Lara Collier

A lifelong interest in space — from looking up at the stars as a child, to working on the APSS programme while pursuing a BE(Hons) in Engineering Science — has taken Lara to her dream workplace, Rocket Lab.

Qualification: Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) in Engineering Science and Bachelor of Science in Psychology
Role: Junior Software Engineer at Rocket Lab

“I’m a junior software engineer for the operational data team. I build solutions for data processing and reporting. My team and I talk to key stakeholders from different engineering teams around the business so that their data can be seamless to interpret and draw insights from.

“What I do is post-launch, so there’s a lot of data that comes out of it. For example, I’ve worked with the analysis team who look at the loads and environments around the rocket and improve how they can test their structures. My code has been in reports that inform decisions we make to improve launch, which is pretty cool!

“I was interning with Rocket Lab over the summer of 2019 – 2020, and they kept me on for two days a week as a casual employee while I completed my degree. It’s been really good to just hold on to the role, and I’m really lucky that it will transition into a full-time role in November. It’s such a dynamic, fun workplace and I’ve never been in such an innovative environment before. Everyone’s so clever and come from different backgrounds, so you get to talk to people from all around the world who love Rocket Lab and what we do.

“My dad's an engineer so I’ve always had his influence with maths and physics, and I was good at them at school, so I kind of knew I was going to go down that path. My family was the type to always encourage me to look up at the stars and question what might be out there, and I was always the kid who watched all the space documentaries. My passion sort of grew from that at a really young age.

“Engineering was pretty much a no-brainer, but I had no idea what I really wanted to do except that it had to be in space! I chose Engineering Science because I enjoyed the software aspects and wanted a mix of things. It offers a number of electives so you can kind of go where you want with it. I hoped doing data science and software meant that it would translate into space research but it was still hard to imagine at the time.

“Degrees like aerospace engineering weren’t really a thing in New Zealand when I started uni, so I chose something that I thought could still equip me with the skills to enter the industry. For me, it was feasible to go overseas but not everyone has the same opportunity. Now, it’s amazing that Rocket Lab’s success led to the creation of New Zealand’s own Space Agency so I was like, ‘hey, maybe I can stay here and do what I want to do’. I got really lucky that Rocket Lab has helped cultivate New Zealand’s space industry and I can enjoy it here, and I think it means that kids now can have a tangible option for them that’s close to home.

Even if you’re from a small town, you can see Rocket Lab launching from Mahia, near Gisborne. Students can now have goals and aspirations that don’t have to involve leaving home. And I think it's just going to keep growing, and it means a lot for what we can do here as a small island nation. I think it gets people really excited too — it’s just so thrilling to see our country contributing to space in such a meaningful way.

“Working while studying very much comes down to time management for me. I do miss about eight hours of lectures a week, and I plan out my weeks in advance to make sure that I've got all my assignments, exams, and tests covered. It’s a bit of a balancing act and I think a lot of students get put off, but I think if you have that interest in a project or company, you can find the time! I am also quite a busy person and enjoy it, so it’s been really good, actually!

Lara and her software team in front of Mission Control. Photo courtesy of Rocket Lab.

“I also joined the Auckland Programme for Space Systems (APSS) because they do an awesome job recruiting students from all disciplines. I think that's really important to realise that it's not just an engineering thing and that everyone can contribute to a satellite. I also felt like it was going to position me quite well for future jobs in the space industry and as it turns out, it did. I think it was one of the main reasons my application for Rocket Lab went ahead!

I’m also very passionate about getting behind initiatives like Women in Engineering. This came from my expectations of the work and feeling like I was definitely going to be in a male-dominated industry, which would bring its own challenges. What’s really gotten me through is loving what I do, and not allowing being a minority in any space bring me down. For girls, I think it’s important to remind them that they might have a tough time and have their credibility questioned, but in the grand scheme of things, remember why you’re here and what drives you. Nobody can take that away from you.

“I know I’m still young and I always feel like I’m still learning about all this, but what I’ve also heard from people like managers and employers is to have the right attitude: be ready to learn and be friendly. I think a lot of us have struggled with imposter syndrome, but to be adaptable, you don’t have to be the smartest; you just need to be willing to learn.

“I think I’m lucky enough that I share the same passion for going to Venus as Rocket Lab’s CEO, Peter Beck. They’ve found chemical compounds in its atmosphere that are indicative of life, and for me, finding life, either on Venus or another moon or planet is the ultimate goal — the epitome of space exploration for me. I’m just so into that. We’re doing a private launch to Venus and working with the scientists who made that recent discovery to send a probe there to find out more. I love it because my interest aligns with what Rocket Lab is all about.

The coolest part about working for Rocket Lab is 100 percent the launches! Most of our staff — in the hundreds — pack into our reception area to watch our launches, which is amazing with its big glass windows behind mission control. It just erupts with applause and cheers at every milestone of launch. It’s just so exciting when everyone is working towards a common goal. And I’m always the first one there, pressed up against the glass because I always want to be at the front. It’s exactly like the movies and documentaries I grew up watching. It really is like a dream come true.

“I think there’s something exciting about that, not just for us at Rocket Lab but for everyone else outside of the work. It’s such a difficult feat to launch a rocket; they often get scrubbed or delayed, so when it's going to go, you just step back and marvel at that piece of engineering just... flying. And to know that it's a state-of-the-art rocket that so many of your colleagues have poured their blood, sweat, and tears into — it’s really just an incredible experience.

“Space is still just so unknown, and I want to be on the frontier of finding out more about it, and how we can improve life here on Earth. Thankfully, Rocket Lab is doing just that and I’m incredibly lucky to be taking my Engineering degree with me into this career.”