Lessons from the Chief


If you work for Barry Noakes, there is probably one guarantee: You like to learn.

As the chief engineer for Lockheed Martin’s commercial space programs, Noakes credits his desire to ask questions and learn as one of the biggest factors in helping him grow his career.

“I learn something every day,” Noakes said. “When you work on space programs, you get exposed to challenging tasks and have to work with a large number of other engineers. That is where you take on those opportunities to learn more.”

His other favorite part about working on space programs?

“The satisfaction of seeing your product launch on a rocket is a pretty big deal.”

After finishing a degree in mechanical engineering from Rutgers University, Noakes got his start with Lockheed Martin 33 years ago working for a legacy division of RCA in East Windsor, New Jersey.

Early on, he followed his father’s footsteps working on communications spacecraft—first, as an intern and later as a mechanical design engineer.

During his early years, Noakes “grew within the field,” taking on roles in systems engineering and later working on spacecraft assembly, test and launch operations.

Today, he is responsible for overseeing all of the engineering for Lockheed Martin’s commercial space programs. This includes programs like the A2100 satellite, one of the most powerful flight-proven commercial spacecraft currently available.

“For satellite programs, our engineers are challenged to come up with robust designs that need to work in orbit for 15 or more years without repair,” Noakes said. “There is something very special about getting lots of people together to bring those solutions forward.”  


Would you like to land a career as rewarding as Barry’s? Read on below for his five tips for getting ahead.

1. Have a learning disposition. According to Noakes, people who keep their eyes open and ask questions are some of the best people to work around. “Space programs require a large number of different disciplines and a very wide range of backgrounds and educations—from the scientists and engineers to the technicians assembling the spacecraft,” Noakes said. “Each of us has a unique point of view, and we can learn from each other simply by asking questions.”

2. Find a job that excites you. Noakes sees opportunities to get excited about his work everywhere he looks, whether it is motivating his team or the thrill of solving a difficult challenge. “We do really cool stuff, and I truly enjoy coming to work,” Noakes said. “I don’t think there a lot of jobs, generally, where you can say that all of the time.”

3. Seek opportunities for growth.  Whether you are just starting out or are further along in your career, Noakes believes there is always room to take on the next challenge. “One of the particularly exciting aspects about the space business is that it is challenging engineering, so there are a lot of different disciplines you could learn and grow into.”

4. Learn about the business side of things. While early career professionals may still be learning the ins and outs of their own job, Noakes thinks this is one of the best times to begin asking questions about the business. “When you understand the business side of things, that is where you learn to recognize the trade-offs between a great way to solve a problem from an engineering standpoint and the cost impact it will have on the end customer.”

5. Challenge Yourself. Beyond the thrill of watching a spacecraft launch, Noakes also enjoys the challenge of the everyday problems his team must solve. When you look at what we do, you will see a lot of different disciplines coming together to solve a problem that may have never been addressed before,” Noakes said. “That is when the challenge becomes truly exciting.”