January 2023 Articles


Mandy Brown · A Working Library ·

Writing about re-entering work after some time away (whether it be a week’s vacation or something longer).

She writes that we often come back to work with clearer eyes, a fresh perspective on our work and our workplace after time away.

…[P]art of what a lengthy break can do is rid you of the fog you summoned to blunt your peripheral vision, so you can now see clearly what’s missing or what’s broken.

It can be uncomfortable, that clearing away. It can be deeply unpleasant. But it’s also useful. It’s a sign of what you need to change. What I found was that when I gave myself permission to really feel that unpleasantness, when I didn’t try to get comfortable with it or avoid it, I opened some space to move: towards a reconfiguration or revision or reimagining of what my work was. Sometimes that meant laying tracks for a new role, sometimes it meant reshaping the role I was in; often it was something very small, a choice about which problems were mine to attend to and which belonged to someone else. Always it made a difference.

I was recently part of a tech layoff — my previous employer, Houzz, laid off 98 employees in mid-December. The most recent hires were let go (LIFO). As I’m applying to new position, I received this prompt today from Patagonia: “Tell me about the most exciting product launch of your career. What was your role? Describe the experience step by step.”

My response: The most exciting product launch of my career was the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) which launched from French Guiana on December 25, 2022. I started as an intern in Systems Engineering, Mass Properties, on JWST in the summer of 2009. I was hired full time after graduating the following winter and became the lead Mass Properties engineer. I was responsible for maintaining a database of the mass of the spacecraft and its center of gravity as well as an inventory of the mass of each component part (to achieve orbit, a rocket can only lift so much mass). From there, I worked on the Alignments and Sunshield teams and the program for four years. We worked our way through challenges (too much mass in certain components, manufacturing tolerances that were too loose, and a deployments system that was high risk) as well as many successes (successful critical design reviews, prototype tests, and trade studies). I left Northrop Grumman to pursue a career in technology — I’ve loved building websites since I built my first in 2004, running for student government at UC San Diego. My father, also a Northrop Grumman, JWST team member, was in the launch control room supporting the deployments team when the rocket launched. He stayed in on Baltimore, Maryland until all the deployments were complete. So far in my career, my small contributions to that program will make the biggest differenece in human history.