Meet Denise Lainez
Lockheed Martin Space
What’s your earliest memory of wanting to be an engineer or being excited about engineering?
Denise: When I entered community college, I wanted to be a lawyer. Then I started taking sociology classes in hopes of pursuing a BA in sociology before applying to law school. After taking a few of these classes, I realized I wasn’t passionate about sociology and knew I needed to pivot. A counselor recommended I go on a career website and take a few quizzes to see what careers aligned with my goals and what I liked to do. I also reflected on what my favorite class in high school was, when I thought back it was my math class. I started scrolling through the different career options and found a link for “Aerospace Engineering”, and wondered what that was since I had never heard of it before. I was amazed by what aerospace engineers got to work on and blown away by the opportunities and missions that the Aerospace Industry was a part of. Before doing any research, I had never heard of engineering at all, so this was and eyeopener for me. Although I knew it would be a challenge, I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in Aerospace and be a part of something greater than myself and contribute to space exploration.
What field of engineering are you in?
Denise: My current field is in the Engineering and Technology sector of Lockheed Martin. We produce designs for components, systems, and vehicles. There’s also analysis, builds, test, and equipment production that we’re a part of.
Denise hiking at Manitou Springs Incline in Colorado, peak altitude 8,950 feet.
When did you first decide to take STEM courses and/or pursue a career in engineering?
Denise: After deciding that I wanted to pursue engineering, I met with the STEM counselor at my community college. She helped me decide what school I should apply to, what the requirements were and what classes I was missing. From there I started to take all the required math courses and other perquisite courses I needed to eventually transfer to San Jose State University. After transferring, I made if my goal to get an internship during my first year and eventually have a full time job prior to graduating.
Tell us about your Lockheed Martin career journey.
Denise: During my time at San Jose State University, I was president of Rocket Club. In Rocket Club we built and flew high powered rockets, one of which we made as a project team. Prior to the launch of this new team project we were chosen to present our project to Silicone Valley leaders during a lunch networking event held by our Dean of Engineering. One of the guests at this networking event happened to be the VP of Military Space at Lockheed Martin, he shared a clip of the most recent launch that his team participated in. I saw this as an opportunity and decided to ask him if he could possibly provide Rocket Club with a tour of Lockheed Martin facilities. He was gracious enough to agree and a few months later Rocket Club was touring Lockheed Martin high bays, and we were even provided with a lunch mentoring session. I had brought my resume just in case there was an opportunity where I might be able to hand if off to a manager. At the speed mentoring session I was able to sit down and talk to the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) Satellite director at the time. I talked to him about my prior experience at NASA Ames, and how I was looking to join the Lockheed Martin team. Fast forward a few months later, I was hired on as a Systems Integration engineer on for a Military Space program. I worked on this program for my first six months and helped on the propulsion subsystem before the final launch the last satellite in its constellation. I then started my transition into my current role, working as a packaging lead on a different program.
Mountain biking at the Pearson-Arastradero Preserve in Palo Alto.
What attracted you to Lockheed Martin and what keeps you here?
Denise: Lockheed Martin is one of the most recognized names in the Aerospace Industry, that alone attracted me to this company. I knew I would be able to work on amazing projects and contribute. I also knew about the opportunity to participate in rotation programs, try new things, and the great benefits that came with the job. Although all of those were added bonus to getting to work with things that are going into space. Something that I learned after starting at Lockheed Martin was their commitment to diversity, ethics, and their core values. I feel that I work at a company where my opinion is valued, and I’m encouraged to be curious, pursue new opportunities, and ask questions.
Posing in front of the Louvre Museum in Paris, France.
What do you do in your current role?
Denise: I currently work as a Mechanical Design Engineer as part of the Packaging group with Central Engineering. This entails the design, build, and testing of Radio Frequency (RF) boxes for a satellite program. My team is also responsible for harnessing, analysis, and many different aspects of the design process. Becoming a Mechanical Engineer did not come as easy as I thought, learning Geometric Dimensioning and Tolerancing (GD&T), CAD, and processes definitely differed from what I learned in college.
Why do you like most about your job?
Denise: I like that I have the opportunity for leadership, mentoring, and being a mentee. I also like that it’s a challenge, there’s always something new for me to learn from, and the resources to help me understand those difficult topics. I value the sense of community from my team, I always have a group of people that I can ask questions to.
What excites you most about the future of Engineering?
Denise: I think what most excited me how fast new technology is being developed. With ever new hire Lockheed Martin brings on we get a new perspective, new ideas, and a new thought process. I’m excited for what’s to come in the space industry and in space exploration.
What piece of advice would you give to someone in the engineering community who is struggling with the transition of becoming an early-career engineer?
Denise: I would suggest meeting as many people in industry as possible, even if it’s not in your desired industry. Building my network and talking to people is one of the best things I’ve done and continue to do. You’d be surprised how many people are willing to help you in your career path and want to see you succeed. Always ask questions, even if you think it’s something you should already know, asking questions shows that your interested in the position, project, or topic. Engage with people on your team, ask questions, be curious, and have career conversations with your manager. If you’re still in school, join clubs, take on leadership position and take on your own projects outside of the classroom. I think this is something that sets students apart, not just doing the assigned work but also having hands on experience, whether the project was successful or not. Try your best to find internships even if they’re not at a big company. During my first year at San Jose State University I was struggling to find my first internship, I decided to apply to local machine shops in the area and worked part time at one for a year, we made mostly Lockheed Martin parts, which is an experience that I found very useful in my current position. I think as long as the internship or full time position is related to some part of the engineering process, it’s valuable experience. Being a first generation college student, I found myself constantly looking for resources or information on how to reach my goals, this is something that I attribute my success to. Even though I had to work a little harder to get that basic information and educate myself on certain things, it made me push myself to talk to people, seek help, and ask questions. Apply to as many positions as you can even if you do not meet all of the qualifications, if you’re not a right fit for the position you applied for the employer might consider you for a different position, you don’t lose anything by trying. If you’re able to attend career fairs, networking events, and other events put on by your school or otherwise, this is the best way to meet people that are currently in the position/field you want to be in. Being self-sufficient and putting yourself out there, can help you meet the right people and land your first professional job.
Aside from your current field of engineering, what other fields interest you the most? And why?
Denise: I think I would look for something in the medical field, one of the things that drew me to engineering is the opportunity to contribute to society. I think that being a doctor of some sort would help me continue to do that.
If you weren’t a successful Lockheed Martin engineer, what would you be doing?
Denise: I would honestly be working at a different Aerospace Company, I would definitely try to stay in that field, since it is what interests me the most. Being part of a mission to help advance humanity in some way is something that I value, and think is important.
What hobbies or passions define you outside of engineering?
Denise: I really like mentoring, whether that be elementary, high school, or university students. As I said previously, I’m a first generation college student, the struggles associated with that are something that I value and understand, I try to use my position to help others like me get to their next goal, and hope to be a resource to those who don’t have one. Outside of that I like the outdoors, hiking, snowboarding, and mountain biking. I also really like to travel, seeing new places and how other cultures differ from ours is something I find interesting. When I’m not doing either of those, I like to spend time with friends, family, or my dogs.
What was the most recent thing you learned in your career?
Denise: There is no right or wrong answer, no right or wrong choice. Everyone career paths are different and it’s a serious of decisions and opportunities that gets you to your goal/dream job. This is something I struggled to understand in college, I wasn’t sure if I should go directly to grad school or not and was scared, I would fall behind if I went straight into the work force. After talking to different people I realized everyone’s different and you need to make the choice that best fits your current situation. Since I wasn’t set on what I wanted to study, I held off on grad school and I’m glad that I did, now I feel better prepared to choose my area of study. I’ve also learned the importance of asking and giving feedback, whether that’s from your manager, peers, or supervisor. I think it’s important to get your team’s perspective on your work, it definitely helps you see things differently and helps you improve as a mentor, mentee, coworker, and engineer.
What one piece of advice would you give to your past self?
Denise: Trust yourself. I now understand that the series of decisions, opportunities, and mistakes are what got me where I am today. I would tell myself to not focus on the mistakes, but on the opportunities. Every “mistake” is an opportunity for growth, self-reflection, and finding a path forward. I would also tell myself to trust my own abilities, even if I feel unqualified, take on those challenges and opportunities for growth.
What materials, blogs, websites, journals, twitter feeds do you follow to keep up on the ever-changing world of engineering?
Denise: At the moment I mostly follow a lot of Aerospace companies online like Boeing, SpaceX, Lockheed Martin and NASA. I usually read things off the NASA.gov website for updates on space exploration topics, advancements, and read about new projects. I also use LinkedIn as a source for articles and information from my peers and network of scientists and engineers. It’s interested to see what everyone else is working on and the different phases of those projects.