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From Engineering Intern to Manager (and the Lost Year Between)

By Maxx Taga posted 08-02-2021 06:36 PM


“I am sorry, but we are not actually looking to hire anyone at the moment.”

If you were a recent graduate, and/or let go from a job during this pandemic, this might be a phrase you have gotten used to. None of us were truly invulnerable to this; but I thought I was. I was in this sort of position before, in another industry, when I lost my Canadian work visa and had to start over. I hated that feeling. So I did everything in my power to never be in that position ever again. I even wrote an article about it (Member Voices - careerbydesign ( But it still wasn’t enough.

Below is just a snapshot of my journey through the pandemic:

December 2019: Graduated from the University of Hawaii with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering.

Graduation from University of Hawaii

January 2020: Started internship with Walt Disney Imagineering in Glendale, California.

April 2020: Was let go from Imagineering due to ongoing pandemic.

Name tag from Walt Disney Imagineering

May 2020: Moved back home to Hawaii. Applied for unemployment benefits and health insurance.

June-December 2020: Tried and failed at a bunch of hobbies (gardening, coding, etc.). Applied to 1,000+ jobs. Interviewed with companies like NASA, Marvel Studios, Sony Pictures, etc.

Sankey diagram of 1,283 jobs I applied to in 2020

January 2021: Received and accepted offer to work for NASA as a Launch Site Integration Manager in California.

April 2021: Moved out to California, bought a used car, found a place and roommates, and began work at NASA.

Sunset at Vandenberg (photo credit to NASA/Randy Beaudoin) (

Present: Still figuring out work-related tasks on the job. Meeting new people, acclimating to the weather, getting introduced and really into Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and Dungeons and Dragons.

Members of NASA Launch Services Program

I ended up in a really great place with NASA. I was fortunate, but a lot of people are not. It is easy to see the end result and feel a maelstrom of mixed emotions like jealousy, bitterness, and self-doubt. I spent a ton of time scrolling through social media and feeling that same twinge when I saw people triumph in the face of this historically global adversity. But what you don’t see are all the sleepless nights, unanswered emails, and eclectic Wikipedia browsing. The best of us have had their trials and tribulations, and not everyone has come out on the other side of this thing. To all the people still stuck in the above situation, you have my sympathy, my best wishes, and my respect.

Maxx Taga, Launch Site Integration Manager, NASA/KSC Vandenberg SFB is a somewhat recent graduate and recipient of ASCE's 2020 New Faces of Civil Engineering–College recognition. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Hawaii at Manoa in 2019. He has additional experience in VFX, research, board game testing, football analytics, and event security.

Follow him on LinkedIn




03-15-2022 02:53 PM

I always remind my daughter and anyone that will listen that "they are everywhere they are supposed to be".
The "Failures" are successful self-discoveries in what works or does not work personally. Often lessons required for personal growth. One can only control one's actions and reactions along the journey. One has to learn to embrace the lessons, road blocks and obstacles life places on the paths to where one thinks they should be and the detours that lead to one's true path, personal journey and ideal destination (short or long term). 
(Yes, watched a lot of martial arts tv shows & films growing up.)

01-30-2022 11:34 AM

Hello Maxx,

I think it's great that you managed to settle into new work for the upcoming years.

I was a student at Ohio State with two-part time jobs back in March of 2020. One was cancelled for the summer and the other settled with being shutdown after attempting to transition online. During that time, I eased myself out of isolation with a few activities, like an online class and passing the GRE Test.

In the Autumn, I started my last year at Ohio State and my part-time jobs evolved into pandemic life. After graduating in Civil Engineering, I spent the next summer teaching myself Python, passing the FE Civil Exam and learning to make videos as a hobby, all while using up my last few months of employment before becoming a student in Illinois.

Since then, I remade my job search strategy again to focus on companies I have already met with, like JPMorgan and MORPC. With all the work and projects I have pulled off so far, this is a safer bet amidst the pandemic ongoing.