Please tell us about yourself
Samira Virani graduated from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) with both a Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering and a Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering in May 2012. She is currently a Test Engineer at Virgin Galactic/The Spaceship Company.
Tell us about your career path. How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and unusual career?
At Riddle, I pursued a Bachelors degree in Aerospace Engineering as well as a minor in mathematics, which provided me with a solid background and helped me to grasp important concepts that would later prove beneficial to my career. I also continued on to receive my Masters degree in Mechanical Engineering in the hopes of expanding my knowledge beyond aerospace and perhaps into the automotive world. This would eventually open doors to other opportunities in the future.
While pursuing my Bachelors and Masters degree, I was part of a Co-op at Delta Air Lines for about three years (4 semester rotations; 2008-2011) as a Liaison Engineer responsible for the design and repair of structural damage to Boeing & McDonnell Douglas aircrafts. Not only did this allow me to apply my academic knowledge to a more practical understanding in the field, but also helped guide me to what would eventually be expected of me within the aviation industry.
So naturally, by the time I began my first full time job at Boeing as a Structural Analysis Engineer II in 2012, I was less intimidated and far more excited to finally be able to work on what I had been dreaming of for years. After my time at Boeing, I moved on work for Virgin Galactic/The Spaceship Company as an Associate Structural Design Engineer, and now currently as a Test Engineer in the Structures and Avionics Departments.
Following this career path was not easy nor something I could have predicted or planned ahead of time, but with experience and determination, I found more and more opportunities available to me. I just had to take the first step.
What has been your greatest professional accomplishment?
My greatest professional accomplishment thus far, in my mind, has been to obtain a job at Virgin Galactic/The Spaceship Company. I applied consistently for two years before getting an interview, and I was ecstatic. I had always dreamed of working with VG/TSC because it is so unique, a one of a kind company; making space travel accessible to civilians. So needless to say, when I ended up getting the job, it was literally a dream come true and I couldn’t have asked for more.
What does your current role with Virgin Galactic/The Spaceship Company entail?
My current role as a Test Engineer at VG/TSC involves conducting large scale testing to ensure structural integrity and impact of modifications on our two vehicles; WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo. This includes everything from developing test plans/reports, instrumenting the vehicle and designing a system platform using LabVIEW capable of reading and collecting test data, as well as conducting stress analysis and ensuring proper execution of the tests on hand.
Alongside the being a part of the Large Scale Test Team, I also work in the Avionics Department. My primary responsibilities here are to ensure all electrical components undergo the specified Acceptance Test Procedures prior to being put into service, as well as assist fellow avionics engineers in the proper instrumentation install on the vehicles.
What are your future career plans?
The conjunction of The Spaceship Company, whose primary responsibility is vehicle build and development, and Virgin Galactic, which is the first launch customer and to whom the vehicles are supplied, is quite a unique undertaking in which all skill sets are utilized and the opportunity for growth within the company is endless.
Considering this, I hope to stay at TSC/VG and contribute to the growth of the program. I want to witness the first commercial space flight and the success of the program as well the company itself as a whole. While continuing to work here, I not only aim to further develop the skill sets I have gained over the past few years, but also explore other opportunities within the company.
What are some of your tips for success?
First and foremost, internships are a must! They will prepare you well for the future and for the real world beyond textbooks.
Have patience; your first job out of college might not be your dream job, but it builds a strong foundation, provides meaningful experience, and helps you to gain networking skills, which in turn will open many doors.
Keep in contact with your former bosses, mentors, professors, etc. They are the key to your career development and success.
And lastly, don’t burn bridges, but rather take each job/experience as a lesson and step forward to bigger and better things, without losing hope.