Discovering the Possibilities
My name is Brian Butcher. I was born in Las Vegas, grew up in New York, and finished my college career in the state of Texas. I began school at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and continued my education at South Plains College in Levelland, Texas. While I was growing up, I loved working with and riding motorcycles, dirt bikes, tinkering with RC cars, robotics, the list goes on and on. These hobbies made it easier for me to choose my path in a STEM field because of the curiosity I had in learning how systems work and increasing their functionality.
To be honest, I didn’t have a huge interest in space prior to the NCAS program. I had an interest in software. When I enrolled my first semester at South Plains College, I noticed postings with pictures and testimonials of past NCAS participants. My curiosity was piqued, so the following semester when my professor extended this opportunity as part of a hand-picked cohort, I accepted. When I finished the online session, I received an invitation to NASA Johnson Space Center for the onsite experience. My eyes were opened to the exciting possibilities of software in space. I loved getting to see the presenters—we even had a guest presentation by an employee that had worked on Apollo 13. Here at NASA, everyone is really enthusiastic about the work they do. At NCAS, we worked nonstop for three days, but it was such a glorious feeling to make it to the closing ceremony. You feel like you really accomplished something. This is enough reason for me to encourage those who are even remotely curious about NCAS, to just do it!
The year following my NCAS participation, I volunteered to assist with the program for two weeks. This really helped me network and solidify my interest in applying to other NASA Education programs. In 2006, the same year I enrolled at Texas Tech in Lubbock, Texas, I applied to the co-op program at NASA. My work experiences during these four work tours ranged from helping develop a financial management web application to supporting the international low-impact, a spacecraft docking and berthing mechanism being developed for future US space exploration vehicles. Through the co-op program and as I transitioned into my career, I loved the rich variety of experiences that enhanced my knowledge of NASA from a multitude of perspectives.
I started my college experience after spending several years in the workforce. That gave others the perception that I was an older student. This was my biggest challenge as I was completing my education. Even though I was married with kids, the programs were very accommodating to both students and their families. I learned a lot and felt at ease, so this shouldn’t discourage anyone from applying for opportunities as the programs are very accommodating to both students and their families.
My advice to students out there? Early on, it’s very important to understand what you want to do in the future. As a software engineer, I had limited my thinking about the sorts of job opportunities I could apply for. I had never even considered embedded programming and space software. Don’t limit your possibilities. Do research, experience internships, take advantage of what universities have to offer.
Today, I work at NASA Johnson Space Center in the Spacecraft Software Engineering Branch where I have been full-time for six years. I enjoy what I do and wish the same for all the students out there that have a dream, you can definitely achieve it if you try hard enough!