Launching my career into orbit

"Believe in yourself, take risks, and do not shy away from challenges. If you do not try something new, you will never have the opportunity to succeed at it."

Andrada Zoltan

Andrada Zoltan

  • Degree: Bachelor of Applied Science
  • Grad year: 2021
  • Program: Computer Engineering
  • Campus: Vancouver

Entering the engineering program with no programming and electronics experience, I did not have a clear idea of what I wanted to pursue. All I knew was that I liked working with computers and I thought space was neat. In my first few weeks at UBC, I heard from a friend that the UBC Orbit Satellite Design Team was accepting applications. I was worried that I would not be admitted due to my lack of experience, but I took the chance and applied anyway. This was probably the best decision I made in my time at UBC.

I went on to spend the next five years taking part in this team. From team member with no experience to team lead designing a satellite system, UBC Orbit showed me the power of hard work. Not only did I get to meet and work with an amazing group of individuals, but I got to experience real engineering work and the successes and failures it comes with. I grew not only as an individual, improving my leadership and public speaking skills, but also as an engineer. Most importantly, I also discovered the passion I have for developing spacecraft systems and I spent my entire degree working towards that dream. 

Fast forward to now, the skills I have gained at UBC and on the UBC Orbit team have helped me start my career at MDA Systems Ltd., Canada’s most impactful space technology company. I am excited to spend the rest of my career working on space systems, and I am grateful for the experiences that have led me here.

Why did you choose to go into your field of study at UBC? 

From a young age, I was drawn to science and math. In the 7th grade, we had to write a letter to our future selves describing our career aspirations; I said that I wanted to be an engineer. I didn’t know what this meant at the time, and although my friends laughed at me and joked about me having to wear a hard hat, there was something telling me that this was the right path. It wasn’t until I got to UBC that this path became clearer, and I was able to recognize that I had made the right choice. Being exposed to electronics and programming on my design team, I began to realize the interest and passion I had for computer systems. Everything makes sense when you’re developing an embedded system, and if it doesn’t then you haven’t understood it properly. I chose Computer Engineering because I wanted to gain this understanding and be able to create incredible systems.

What has made your time at UBC memorable? 

Reflecting on the past five years, the thing that stands out to me the most is the growth in knowledge and skill I have experienced throughout my degree and the little moments that have contributed to that growth. It amazes me to see how far myself and my peers have come in the short time we have had together at UBC. I encourage everyone to take a moment at different points in your degree and reflect on how much you have improved since the beginning, it may surprise you. I attribute my progression to the amazing faculty, courses, peers and opportunities available at UBC. 

Tell us about your experience in your program. What have you learned that is most valuable? 

While my degree has more than prepared me for a career in Computer Engineering, perhaps the most valuable thing I have learned has not been a technical skill. Engineering is a very collaborative field that requires frequent sharing of ideas, presenting designs, or voicing an opinion. As an introvert, these are things that were never easy for me. However, it is true what they say about practice. The countless presentations, group projects and other collaborative work I have been involved in during my degree have made all these things more easy and natural. Having learned about leadership and effective collaboration has made me a much better team member, which is crucial when working on an engineering team.

What advice would you give a student entering your degree program? 

Firstly, entering a degree as competitive as engineering can be intimidating. Everyone starts at different levels and everyone progresses at different rates. It is perfectly fine to not know a skill or understand a concept; don’t be afraid to ask questions and remember that everyone has been in your place at one point or another. It’s not about where you start, it’s about the work you put in, the enthusiasm you show, and the progress you make.

Secondly, I believe that the most rewarding experiences you can get at UBC are outside the classroom. While it’s important to understand the concepts taught in class and while grades do matter, it is the experiences you gain in extracurriculars that not only help you improve your skills and meet new people, but also give you a competitive edge. Joining a student design team or working for a professor in a research setting is a great way to do that. You will be able to meet other students with shared interests, and it will make getting your first few internships easier. You may also find the thing you are most passionate about working on, which is perhaps the most motivating feeling of all. 

Where do you find your inspiration?

I am constantly inspired by the people I work with. I find it very motivating to be surrounded by individuals who work hard, are passionate about the work they do, and are curious to learn more. As well, I find inspiration in the mentors and long-term industry members I have met over the years. Their accomplishments and expertise make me excited for what I too could accomplish one day. Thirdly, I am driven by the ability to create new things and learn in the process. There is no more rewarding feeling to me than finishing a project and getting to see your design, creativity and product working in its entirety.

What are your future plans to make a difference in our world? 

Space exploration and space technology have made incredible advances over the past few years. The work only continues as we prepare to return to the moon, explore Mars, and study the stars. It is an exciting time to be working in the space industry, and I strive to make meaningful contributions to this field in hopes of expanding humanity’s knowledge of the universe.

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