It is almost impossible to find a science student who hasn’t dreamt of a career in Aerospace. But it is equally difficult to find science students who have made their dreams come true through sheer grit and planning !
Mukil Babu, our next pathbreaker, Flight Control Engineer at one of the largest passenger airline manufacturers in the world, works on Flight Management Systems and Onboard Airport Navigation Systems that provide flight planning and navigation of an aircraft from departure to destination.
Mukil talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about pursuing a dual degree (BTech and MTech) in Aerospace Engineering from IIT Kharagpur, and focusing equally on organizational and leadership skills along with academic skills in order to attain his goal of working in the professional field of aerospace
For students, there is no shortcut to your goals nor is there a specific recipe. Its upto you to figure out what works for you and what doesn’t !
Mukil, tell us about your background?
I completed my schooling, from kindergarten till 12th, from my hometown, Changanacherry in the Kottayam district of Kerala State. I was a day scholar till my college days. Since my father is an electrical engineer, I had exposure to electrical power stations and hydro-electric dams at a very early age. Maybe that could have planted the seed in my mind to pursue engineering.
What did you do for graduation/post graduation?
After my 12th, I joined Indian Institute of Technology-Kharagpur for Aerospace Engineering (Dual Degree). I completed my B.Tech in Aerospace Engineering and M.Tech in Engineering Entrepreneurship. Those 5 years in college polished my skill set and leadership qualities in order for me to be eligible for the professional field of aerospace. During my third year, I had decided to pursue a career in the field of Aerospace Controls and Guidance. I took my electives and projects based on those areas and even interned in various companies accordingly.
How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and uncommon career?
I was fond of science and mathematics from class 7 onwards. I used to solve RD Sharma mathematics during my 7th, 8th and 9th standards. I used to participate, and represent my school at science exhibitions ever since. That’s how the term “astrophysics” came to my mind and I started collecting news about the latest advancements in the same field from newspapers (both English and Malayalam). I was so obsessed that I even collected a piece of news on “How Sunitha Williams cut her hair at ISS”. Somehow, later on, the field of aerospace attracted me. I remember, my first email id was email@example.com (which no longer exists, but i sometimes wish I could get it back for my memories). Well, maybe because of my obsession and interest in science and mathematics, I was really bad in other subjects.
Tell us about your career path
I used to be a part of the space technology students’ society at my college, where I attained the position of Organizing Head and later on of the Coordinator. Also, I represented my department as the General Secretary and later as the Vice President. These positions not only gave me the technical knowledge but also the managerial skillset to organize events and the confidence to face the challenges, responsibilities and move forward. I got a lot of chances to work on various college projects and interact with numerous people (including seniors, other dept professors and alumni). I came to realize that just academic knowledge is not enough to find a core aerospace job in India, though it’s not impossible. Hence the main plan was to acquire core expertise in the fields of aerospace that i was interested in, and to hone my industrial skills through various internships. This motivated me to look for internships during my vacations.
Since IIT is a residential college, every year, we used to get 2.5 months for vacation. From the first year onwards, I utilized those times to undergo various internships & trainings. In the first year, I went to Unipower Transformer Manufacturing and Repairing Pvt Ltd. I found them through my father’s contacts and helped to oversee the work happening in the industry and understood how transformers were manufactured and repaired.
In the second year, I worked at KEL Pvt Ltd as a trainee where I understood how power packs, regulators and rectifying units for missiles and trains were built and tested. Our curriculum has a compulsory internship program in the third year. For that, I was supposed to approach the Training and Placement cell of our college. But I didn’t apply, because I felt that the companies coming through the cell were not oriented towards aerospace core internships. Hence I was looking for options out of campus.
Fortunately, as a part of my work with students’ society, we demonstrated a project based on water rocketry along with other teams who made space related technical projects, like robotic car and climber (which can be used for outer space scenarios). This was through our own event conducted at college. After this, I was offered an internship at Honeywell Technologies Solutions Lab. It was a major turning point in my professional life since this internship exposed me to the core aerospace control domain. I was working in the project automation of patch panels for B-787 simulators. These simulators help aircraft system developers to check whether each modification on the system is working correctly with other systems or not. Through these automation systems, system failures can be intentionally created by anyone, from other countries as well, to test system performance.
From then on, I got a lot of confidence and exposure in the field of controls and started acquiring theoretical and coding knowledge in the field of aerospace controls and guidance. During my fourth year, I applied for an internship at Vizexperts India Pvt Ltd, and got selected. Here I worked on algorithm development of missile simulations for DRDO. I used to visit the Integrated Test Range of DRDO for the same. After my internship I received a pre- placement offer from Vizexperts, which was one of the first in our college. I continued to work for Vizexperts during my fifth year from my college remotely, on the same project. Whenever I got long holidays, I went to the company and worked with the team.
After my M.Tech thesis submission, I immediately joined the company, the very next day, and resumed my work on the same project, but this time as an engineer. After 1 year, I resigned and joined Team Indus (Axiom Research Labs) , where the team was planning to send a lander and a rover to the moon as the first private entity. There, I worked in the flight controls team and did work on controls, navigation and guidance for the rover as well as for HALE (High Altitude Long Endurance) aircrafts. After more than 2 years, I resigned and joined my current company, Airbus Group India Pvt Ltd. Here I am currently working as a Flight control engineer, where I work on flight management systems and Onboard Airport Navigation Systems.
How did you get your first break?
My internships were through networking and showcasing the projects I had undertaken during my college days. Of course, the risk involved in it was very high. There was a time when I used to mail 100s of requests every day and got no response. But what I learned was never to lose hope. Just try to gather information through various people out in the field and apply accordingly. And of course, there should be a strong resume which should not be made of bluffs. When you face the interview, you should be confident enough to answer in and out of the field you worked in and apply the knowledge you gained. Hence each phase is a learning phase.
What were the challenges you faced? How did you address them?
The main challenge I faced during my college days was how to get the practical knowledge in the core domain. In order to overcome that, one has to learn from various advanced books and research papers, and try to replicate it in your computer code or computer model or at the college lab. Through that you have to learn the platforms that help you perform your job. So basically it’s not just about the theory, but also about the tools or platforms on how to work and where to work.
The next challenge was getting an interview call from companies. For that I used to send reminder mails or call the HR to find out about any vacancies as well as gather information through friends/alumni.
Where do you work now? Tell us what you do
Currently I work as a flight control engineer at Airbus Group India Pvt Ltd. Here I work on Flight Management Systems and Onboard Airport Navigation Systems. These systems provide flight planning and navigation of an aircraft from departure to destination and also the navigation of aircrafts on airports as well. For these systems, one should have knowledge of system level functions as well as understanding of the system design requirement to tackle the problems and to help evolve the design as well.
My work depends on the problems reported on the systems or the tasks assigned to develop new features for the system. There are no strict day targets for these. One has to complete the job in a required amount of time.
The more you get closer to the real system, the more difficult it gets, and hence the fun in learning and solving problems. When I started my career, it was on simulation models, but now it’s on real systems that are getting into the aircrafts and you represent the same.
How does your work benefit society?
I work with real aircrafts, which is more fascinating than anything else, at least for me. Whenever I travel by aircraft, I can feel that one of the systems in the same aircraft has my signature on it. Such a feeling is the fuel that keeps you running and never tires you even in problematic times. At one point, in this world, some people trust you with building their systems/products and help do their day-to-day job with it.
Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!
There are many such moments which I am not able to mention because of the nature of the work.
At Team Indus, since we were aircraft designers, we wanted to test the systems that we developed wherever it was feasible. Hence we visited the National Aerospace Lab, where we saw the test rig and found it the apt for our testing. But the finance was too unbearable for a startup company like Team Indus. Hence I decided to make our own test rig. I developed a plan and showcased it to my manager along with my confidence to complete the same. In 2 months, we developed the same test rig which was more than enough to test our system at one tenth of the original cost. And it was successful. That was a moment which I believe was one of the best in my professional life. It was composed of practical knowledge with sheer will and absolute teamwork.
Your advice to students based on your experience?
It’s all about a person’s interest and passion. One cannot force a person to acquire interest if he/she won’t find fun in it. The person needs to observe things and get his/her hands dirty in order to find what he/she loves. This way you will be comfortable even if you have too much work to do. Do what you love.
My future plan is to acquire more and more knowledge in various real systems of aerospace so that it will help me in getting confidence on supporting the systems which are designed from scratch or for modifications.