In an exclusive interview with Dhaka Tribune's Reaz Ahmad, a Bangladeshi woman joining Nasa as a space system software engineer says ‘dreams do come true if you work hard and stay true to yourself’
She wanted to work for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) in the United States ever since she was a child. Fascinated by the stories about Nasa sending people to the moon, she wanted to be a part of that mission.
Mahjabin Haque, a young woman from Bangladesh, spent her second stint as a Nasa intern earlier this year, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.
Come October, a computer science graduate from Wayne State University’s College of Engineering in Michigan, Mahjabin will join her dream job as a space system software engineer at Nasa’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
For over 50 years, Nasa’s Lyndon B Johnson Space Center (JSC) has led the US and the world on a continuing adventure of space exploration, discovery and achievement.
Mahjabin’s joining JSC on October 7 marks a watershed as women from Bangladesh taking up Nasa job is few and far between.
In its early days, JSC had led the Gemini, Apollo, and Skylab project. Nasa’s largest research and development facility now serves as the home of mission control, leading International Space Station operations and missions, and numerous advanced exploration projects.
Her family’s winning a diversity visa (popularly known as DV lottery) back in 2009, brought Mahjabin, her banker father Syed Enamul Haque, her mother Ferdousi Chowdhury and only younger brother Syed Samiul Haque to the US from their hometown Sylhet in Bangladesh. Samiul currently works in the US Army.
Mahjabin, who currently lives in Michigan with her mother and brother, is now passing busy days packing to relocate herself to Texas on October 5 to join Nasa. But she still managed to give an interview to Dhaka Tribune via email.
Here is the excerpt:
When are you going to join Nasa, in what capacity and what role you’ll be playing there? Also tell us in brief what it takes to get a Nasa job.
I will join on October 7 as a space system software engineer at Nasa’s Johnson Space Center.
In order to work for Nasa, you have to be an all-rounder, you have to have leadership experiences and be involved in extracurricular activities. As for me, I was involved in many different organizations in my university. I was the president of the Bangladeshi Student Association (BSA), a dance choreographer for BSA’s cultural events,and also the vice-president of the Association for Computing Machinery's Council on Women in my university.
Nasa is more than just astronauts. At Nasa, we have everything, from scientists to engineers to IT specialists to human resources specialists to accountants to writers and many other kinds of people working together to break barriers to achieve the seemingly impossible.
You served at Nasa before as an intern. How did you get the internship and how many months was the work duration then? Also, how was the experience?
I applied online for the Nasa internship and got a call for a phone interview from their recruiter shortly after. I was selected as the top candidate among thousands of interns all over America after all the processing. I interned at Nasa twice.
First one was as a data analyst between January 2018 and May 2018, when I conducted data analysis of the Engineering Directorate's IT infrastructure and associated processes. During those four months, I was featured as Nasa’s JSC Intern of the Week. I also joined the Intern Student Council and was elected video committee chair. As chair, it was my duty to organize and produce a video encapsulating the Nasa internship experience. This project allowed me to take a closer look at the people behind Nasa, and I found myself inspired by their diverse backgrounds and expertise.
The second one was as a software engineer intern at Mission Control Center (MCC) between January 2019 and May 2019, where only employees with high-profile badges are admitted without an escort. My work directly supported the International Space Station, and I was responsible for software design, implementation, testing, maintenance and user support. MCC is the most important and highly secured building of Nasa, because this is the control room for all the rocket launches and important mission support. I was featured as the intern of the week too during the second internship.
Nasa experience is unbelievably incredible — I was surrounded by some of the brightest people in the country, working on some of the most unique projects in the world. I met people whose backgrounds range from aerospace engineering to physics to communications. At Nasa, you get a bit of everything.
Are there other Bangladeshi or scientists/technicians/officials of Bangladeshi-origin working at Nasa? Any idea what the number is?
I was the only Bangladeshi intern when I was doing my internships, but I did meet two Bangladeshis who are working at Nasa full time. I don’t really know them personally, but I did see them in few places at Nasa, and JSC is a huge place with high security and it has many buildings so it is hard to know everyone who works there.
Tell us something about your academic life, degrees you achieved and about all of your alma mater.
I recently graduated with a Computer Science degree from Wayne State University’s College of Engineering. I was involved in many organizations and I was also working part time at my university as a computer programmer while taking full time classes.
My mom played a huge role in turning me into the person I am today. She has always motivated me to go after my dreams without any fear. In her own words, “Ami chai amar meye akash chhobe, amar meye kono cheler cheye kom noy” (I want my daughter to touch the sky, my daughter is nothing less than any men).
Where did you spend your childhood? When did you leave Bangladesh for the US?
I was born in Bangladesh and came to America in 2009 with my parents. I used to live in Kazitula, Sylhet and my village is in Kodom Rasul, Golapganj. While I was there, I went to the Sylhet Khajanchibari International School and College in Sylhet.
You have any plans to visit Bangladesh anytime soon?
I am planning to visit Bangladesh soon, Insha’allah.
What are you aiming at in future?
My biggest dream was to work for Nasa ever since I was a kid, and now that I have achieved that goal, my only dream now is to keep doing what makes me the happiest.
What will be your advice for young Bangladeshi girls who dream of pursuing science education and frontier research as a career?
I would tell them to go after their dreams fearlessly. It’s okay to fail. I have failed many times, but that didn’t stop me from going after my dreams and working even harder. Dreams do come true if you work hard and stay true to yourself.