The Other Side of the Clean Room

Fight On Trojans! I never thought I'd ever say those words


This month marks 3 years at SpaceX for me, which is a pretty neat milestone! It feels like just yesterday I was turning in my badge at Evercore and setting off for sunny SoCal - so long New York, hello Mars! And while my day-to-day is far from routine, I certainly feel I've found my rhythm on the Finance team: I've covered the financial reporting of 6 different divisions, I've calculated the cost of Falcon, Dragon, Starship, and Raptor, I've witnessed 119 Falcon launches (including 30 astronauts), and I've visited every major SpaceX site except Cape Canaveral. Not bad for just 36 months!

And yet, as if Elon & Co. weren't keeping me busy enough, next month I'm taking on a new challenge: grad school! The admissions officers at USC's Viterbi School of Engineering must've looked kindly upon my non-STEM bachelors, I bet I'll be the only finance major in the Industrial & Systems Engineering master's program. Hopefully I can resurrect whatever math I still remember from high school and college, I certainly haven't needed advanced calculus to book accounting journal entries at work! 

I'll admit it feels strange mentally preparing myself for school again. "First day of school", "cramming for finals", and "beating the curve" were all phrases I sincerely hoped I'd never have to hear again. And it's all the more surreal given this degree is totally optional; unlike my previous 16 years of education, these next ~3 are purely of my own volition. Or as my own parents pointed out, "You're sure you want to do this right? Just remember, Kevin won't be there to save you if the classes are hard!" 

(Ever the whiz kid, my best friend and college roommate always had an explanation handy whenever I was struggling with math or computer science homework)

Me turning on my TI-84 for the first time in 5 years to make sure it still works before starting grad school

All kidding aside, I really am very proud to be getting an engineering master's. While business school and investment banking have served me incredibly well, it's no secret I regret not also studying something more technical. I've lost count how of many times I've Googled "engineering master's with business undergrad", only to convince myself I was either too busy or too unqualified. But I'm almost 27 now, and I know this is likely my last good window of opportunity where I'll have the freedom to take undertake something like this. So unless I want to be in school in my 30s, it's now or never

Me representing UT Austin at USC's annual stock pitch competition, 2016 and 2017. Who knew I'd come back one day

When I first joined SpaceX, one of my worries was that my role would be considered secondary the engineers, since I don't actually design or build the rocket. Three years later, I can confidently say that's not the case; in fact, it's often the engineers who are eager to learn more about the finance side of the rockets! And yet, I know there's so much at SpaceX that I'll never be qualified to do. On the first floor of the main building in Hawthorne, I pass by the huge cleanroom where the Dragon spacecraft goes through final integration. I've been a lot of places at SpaceX, but I've never been in there before - engineers and technicians only, all in their bunny suits hard at work. Just once, I'd love to stand on the other side of that cleanroom and see the hardware up close. Just once - give me a smock, let me tighten one screw… you'd never suspect I'm just the finance guy! Alas, master's degree or not, I don't know if I'll ever get there. But hey, a guy can dream

In the Astronomical Returns post I wrote when I first got the job at SpaceX, I said that I'm more than content with my sidekick role on the Finance team, and I'll defer to the actual rocket scientists to figure out how to get us to Mars. Three years later, that still holds true - I love my job on the Finance team, and I know that even after I graduate from USC Engineering, I still won't be the one designing or building the rockets. But we've all got a part to play; as long as I learn something in grad school that helps me bring Mars a little bit closer for the rest of us, then it will all have been worth it in the end

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