There is no doubt in my mind that participating in Destination Imagination (DI) led me to my job today – a test engineer at SpaceX, working to use (and reuse) rockets all with the goal to get humans to Mars. DI not only inspired me to pursue a career as an engineer, but it gave me the teamwork skills and confidence that help me on a daily basis.
DI taught me how think outside-the-box – an invaluable skill at SpaceX. At SpaceX, we’re constantly pushing the envelope of what is possible. Being creative is a must. Many of the creative problems my team had in Destination Imagination apply directly to aspects of my job: how can we cut our skit down so that it was 8 minutes or less? How can we improve our technical device so that it’s more consistent and will earn us the most points? How can we creatively use and reuse materials to meet our budget?
I participated in DI for ten years, and have been volunteering for an additional eight. My team switched which Challenge we did, but most often chose either the Technical or Scientific Challenge. We’d split up work in a divide-and-conquer approach, and year after year, I would choose to work on the most technical aspects. I loved trying to make inventions to solve DI’s Challenges – especially the “aha!” moments that would come after weeks of work when we’d realize how to make a significant improvement. One of my favorites was when we had to make a device that could lift something three feet up and place it on a tower. Our device had a trapdoor to drop the item onto the narrow tower, but it was nerve-wracking to open the door as we’d miss about 25 percent of the time during practice. We tried over and over, with both fast and slow door openings, but still struggled. Late one night before our Regional Tournament, the “aha” moment came – we could make the tower landing zone wider! A few pieces of cardboard and paint later, we no longer had to worry about the trapdoor. I still love those “aha!” moments and still get to experience them at SpaceX. And I’m thankful for Destination Imagination for helping me think creatively about solutions.
In addition to inspiring my interest in engineering, DI provided me valuable teamwork skills. When I first started in DI, I disliked working with others. I liked to do things my own way and did not want to follow others’ ideas. DI changed all this. It was very eye opening to see how everyone’s skill sets could be used during the months we worked on the Central Challenge. My weaknesses were supplemented by others strengths and lead to great and fun years of DI. The Instant Challenge really drove this point home – we learned to work as a team and not shut down other’s ideas. By practicing Instant Challenges over and over, these two points were really driven home. These are lessons I continue to think about and use today. I work with dozens of teams across SpaceX and we’re able to share knowledge and best practices and come up with solutions together.