By Varun Bhargava, Isha Tyle, and Daniel Vargas
The Boeing Company is the world’s largest aerospace company and the United States’ biggest exporter. Its products range from the famous commercial aircraft to defense aircraft, satellites, autonomous systems and more. The company also has a large capital wing that had a $4.1 billion portfolio at the end of 2016. Boeing is formally split up into four areas: Boeing Commercial Airplanes (BCA), Boeing Defense, Space, and Security (BDS), Boeing Global Services (BGS), and Boeing Capital Corporation (BCC). A company with a diverse range of products and services has a need for an equally diversified skill set. The skills taught by every single major that is represented in the T&M minor have a place at Boeing!
During the summer, we (Isha Tyle, Daniel Vargas, and Varun Bhargava of Hoeft T&M XXV) had the great opportunity of interning at Boeing in its first ever 100% virtual internship program! All of us had fantastic experiences, and we would like to give you a glimpse into summers at Boeing. Given that Boeing is so diverse, and each of us supported different Boeing locations, we thought the best approach would be to provide our individual views via an interview format on a couple of overarching themes such as job/team/work location, culture, contributions, troubles, and more!
What was your job and team? Where was it located?
Isha: I was placed in the Rotorcraft Training Solutions Product Management Team within the Boeing Global Services division, based out of St. Louis, MO. This team includes 8 product managers (PM), most of whom are currently located in the STL area. However, there were 2 PMs that moved to different positions within Boeing throughout the summer, and 2 new PMs that came in to fill their positions.
Daniel: I was with Boeing Space Security and Defense at Digital Receiver Technologies as a FPGA/DSP engineer. I would have been based out of Germantown, MD, just north of Washington D.C.
Varun: I worked on Mission Systems Software for the P-8A Poseidon naval aircraft. The program sits within the commercial derivative aircraft (because the P-8 is a heavily modified B737-800ERX) business, which in turn lies in the overarching Boeing Defense, Space, and Security sector of the business. The office for all the software work for the program is in Kent, WA, which is just about a half-hour southeast from Seattle. The mission system for an aircraft as versatile as the P-8 is quite complex and has many functions. I worked on the part of the software responsible for datalinks and the external interface between external equipment (like radars or camera) and the mission system.
What was the culture like?
Isha: Something that was emphasized very heavily is how open and friendly Boeing employees are, across various divisions and locations. I was able to cold call/ invite people to informational interviews and hear back in a timely manner, and have great conversations based on a couple or no similarities at the start. I was pleasantly surprised that a team member spent at least an hour almost every day during the first few weeks of my internship explaining tasks, teaching my co-intern and I new skills, and making us aware of everything going on within the team.
Daniel: It was a very unique culture business wise as DRT had every aspect of their product within their building, from sales to manufacturing. It was very nice to have immediate access to whoever I needed help from. The culture as well as very close knit and many people were very open to helping one another.
Varun: I think the P-8 program has a really unique culture that exists because of the composition of the team. From an experience standpoint, you’ve got a whole range. One of my coworkers is a 15-20+ year P-8 software veteran developer and architect. He knew absolutely everything there was to know about the program. Another coworker was somebody who joined the program less than a year ago. Going in, I thought that the program experts and veterans would be too busy steering the ship at a high level to care about the new hires and interns. I was very wrong. I was trained an equal amount by the experienced developer and the new one, and it enabled me to get up to speed so quickly. Everybody was open to you messaging them and calling them at pretty much any time you needed, and never was I shut away or discouraged when I asked multiple questions. In addition to all of this, the team was diverse, and the mix of experience levels greatly aided in building the team’s diversity. I was glad to see that the program as a whole was aware of its diversity and local and national issues. There were sessions on diversity in which people of all backgrounds were encouraged to share their stories and experiences. All in all, even though I couldn’t get a full glimpse of the P-8 culture as a remote intern, I thought that it was a very healthy culture that ticked all the right boxes. You had the right amount of support along with a healthy awareness and embracement of diversity. And above all, everyone took the gravity of their work seriously: a mistake could create an international military incident and a grave error could lead to people not being able to come home to their families.
What were some of the contributions you made?
Isha: I went into the internship thinking I would have one dedicated intern project to work on throughout the entire summer. However, I quickly learned that the nature of a PM group lends more to helping out with various tasks, or trying to implement changes and new tools to boost the team productivity. Throughout my 10 weeks at Boeing, I was able to complete about 10-12 assignments, some of them with greater importance and duration. I am quite proud of creating a new scheduling team for around 180 people, which will eliminate the usage of 5-6 separate resources, and create a more user-friendly and aligned workspace.
Daniel: This summer was very productive for the first half as I created an entirely new piece of code to dissect new protocols from radio data. It was completed early and I was able to add many other features that they would need to test new radio products. I also was tasked to characterize a radio frequency system on a chip that would replace their old superheterodyne receiver. I was in charge of the power characterizations as well as the viabilities of the ADCs on the chip.
Varun: I had a couple of assignments from simple bug fixes in critical areas of the code base to the development of a simulation for the mission systems’ external interface to a fully-fledged external interface facilitating plugin that will fly on the aircraft in the future. The mission-critical plugin will provide electronic surveillance equipment on board the aircraft with information about the radios that are transmitting/receiving on board the aircraft in order to prevent interference, damage, and false positives.
What were some of the troubles you encountered over the course of your internships?
Isha: I struggled with onboarding the team and going in with a strong understanding of what work my team was responsible for. My mentor was in and out at the beginning due to PTO, which made it difficult for me to have someone explaining key terms, work, and milestones which were discussed at meetings. In addition, it was hard to build a sense of team morale when I had never met anyone and was unable to see them over videocam, as Boeing WebEx didn’t support webcam usage at the time of our internship.
Daniel: Having a hardware based project was very difficult as I relied heavily on my teammates to do much of the debugging process, so much of my time was spent waiting or on the sidelines. I also struggled with having a better relationship with my coworkers as having non-video calls was my only method of communication.
Varun: The only troubles I encountered were with understanding the different components of the product I was working on and having more natural interactions with my teammates. Through multiple interactions with teammates, I became quite well-versed with the area of the product that I worked on, but I wasn’t able to get a bigger picture view of where exactly my section fit in and how it related to other parts of the product. In an office environment, I feel that this wouldn’t have been as big an issue, as all of the different teams would be sitting within walking distance of each other and I could’ve tapped on somebody’s shoulder to learn more about the product or figure out whether my change in one area of the system would affect another area. Like Isha and Daniel have said, due to the lack of video connectivity, something that was totally understandable given the heavy strain work from home applied on Boeing’s digital infrastructure, it was tricky to get to know my teammates better. On one of the final days of my internship, I was struck with the thought that I had worked with several people for hundreds of hours and I barely knew them, yet alone had the chance to see them. My coworkers were almost strangers to me! That was difficult to come to terms with. On the bright side, I did get many of my coworkers’ contact details; hopefully the chance for some informal Zoom calls or a meet in person comes up!
What are some programs and activities that Boeing had to support young professionals?
Isha: Boeing has a very active REACH (Regional Events and Activities for College Hires) business resource group, which sponsors tons of events for young professionals. In most Boeing locations, there is a REACH section, which specializes their events to their location. I attended many REACH STL speaker panels and was able to gain insight about types of work within the STL region as well as professional development tips. In addition, I felt more connected to individuals running the events due to a similar age range and experience level.
Daniel: I participated more in the seminars and “lunch and learns” and learned more about the other engineering topics that DRT and its sister company ARGON were doing. It helped me visualize the scope of everything going on in the building even though I was not there. It also gave me access to the professionals and experts in certain fields so that I felt comfortable asking them questions about both my and their own work.
Varun: At an enterprise level, the REACH program that Isha mentioned was really helpful. The Puget Sound REACH program paired me up with a mentor who I met with once a week for the 10 weeks I was at Boeing. She helped me with anything from setting career goals to figuring out the pros and cons of graduate school. The rest of the events I had for young professionals came from my specific program, department, and area of the business. I got the chance to network with the P-8 program manager, the president of the commercial derivative aircraft business, and a couple of other program managers for programs such as the VC-25B. There were also multiple opportunities to listen to talks by technical fellows and executive management such as Boeing’s CEO and the leaders for the different wings of the business.
What were some of the benefits you saw in a 100% virtual internship experience?
Isha: While having a 100% virtual internship is not what I had envisioned for this summer, it was a valuable experience nonetheless. I made connections with my teammates and people across Boeing, planned networking events to connect interns and full-time employees, and made many valuable contributions to my team, earning me a pride award from my manager! I believe that the virtual experience gave me the chance to work on my communication skills, since body language during meetings and water cooler conversations was not present. In addition, I was able to attend many speaker events, with executives and panels from across the country. Being in just one location of STL wouldn’t have allowed me to join in to the huge array of events planned for 1200+ interns!
Daniel: The benefits of having access to more lectures and seminars was useful in seeing different aspects of where I was working as well as the other jobs available in my career. Another positive aspect of having the virtual internship was that it simplified the internship experience in that I did not have to look for housing and adjust to a new environment, which I would not have minded doing, but for maybe freshman it’s a positive.
Varun: There were quite a few benefits to being virtual! I think the biggest was accessibility and opportunity! People who are always super busy, such as managers and upper-level leaders, were quite easy to reach in a virtual environment. You could ask them questions or for clarification whenever, and you’d normally get a response very quickly. In person, you might’ve had to wait several hours for a response if it were a particularly busy day. In fact, I sometimes felt that my productivity increased a little because of this! In terms of opportunity, I think virtual made the Boeing company a little smaller–and in a good way! I could suddenly learn about the work being done in St. Louis or in Charleston. We got the opportunity to attend a lot more events about a lot more programs that way.
What were your favorite parts about your summers at Boeing?
Isha: I really enjoyed working with another intern on my team throughout the summer. Not only did it allow for more one on one interactions with a teammate, but we could consult each other on questions and provide more perspective and feedback to the team on issues that came up. Even though we never met, I worked really well with my co-intern and hope to stay in touch with him, and maybe even see him at Boeing in the future!
Daniel: I most enjoyed my software project as I knew I was creating something that was both extremely useful to the company and something that needed to be done effectively. It was guided through a mentor who I met with daily to update with my progress and ask any questions that I had. I was really pleased with my work and so were my managers and I had glowing reviews at the end of the internship.
Varun: My two favorite parts of my internship were the work and the day I got to visit Boeing at Philadelphia. The work wasn’t just any boring intern work, it was the real deal: some of the work I did will go into testing the aircraft or making the aircraft function the way it should. When your code finally gets merged into the mainline code base without causing an error or problem with functionality, it’s such a big pride point and a great feeling. I may not be able to witness my work getting stress tested and formally certified, but once the upgrade is pushed to P-8s, I’ll be able to look at one in the sky or at an airshow and be able to say that my work’s in there and it plays its part in enabling the aircraft to successfully carry out its mission. My time at Boeing Philadelphia was also awesome! I got the chance to see the V-22 and Chinook production lines along with a wind tunnel, labs, offices, and people! Walking the line and watching the V-22 fly really tied off the experience for me, and I’m so grateful I got the opportunity!