Eric Magallan: You can't be comfortable and courageous at the same time
Overcoming the negativity of "I can’t do this" is key to achieving what you think impossible. This is something NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars (NCAS) alum Eric Magallan embraced early on, putting him on the path for a potential career with NASA as a virtual reality software technician. He submitted 40 internship applications along the way, boasting an only half-complete degree in graphic design.
Growing up as a first generation American citizen and college student in Moreno Valley to Mexican parents was something Magallan described as "work, work, work …all of the time." His home life instilled good values, yet was a source of conflict that aided in pushing him on the road to a college degree—a dream that Magallan and his parents did not see eye to eye.
At 18, Magallan moved out to Orange County to pursue a degree at the Art Institute. Still trying to find his niche in the world, Magallan left the institute and transitioned to a new community college for a degree in graphic design.
Magallan worked throughout the industry, from startups to corporate settings. Opportunities did not always come knocking, however. In fact, there was one obstacle that constantly stood in the way of open doors teeming with possibilities: Magallan himself.
"Eventually I learned I needed to be harder on myself," Magallan said. "I looked at people around me and looked at how they were gaining success. The common story was discipline, hard work and being goal-oriented, so I really had to change my mindset."
Magallan took that mindset, along with encouragement from his wife, and enrolled back into community college, this time pursing something new.
"I needed to get out of my comfort zone and learn something different," Magallan said. This led him to computer science.
After 13 years of working in the professional field of graphic design, transitioning into learning computer science from the ground up took something more.
"I had to learn how to relearn," Magallan said.
Returning to school after a long absence and with a family, house and two jobs did not ease the process, either.
"Life gets in the way," Magallan said. "You have to make sacrifices sometimes."
He relied on a strong support system, which aided him in deciding to drop all graphic design work to focus purely on family and a dream for something more.
On his very first day of class at community college, Magallan's astronomy professor, a former NASA employee, said, "Any of you can work at NASA. All you need is a bachelor's degree."
This caused Magallan to sit back and think, "Why not me?"
Later into the semester, Magallan came across an email regarding NCAS-the golden opportunity he had been working toward. He was admitted to the NCAS community on his first try and, after successfully completing the non-credit online course, headed out to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) months later.
Upon entering NCAS, Magallan had yet to take an engineering or computer science course-he was still going off of a graphic design background and basics. He therefore worked as communications director for the business his team founded, whose challenge was to create a mock-up rover and hopefully be selected as NASA's chosen contractor above the competing NCAS teams. Magallan handled the marketing tactics and branding and was able to help his team take second place overall.
"It was life-changing and eye-opening and makes you want to pursue more," Magallan said of NCAS. "Had I not been in NCAS, I believe that I wouldn't be here, to be honest. I wouldn't be as involved in computer science. Everything really stemmed from NCAS."
Immediately following the multifaceted experience, Magallan searched for any and all job openings with NASA. With 40 submitted applications over two years, he landed three interviews. Denied twice, he learned the truth behind the saying, "The third time's the charm."
Today, Magallan works in NASA Johnson Space Center's Virtual Reality Lab, where he aids in designing training programs for astronauts. He hopes to work close to home at JPL in the future, where he also plans to incorporate his newfound knowledge into a business.
When reflecting back on how he got this point, Magallan said, "Speak up. Make yourself uncomfortable, and don't be afraid to ask for help. You can't be comfortable and courageous at the same time. If you want to be comfortable, cool. If you want to do something, you’re going have to reach beyond that. Be curious about different things. Think, 'Why not you?'"
Life is about the journey, not the destination. Through Magallan's trek, he persevered past his parents' unwillingness to let him go to college, went back to school in his 30s and received 40 rejection letters from his dream job. Taking that first small step is often difficult, but could be a giant leap in your pursuits.
-Eric Magallan, NASA Johnson Space Center's Virtual Reality Lab