A Space Talent Spotlight Series Interview with Brian Mejeur, Founder/CTO/COO of AdAstra Talent Acquisition, former Propulsion Engineer at SpaceX.
What is your background?
I wasn’t enamored with space early on, but I liked finding answers to problems. I grew up in Michigan, on the beach playing in the sun and sand. I was first exposed to engineering by my father who was a mechanical engineer. As a result, even in highschool I was drawn to math and physics, CAD, architecture, and engineering.
During my freshman year at the University of Michigan, one of my engineering classes allowed us to create our own project. I really resonated with designing and building something, and then actually seeing it fly, seemingly defying the laws of physics. However, it wasn’t until I heard about SpaceX and Elon Musk’s desire to go to Mars that a dream solidified for me. My path in aerospace felt methodical, but SpaceX made it inspirational. I marveled at the SpaceX’s bold approach to rapid research, development and production in contrast to the other aerospace enterprises focused on achieving marginal efficiency improvements.
Internships were critical in my academic and personal development. And they didn’t start in aerospace; they included a glass framing business then Whirlpool, both near my hometown. The summer after my sophomore year, I secured my first aerospace internship with GE Aviation, where I learned a lot about traditional aerospace companies. I realized that I wanted to work for an aerospace company on the cutting edge and with a different approach, which was SpaceX. The first time I interviewed at SpaceX, I didn’t get an offer, however I didn’t give up. During the next winter with a plan for a semester off, I reached out to the hiring manager I had interviewed with previously and told him I would be available in January and would also have more education and aerospace experience under my belt, then he hired me.
Reaching out directly and taking a short term break from my studies played a significant role in making my dreams a reality. It not only distinguished me from most applicants who can only intern in the summer, but it also illustrated the out of the box thinking valued by SpaceX. This paved the way for my first internship there, where my focus was on propulsion research and development. For six months, I had the privilege of collaborating with a remarkable group of individuals, exploring groundbreaking concepts and aiming for ambitious goals.
Upon completing my undergraduate studies, I returned to SpaceX for another internship, this time to contribute to a different facet of the business: launch operations, which involved engaging in structural engineering projects to support launching Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy. It was also a fascinating experience, yet I still had that desire to immerse myself back into the propulsion realm.
I think in a lot of industries, getting a masters degree isn’t always necessary. But I wanted this extension of education before working on engines full time, which I was able to achieve in just eight months.
After completing my masters, I started my full-time journey with SpaceX, dedicating myself to propulsion. In my initial months at the company, it felt reminiscent of my internship as I gradually developed a deeper comprehension of how all the pieces fit together within the department and the company as a whole. However, a significant turning point occurred when I gained greater credibility and responsibility within my team, becoming entrusted with tackling more complex problems. This rapid transition accompanied by a substantial amount of responsibility initially tested my confidence in my ability to navigate through it all.
To succeed, I had to be self-aware, acknowledge the limits of my knowledge, and embrace the risks involved. Cultivating an intuition for identifying what was right and knowing when to seek assistance played a crucial role in my progress. Due to this understanding, I was able to play a pivotal role in transitioning cutting edge products from development to production, aiding other teams in comprehending the intricacies of the components and implementing effective scaling strategies.
Looking back on my time at SpaceX, I was surrounded by technically brilliant individuals driven by the mission. Most impressively, the team possessed high emotional intelligence, fostering a supportive environment where exceptional work could thrive. My imposter-syndrome wasn’t a unique experience, but I often questioned my abilities when comparing myself to those around me. Not only did I appreciate knowledge sharing with the best engineers in the world, I also made some of my best friends there. A synergy was created that propelled us to push our limits, dedicate long hours, achieve remarkable feats, and of course refresh and celebrate with epic parties and adrenaline filled adventures.
I cherish my time at SpaceX, but an urge to explore new horizons started to emerge, drawing me away from hardware engineering towards something new. I was eager to gain a broader perspective beyond the role of a traditional engineer, that encompassed the larger picture and focused on the intricate connections between people and business.
The perfect opportunity presented itself when the idea of AdAstra came to my wife and me. It resonated with me deeply, as it allowed me to engage with some of the most captivating emerging companies and contribute to their success by providing them with exceptional talent. We discovered that the most extraordinary engineering talent was drawn to audacious challenges, but this extended beyond space exploration to include vital areas like climate solutions.
What have been your top career accomplishments so far?
One of the coolest things we did at SpaceX was refurbishing our first stage engines for the very first time. It was absolutely mind-blowing! Picture this: we were trying to land hypersonic rockets on a tiny target and then reuse the same engines that powered the vehicle to space and took a beating during reentry. We knew it was bound to happen, but the "how" and "when" were still a mystery. And then it hit us—we were actually going to recover a bunch of engines! That's when the question popped up: how on Earth were we going to refurbish them and get them ready for flight?
As history has shown, we pulled it off and successfully flew our first payload using a reused booster! This huge milestone proved that reusability was not just a dream but a reality. It was such a thrilling demonstration that refurbishing and reflying rockets could revolutionize space exploration by improving launch cadence and saving immense cost, materials, and environmental impact.
What were the critical steps/choices that helped you get ahead?
A lot of folks come to me as a SpaceX alum and a recruiter with these questions. To be an ideal candidate, there are generally three domains you can focus on and excel in during your studies:
Strong candidates typically excel in at least two of the three. I focused on academics and internships but also believe student projects are a great, if not better, way to show what you are capable of to companies like SpaceX.
What part of your education had the most impact on your career?
At SpaceX, my role encompassed more than just technical expertise; it required a unique blend of engineering intuition and an unwavering commitment to getting things done. While my academics certainly provided a foundation, they couldn’t be my sole reliance in this dynamic environment. Instead, my college experience instilled in me the resilience to tackle daunting learning curves head-on and persist in the face of challenges. This journey of accumulating experiences and skills such as resource utilization and overcoming obstacles not only fortified my knowledge but also facilitated personal growth, leaving behind a trail of invaluable scar tissue that has shaped me into a more capable individual. Being eager to take the hits associated with setbacks in order to benefit from the learning they provide is a skill that has served me well.
What about your career have you enjoyed the most and least?
Navigating the intricacies of setting up a business and managing taxes can often prove to be time-consuming challenges that divert attention from core business operations. Until you have actually managed your own business, the idea of having your own company may be more of a romantic notion than what your actual experience turns out to be.
What I find fulfilling is the opportunity to work alongside an exceptional team at AdAstra and collaborate with our partner companies in identifying their hiring needs and directly filling those crucial roles. As an extrovert, I thrive on being helpful and supportive, and this aspect of my work brings me great joy. Acting as a versatile multitool, I derive immense satisfaction from assisting individuals in connecting the dots and utilizing my skills to help them thrive.
Where do you see the most promising career opportunities in the future?
When it comes to talent acquisition, one of the most challenging aspects is finding technical leaders who possess that unique blend of hands-on capability, technical acumen, and the ability to lead and drive a team towards the company's vision. This combination of technical expertise and leadership prowess is not something that can be solely acquired through education. It is vital to cultivate and refine these skills early on and proactively pursue opportunities to grow these capabilities.
Identifying individuals who not only excel in their technical abilities but also possess the aptitude to inspire and guide a team is a rare find. These visionary leaders possess the capacity to not only contribute with their own expertise but also effectively harness the potential of those around them. As the dynamics of the business landscape evolve, the importance of nurturing these leadership skills from the outset cannot be overstated. It is a constant process of development and refinement that sets the stage for achieving remarkable success and driving your own personal and professional growth but the growth and vision of any company you work for.
What advice/resources would you share with the next generation?
I actively seek guidance and leadership from various places, and one of my most incredible sources is my wife, Seyka. She's an absolute rockstar CEO and leader within our business, and I'm fortunate to learn valuable lessons from her on a daily basis. It's amazing how much wisdom I gain from observing her in action. If you are fortunate enough to find colleagues, mentors or others during your career who inspire you in similar fashion, it is an excellent idea to cultivate these relationships.
We're big believers in the power of reading, especially when it comes to exploring different perspectives on leadership. We dive into a wide range of literature to gain insights from leaders who approach things differently. It's fascinating how much value there is in exposing ourselves to diverse viewpoints. It helps us broaden our understanding and develop a well-rounded approach to leadership.
We are all about continuously growing and seeking wisdom wherever we can find it, and we encourage the same in our team.