My most exciting product launch

Michael E. Kirkpatrick ·

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.