How This Developer Got a Job for NASA – Right Out of College

October 12, 2017

Mary Ellen Bowman got a great job in tech right out of college by simply cold calling NASA.

Mary Ellen Bowman’s senior year in college was a bit bumpy.

It started off great – she got a job offer in November and accepted, ready to start in the spring, after graduation. And then, a week before her graduation, her employer called and told her some deflating news: the salary they offered her would be half of what they agreed upon.

“I couldn't take that,” Bowman said. “So, at that point I had missed out on a lot of college recruiting at companies, so I basically had to cold call.”

Like, literally, she just began to cold call companies, looking for her work. Because her only other option was snail mail, and no companies were hiring entry-level workers off the street. So, she knew mailing would only lead to her resume being buried in some stack somewhere.

Her instincts were right. One of those cold calls brought her to a manager of a division at NASA, which led to a good conversation. As it was ending, Bowman asked if she could come for a tour, and the man – taken a bit off-guard – agreed.

She came for a tour, which led to a real interview. And that led to a job; a position for an aerodynamics company that did work for NASA as her first job out of college.

“Later my manager told me it wasn't like we hired you because you had a 4.0 GPA (she didn’t) and they didn't hire me because I had experience, because I had none,” Bowman said. “I was entry-level. He said mainly we hired you for your hutzpah, your initiative that you took.”

Her starting salary at the time was $33,000 a year, which was good money in the late 1980s. When she told her mother her starting salary, her mother cried.

Bowman’s two pieces of advice

It’s been more than 25 years since Bowman got that first job. Since, she’s been able to remain gainfully employed while climbing the ranks, now working as a senior software engineer.

How? Well, two of her two biggest pieces of advice to fellow techies are:

Program management can lead to antiquation: “I would say unless you have a real gift for management or program management, stay a geek. There's going to be draws that say, ‘Hey wouldn't you like to be a program manager? We need somebody in this.’ But, if you enjoy coding, stay coding. What happens is you might get drawn into that program management role. Five years down the line, your skills aren't as sharp.”

It comes down to always learning: “I think it's been good that I kept constant in the industry with my knowledge in tech and I'm honestly still surprised I enjoy it but it's through learning new things that keeps me engaged in what I do… I'm honestly surprised after so many years that I still do what I do and it's because there's always new stuff coming along to learn. Even if you start out at a place and your assignments aren't that interesting, on your own you can stay current with technologies.”

Watch the full interview with Bowman here:

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