I have spent my entire professional career, 29 years, at NASA Stennis Space Center. Growing up, I never thought about working for NASA. I actually wanted to work in Energy Development. But, when my husband and I moved to New Orleans, I had just received by BSEE and a BS in Chemistry and needed a job. I answered an advertisement in the local newspaper and to my utter astonishment, received an offer.
My greatest accomplishment, in my life, has been my ability to balance work and family. I have always had extremely rewarding and maybe even a little too challenging assignments at NASA. I work in the test area at SSC, as a Data Acquisition Engineer. Because data is the primary product of all rocket testing, my work has great value. I have tested rockets both for NASA as well as commercial customers, making reconfiguration of the test area a real challenge. I have been the Lead Electrical Engineer as well as Data Acquisition Engineer on a test stand for several years. In that capacity, I am responsible for all electrical systems at the facility and their interface to the test article. Each test article and its customer have unique requirements, and making them work together and seeing the test conducted safely and effectively always amazes me.
But my journey at NASA has been unique. After the birth of my first child, I realized I could not return to work full-time as usual. I began to ask a lot of questions from our Office of Human Capital about part-time work. They gave me guidance and then I began to work thru my management chain. But, I didn’t get very far because they wanted me back full-time. In the end, it was the OHC who got my part-time approved. The OHC understood that a happy worker is a loyal and more productive worker. The lesson I learned then and have always remembered is to look at all the resources available to you and use them effectively. Be persistent in pursuing your goals and get help from knowledgeable professionals. NASA’s greatest resource has been and continues to be the extremely capable professionals that serve the agency every day.
I stayed part-time, anywhere from 24 to 32 hours per week for 18 years. It never seemed to limit my career opportunities. In fact, during that period, I was promoted several times and even made deputy of a project office, although I later returned to engineering. I have four children, the last two twins. I was there when all of them got on and off the bus. They all attended preschool at the Stennis Child Development Center, again, using the resources available at SSC. They are all extremely proud of their mom, the rocket test engineer. One is in graduate school at UCSD getting his PhD in Physics. The next is at MIT getting her bachelor’s in robotics, and the twins are still in high school, planning to major in Computer Science and Mechanical Engineering. I have learned that, if you are determined, and have professionals willing to help you, you can live your life the way you want to.
In the last several years, I have done a lot of mentoring. For the past 3 years, I have had college students working for me. For the past 6 years I have mentored a FIRST Robotics team (another way to spend time with my children) and now I am mentoring a junior engineer. I was told he selected me due to my technical competence, not my ability to get promoted. I was extremely pleased to see that others see me as competent, that has always been my career goal.
My career continues to be non-traditional. I recently requested an assignment that has me returning to programming, an activity I truly enjoy. We are writing new Data Acquisition software. I am not in charge of a group of programmers; I am a team member. For a civil servant with 29 years of experience, this is truly a step backwards. But, I have found that working on what really interests me, is what keeps my work fresh and exciting. Fortunately, NASA is an employer that understands its diverse workforce and what it takes to keep them productive and engaged.
For Wendy Holladay, the trick has been to balance her large family of 6 with her fast moving career at NASA. To accomplish both, she spent 20 of her 29 years at NASA Stennis Space Center as a part-time employee. And, for Ms. Holladay, it has made all of the difference. She currently serves as the Data Acquisition Engineer at NASA Stennis. During her 29 years at NASA, she has had many assignments from E3 Test Stand Electrical Lead to Deputy of the Space Shuttle Main Engine Project Office to Software Developer for the NASA Data Acquisition System (NDAS). She leads a diverse team and works closely with her mechanical engineering colleagues to provide delivery of high quality test data to a wide variety of customers while meeting costs and schedules. As an NDAS Software Developer, she works with a team of programmers to provide NASA with a Data Acquisition Software package, designed to function at many test stands across NASA on a wide variety of hardware platforms. This system will give NASA test stands a common interface, data format and data reduction capability needed to reduce costs to programs as NASA works to provide test services to both government and commercial customers. As both an extension of her combining family and work and with her great respect for the knowledge and innovation that young people bring to the workplace, she has been a FIRST Robotics mentor for 7 years , a USRP mentor for 3 years, a SHARP mentor, and a mentor to a junior engineer through NASA Stennis’mentoring program. Ms. Holladay has been awarded the NASA Exceptional Achievement Medal for her technical work in propulsion testing and software development.