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Meet Joel Atienza

Today we’d like to introduce you to Joel Atienza.

Joel, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I am fairly new to Los Angeles. I grew up near Seattle and I was always surrounded by nature. I enjoyed the crisp forests, the salty waters, and the brilliant night skies. Wanderlust is an irresistible desire to travel and I associate the Pacific Northwest with this yearning. I lived with this feeling of wanderlust and to this day, my spirit of adventure burns bright. As such, it is not surprising that my work has taken me on multiple journeys across the country. My sense of adventure inspired me to pursue a career involving wonders that are out of this world. Growing up, my interests involved photography, computers, video games, traveling, sports, and technology. However, nothing could match my interest for outer space.

I have always admired the beauty and mystery of space. I always imagined leaving Earth and making my way to the Moon, Mars, and beyond. I made it my goal to have a career in the space industry. Back then I yearned to work for NASA and now, my list has expanded to include several private space companies. Determined to make my dream come true, I pursued a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. I wanted to work on spacecraft and other space technology. Being patriotic, I wanted to contribute new technologies to society while also giving back to America. I chose a path that acted as a stepping stone to working for space while simultaneously allowing me to serve.

Fast forward in time and I eventually found myself working in a research laboratory in New York. During those years, I worked with orbital mechanics problems as well as computer science and machine learning projects. I also attended graduate school. The work was hard but rewarding. Just as I was getting used to my work in the lab, it was time to move again. With a recently earned master’s degree in electrical engineering, I made my way to Los Angeles. LA has a major space presence and after years of hard work, believe it or not, I finally started working in the realm of space. I am extremely excited about what the future will bring.

Has it been a smooth road?
The road to where I am now has not always been smooth. Pursuing my electrical engineering degree as an undergraduate student was difficult. I experienced financial struggles and had to live a frugal college life. I was constantly pushed to my limits – academically, physically, and mentally. I was forced to think critically at all times. I built the discipline to limit my social life so that I could study and succeed. The path to serving had its own set of struggles as well. I experienced culture shock and required a major personality adjustment. I had to find the grit and resilience within me to never give up in order to overcome my obstacles. In the end, with the support of my family, fellow wingmates, and the motivation to pursue my dream, I succeeded and emerged a leader.

The road I took through New York also had its trials. This was the farthest I had ever lived from my hometown. I endured the blistering cold winters while facing new challenges from the laboratory. In order to stay competitive, I needed to learn new skills on the job. Additionally, pursuing my master’s degree while working full time had its own set of struggles. I now face new challenges in Los Angeles, including the high cost of living and learning how to perform well with my space work. I always expect new struggles and I am always eager to face each one head on.

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
At work, my present duty position is a project officer. I use my electrical engineering degree and other skills to lead and manage my work. While I am unable to go further into detail, I will say that serving society is amazing and I feel like I made a great leap towards achieving my dream of working with space early in my career.

I am proud of the achievements that enabled me to work in a career involving outer space. I could not have done it alone and sometimes I still find it hard to believe that I am where I am. For that, I will always be grateful. I once had a dream of working with space and now I am actively fulfilling that dream. My next steps are to keep working hard in my assignment, to network, and to gain more experience so that one day I will be able to work at a high position in the space industry, whether it is with NASA, SpaceX, Blue Origin, or another space company I come across. Dreams do come true – but only if you work hard to ensure they do.

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Image Credit:
Joel S. Atienza

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