David Whitlock
David Whitlock, Courtesy Mike Rushing Photography

Current Job

Director of the Division Programs and Innovations Office

Current Employer 

Jacobs Engineering

Current Location

Houston, TX

Why did you decide to pursue an aerospace engineering degree?

Growing up around the NASA Johnson Space Center area, I was exposed to the space program and understood the amazing things that engineers could do. I enjoyed and was good at math in school, so when looking at opportunities, I chose an engineering degree. I focused on aerospace because of the space program opportunities.

Please include a brief paragraph describing your current position.

I lead an office of Senior Engineering Managers responsible for the successful execution of all work within our $150M per year JSC Engineering, Technology, and Science Contract. We are also responsible for the infusion of Innovation to our NASA customers, bringing fresh ideas to the United States Space Program I lead an office of Senior Engineering Managers responsible for the successful execution of all work within our $150M per year JSC Engineering, Technology, and Science Contract. We are also responsible for the infusion of Innovation to our NASA customers, bringing fresh ideas to the United States Space Program.

What do you like most about your job? What do you find most challenging?

I love that it is different every day. At the senior management level, you are empowered to make decisions to solve problems unlike any other job I have had. The people I work with are also incredibly talented and fun to work with. The biggest challenge is that with such a broad range of tasks and challenges, mistakes happen from time to time. Ensuring that my team does not dwell on them and looks forward is key to our success.

What are your career goals?

I really enjoy the engineering and business management aspects of my job. I will continue to seek additional leadership opportunities in which I am empowered to lead organizations and technical work and see the positive results of my efforts.

Which of the following student projects/organizations were you involved with in ASE/EM?

AIAA and SGT

How did your experience in these group/s help prepare you for your career?

Learning about others with the same academic background has forged friendships and acquaintances that have stayed throughout my career. I see many of my fellow students in the professional circles now, many in high leadership and technical roles.

Were you involved in any fellowships or internships? If so, please explain and discuss the benefits.

I was a co-op for three semesters and it proved invaluable. The co-op I had was with the company who had a predecessor to the current contract I work on, therefore it provided me familiarity with the work I am doing now. There are also others on our leadership team that I worked with as a co-op. Most importantly, you learn about the business aspect of engineering. In other words, it's not just solving academic problems, there are real applications to the engineering fundamentals learned, and the success of the company for which you work is critical to your performance. Additionally, working on teams and understanding what it takes to lead a team was something I learned as a co-op.

Do you recommend any particular focus for students other than academics to improve themselves as potential candidates for jobs?

Social organizations such as fraternities and sororities can help you learn to work with other people and solve real world problems. Toastmasters International is another organization that can help engineers communicate better (both speaking and listening) which will come across well during the job screening process.

Are there courses at UT you wish you had taken? If so, which ones and why?  

I wish I had more opportunity to take coursework outside of engineering and math. Examples would be Spanish, accounting, and business coursework.

Why did you choose one track over the other (atmospheric/space)?

I chose space because of having grown up near the space program in Houston and seeing the fascinating accomplishments that NASA has achieved. Seeing astronauts on TV is one thing, growing up with them at your church or as the parents of your friends makes a bigger impact.

Who was your most influential ASE or EM professor and why?

Dr. Fowler's ability to teach was incredible. He was always light hearted, but pushed you to the perform at your best capability. When you had struggles in your academic career (and everyone does), he would provide unique perspectives and options to get through the tough time.

What has been your most influential ASE or EM course and why?

Senior Spacecraft Design was the most fun, because you finally got to flex muscles from many engineering, physics, and math disciplines into one project. It was difficult, but most resembled the challenges faced in the corporate worlds.

What is one piece of advice you have for current students?

Have balance. Academics are important, but so are meeting other students (and faculty) and developing hobbies. While GPA is important, the difference between a 3.7 and 3.5 is not as big as a job candidate who is well rounded and has developed communication and teamwork skills. Plus you are less likely to burn out if you have balance in your life.

Are you still working in the aerospace engineering field?

Sort of. I'm not longer doing engineering work, but rather managing other engineering managers. Much of what I do might actually fit a business description (contracts, performance management, cost analysis). But I do work as a Director on an engineering contract, so I would have to say yes.

Do you have a favorite memory as a UT aerospace student?

Probably graduation. Walking with fellow students and friends, knowing all the hard work we put in to get to that stage.

List three things that most people don't know about you.

  • I enjoy blogging about sports and even did YouTube sports talk shows.
  • I'm a regular donator to the Friends of Alec.
  • I enjoy heavy metal rock concerts (with my wife).