How I went from student at Politecnico di Torino to GNC engineer

Tommaso Zanatta, GNC Engineer at porkchop

One of the most common questions many young engineers ask themselves on the days close to graduation day is: “And now? What am I gonna do with my life?

I know, if you’re an engineer, where’s the problem? Most of the time you get some job offers even before finishing your thesis or why not, getting hired by the same company where you did your internship or Master’s thesis. This is the easiest and least-risky way to start your career in the fast-paced word of engineering. But, let me ask you a question: Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?

If you’re a young engineer and you’re looking for the answer to the questions above, don’t panic, that’s completely normal. As an engineer, you’ve been taught how to solve problems in an analytical way, so keep calm and trust your capabilities, you’re gonna do the right thing!

Having gone through this process myself in the not-too-distant past, I’m here today to tell you my story and hopefully provide you with some tips that can help you in making the next choices of your career.

I graduated as an aerospace engineer in December 2021 in Turin, Italy and by that time I already had some job offers. I did my master’s thesis in a big multinational company, ALTEN, and as I was finishing up my internship period, I got a job offer. I really liked the project I was working on during my thesis, but at the same time I was curious to investigate more challenging opportunities.

So I started applying for different job offers related to the field I like, control engineering.

Let me clarify something about job searching. Today it’s very easy to apply for different job positions opened by companies spread all over the world. There are websites and apps that help you find the right job for you based on your experience and knowledge. Moreover, after the COVID-19 pandemic, the use of virtual meetings platforms increased exponentially and it’s much easier to connect and talk with people, even if they are on the opposite part of the globe. So don’t trust anyone who tells you it’s impossible to do your dream job — you will find it, you just need to search!

Back to my job search — usually the advice I’ve been told is to look for a job that fits your knowledge, which means that you should look for a job where you already have some prior experience, e.g during a university project or your thesis.

Don’t get me wrong, I think that’s true, but at the same time I don’t think you have to limit your research. There are many positions that start with the training/internship period, so having experience is important but not essential. In my case, since I have a passion for space and I did my thesis on the development of control algorithms, I looked for job positions that involve the development of guidance and control algorithms for autonomous systems, more specifically, spacecraft.

After a few days, I started receiving some replies, most of them were from big multinational companies that work in the consultancy sector. Despite the offers being good, I thought this wasn’t the right choice for me. So I continued my research until I saw one application that looks different from the other. It was a startup! And yes, I was also intrigued by the name: ‘GNC/ADCS engineer at porkchop’.

My call to action was clear - in fact, it was this LinkedIn post

Back then, I didn’t know exactly what a startup is, so I Googled it. The best definition I found was that “A startup can be defined as a company that’s in the initial stages of business where founders try to attract outside investments before they get out of the ground”.

At this point, you may say: “Well done Tommaso, but what drove you to leave the opportunity of a safe well established future for the uncertain and risky role at a startup?”. The answer to that question really depends on you. No doubt, working in a big company gives you a lot of advantages in terms of fixed working hours, good salary and good work-life balance; however, the opportunity to make a real, evident impact on the organisation you’re part of, at a startup, is unique. Since a startup is a small team of people, each team member is essential and as part of the team, you may be the only one with your own skill set. This will make you part of the decision-making process and as the business grows you’ll grow with it and take on more responsibilities.

By the way, I was intrigued by the job offer, so I applied and did one interview with the founders, Matija and Victor. I was immediately impressed by the vision these two ambitious engineers want to realise, and I thought to myself: “I cannot waste this opportunity. I wanna be part of that!”. So I did my best during the following interviews and despite the language barrier, I did great. A week later Matija called me and offered me the job.

You may be wondering if it was a difficult choice, it was not! Sure, I would be lying if I said the moving process was easy, it was difficult, especially the first few months after moving abroad: the weather, the language, the distance from my family. However, if you’d ask me, would I do it again, do you think it’s worth it? I’d definitely do that. Working abroad isn’t an easy choice to make, but I promise you, you’ll never regret it.

The porkchop team alongside ESA Director of Commercialisation at ESA (European Space Agency)

I still remembered my first week at porkchop but even more the first team meeting we had with our CEO Matija Milenovic and COO Victor Gonzalez. I’m gonna report some extracts of the conversation to give you an idea of how it looks like a real startup meeting:

Unboxing our new toy — a space-grade vacuum chamber. (I’m the guy on the right!)
First testing using the vacuum chamber. (Now I’m the guy on the left!)

Going back to the question I asked you at the beginning: “How do you see yourselves 5 years from now”, I didn’t have an answer by the time I graduated, but after joining porkchop I understood that the choice I made was the right one. I was extremely lucky, having the opportunity to find my dream job and at the same time becoming part of a new growing business as porkchop; I’ll be forever grateful to Mat and Victor for giving me this amazing opportunity.

In conclusion, my dear reader, based on my experience, the best advice I can give you is to not be afraid of doing something out of the ordinary and maybe even a bit more difficult or risky. If you feel it’s the right choice for you, do it and put in as much effort you have! There are infinite possibilities, and the continuous effort is the key to the success. Let’s dock those satellites!

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porkchop

porkchop is a Stockholm-based startup with the goal of establishing an interplanetary economy.