This interview is part of Magma Math’s Risk Takers Series, where we explore the stories of people who have leveraged math in unique ways to unfold bold career paths.
Software developer Bianca Jaquez joined me for a chat about being a risk taker in the math field. A former teacher, Bianca has taken her skills from the classroom and her knowledge in computer science to Boeing’s Millennium Space Systems.
"Don’t just identify a potential job or a career. It’s the other way around. Try to find something that [you're] interested in doing. Try to find skills [you] like and are good at, then look at what careers involve those skills."
Katherine Bazley: I don't think there are many former teachers who are now software developers for a space company. This series is about risk takers in the field of math. You fit that profile perfectly. Can you describe what you do on a regular basis?
Bianca Jaquez: Essentially I build applications that we use as software for my company. I build the internal applications that are used for various things, ranging from human resources needs or business processes. Just to kind of help with the day-to-day for the company to run internally.
KB: That's really important for a company. You work for Millennium Space Systems, which is a Boeing company. How does your job contribute to that greater effort of building and launching satellites?
BJ: It's kind of funny because I always have to mention to people that I don't actually work in satellites. I help the processes of the entire program to function, ranging from helping managers to get a proposal to getting it processed. Our software helps with that. I go through that process and see how it can be as easy and as fast as possible, so that all the different parties and teams involved have access to the same thing.
KB: Even though you don't work on the satellites themselves, your job is very important. How do you think students might want to invest more in learning STEM if they knew more about your job?
BJ: First of all, exposure is the biggest thing for them: to hear about these different jobs. Even when I was going to college, I didn't really know what job I wanted because I didn't know the different options out there. There’s always teacher, lawyer, and things like that. But it was actually because of my math degree that I was exposed to computer science.
KB: How did that interest you?
BJ: I had one introduction course, and that really sparked my interest in terms of just the technology that I was learning. And so I think getting students to take different courses and learn different skills might help them to explore different job opportunities or different careers. Don’t just identify a potential job or a career. It’s the other way around. Try to find something that they're interested in doing. Try to find skills they like and are good at, then look at what careers involve those skills.
KB: That definitely resonates with me. When you were growing up, what did you want to be when you were an adult?
BJ: It was actually always a teacher. I think it was just because I liked school growing up and I like helping people. It’s the interpersonal skills that I really liked, in terms of working with others.
And then when I was a little older, I really liked math and logic and problem solving. And so teaching just seemed like the perfect blend to use math. I wanted to be able to speak to others. And I thought, if I do computer science, I wouldn't really be speaking to other people.
But that's really not the case. I actually talk a lot and always have to reach out for input on the software. So, I think those assumptions kind of stopped me from pursuing computer science from the beginning.
KB: How do you use your experience as a teacher as a software developer for a space company? Are there certain skills that you feel transfer?
BJ: Absolutely. And I would say that even though I now enjoy what I do more than teaching, I still am grateful for the way that I got here. I appreciate my job a lot more because teaching was just so incredibly difficult. I also learned how to speak to others, how to work with different types of people, how to understand different types of people and, and really know what somebody else might be thinking. A lot of what I had to do in teaching was trying to figure out why a student was confused, and trying to think backwards on how they thought about something.
KB: A lot of people think that teacher skills don't transfer into other jobs, but it's definitely not true. I also find, as a former teacher, that if I need to explain something to somebody, I can explain it very clearly. Looking toward the future, what are your career goals?
BJ: So when I was teaching, I was also pursuing being a teacher leader and possibly going into the leadership side of education. I think I'd like to pursue that similarly in the software world.
KB: Do you have any advice for students that are interested in STEM?
BJ: There's just such a stigma with math and STEM. I think it's really important to pursue understanding it instead of just solving it. I think that's the biggest thing.
Also to not worry so much about knowing what they're going to want to do. They could end up liking it or end up switching jobs, and that’s not the end of the world. It’s ok if you try something and realize that you don't like it.
Interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
About the Author
Katherine Bazley (@katherinebazley) is a K-12 EdTech teacher ambassador at Magma Math where she contributes SEL, Special Education, and classroom experience. Reach her on LinkedIn or at email@example.com