When Elon Musk sets his sights on an industry, he does so with purpose and with the intention of completely turning said industry on its head. While most people are readily familiar with Musk’s efforts at Tesla, the groundbreaking work being done by SpaceX, Musk’s other company, has only recently started to attract attention from the mainstream.
To be sure, Elon Musk was bold for thinking that Tesla could revolutionize the auto industry. That said, Musk’s plans to enter the aerospace industry with SpaceX and compete with and work alongside NASA wasn’t just bold, it was downright crazy. And yet, both of Musk’s ventures continue to amass greater success with each passing year.
Earlier this month, we stumbled across a thread on Quora asking if it’s better for engineers to work at NASA or SpaceX. Of course, the question itself was a bit misleading because it’s not as if one company is superior to the other. Without question, some of the smartest minds on the planet can be found at both. Still, there are a number of interesting differences between the work environment at NASA and SpaceX that are worth highlighting.
Tackling this issue, an engineer named Andre Lavoie — who has spent significant time at both companies — details a number of fascinating differences between life at NASA and SpaceX.
Not surprisingly, the fact that NASA is a government agency, as opposed to a private company like SpaceX, impacts the work environment in both positive and negative ways. While Lavoie points out that the work-life balance at NASA is a positive, the work there can sometimes be encumbered by “an institutional aversion to risk” and predictably slow-moving bureaucracy.
Projects can start with much fanfare and then be cancelled. Repeatedly. Maybe this is because there are many worthy things that should be studied but funds are always limited. It can be rewarding because you have more opportunity to really dig in and understand things and learn. Your job is very secure, even when budgets get cut or you yourself don’t succeed.
As for life at SpaceX, the work environment there, not surprisingly sounds awfully similar to a forward-thinking start-up, albeit on steroids.
In contrast, Space X is a product company. It designs, builds, sells and launches rockets. Your job there is to make that happen no matter what. Nobody gives up. Failure is acceptable, to a point. Risk taking is expected, but stupidity and recklessness is punished unceremoniously. You just get fired. There is no job security. Schedule is critical because as a privately funded company if it fails to succeed before the money runs out then it’s game over. The sense of urgency is huge. At Space X you can have plenty of responsibility even if you have little experience. This is great if you are energetic, resourceful and work obsessively. If not you will probably fall behind and then your days will be numbered.
Lavoie’s full answer, along with the full thread is well worth digesting in its entirety. You can check it out over here.