chance to chat up celebrities. I had a lengthy discussion with Aurora Flight Sciences about their work with CubeSats (Google CubeSats because CubeSats are really cool and there is a special place in my heart for CubeSats because I did a research project involving CubeSats during high school). And the fair was also an opportunity to learn about new and up-and-coming celebrities; for example, today I met Planet Labs, a start-up in San Francisco designing and launching nanosatellites (incidentally, also CubeSats!) for planetary imaging. They even had a super-nifty model (I think it was a model and not the real thing) to share:

Which brings me to SpaceX. I’ve been using this celebrities metaphor for the career fair but I think SpaceX actually qualifies for celebrity-hood. They’re the first private organization to send a capsule to the International Space Station, and probably will be the first to take humans up. You know how when NASA multistage rockets launch, the depleted stages detach and just fall into the ocean or burn up in the atmosphere? SpaceX is working on reusable rockets that will fly back to the launch pad and land vertically (as they say, the current state of rocketry is comparable to throwing the airplane away every time you make a flight). SpaceX is quite seriously working on getting a colony on Mars, and soon. They are making history, and, oh, on the side, they’re YouTube stars. This video of one of their Grasshopper tests has upward of 3 million views:

Do you see this? You know when you tried balancing broomsticks on end on your hand as a little kid? SpaceX just did that with a “broomstick” the size of a small skycraper, filled with sloshing fuel, and using rocket engines instead of hands. Now imagine that you had to take a broomstick falling out of the sky and catch it on your hand, balancing it perfectly, and slowly lower it to the ground. Impossible, right? SpaceX is working on making it happen for their reusable rockets.If you haven’t noticed, I’m a gigantic SpaceX fanboy. And you should be too.

So, to wrap it up, a summary of the career fair. At the cost of a half-day of time and forgetting to eat lunch, I got:1. A TON of free stuff. I’m talking stickers, t-shirts, water bottles, posters, backpacks…everything. I picked up a penlight from the SpaceX table and found out later that it wasn’t just your typical, run-of-the-mill flashlight…it was, in fact, much, much cooler because it projected this:
2. A lot of great advice about what to do with my freshman year. I asked every recruiter what I could do as a freshman to build the kinds of skills and experiences they’re looking for. “Get UROPs,” they said. “Get hands-on experience. Join Design/Build/Fly or the Rocket Team. Heck, join both! Learn Matlab and SolidWorks. Get your hands dirty!” Suffice it to say, I’ve got a lot of things to get on top of (this will probably be the subject of a future blog post).3. Perspective. Getting out and talking to people really opened my eyes to all the possibilities and opportunites free for the taking, as long as I work towards building the skills and experience to be ready to work in the Real World. The career fair was a great reminder that one day (gasp) I am going to graduate and I will have to get a job and become a productive member of society, and I think it’s something I should keep firmly in mind as I go through my four years (+grad school, possibly) at MIT.

But hey, I’m just a freshman–what do I know?

See you later,
Allan