Athlete, Traveler, Aerospace Engineer - Heidi Hatteberg
“I didn’t know how hard it (engineering) was going to be. But at the same time, I wasn’t afraid of the challenge either. Ultimately it unfolded into something great.”
Name: Heidi Hatteberg | Occupation: Aerospace engineer | University and Year of Graduation: Georgia Tech, BS 2012, MS 2014
After partaking in the long and challenging Palmetto 200, Heidi was willing to meet me just a few hours later at Kudu in downtown Charleston to chat about her experiences in the engineering industry. And I am so grateful that she did.
Growing up with both parents in education and swimming on a US competitive swim team, Heidi was never really focused on becoming an aerospace engineer. “It was a totally different world growing up for me… I didn’t come from a family of engineers… I come from a family of educators.” As a child, she dreamed of becoming a pilot after years of attending Thunder Over Louisville, an airshow in Kentucky, with her family. But with her desire to continue her passion of swimming on a Division I swim team, she decided to look into other alternatives. “As a 17-year old, I figured I might as well just do aerospace engineering. I can work on airplanes and be around things that are really cool to me. I don’t think I really knew what I was getting myself into. I didn’t know how hard it was going to be. But at the same time, I wasn’t afraid of the challenge either. Ultimately it unfolded into something great.”
During our conversation, I really admired Heidi and her positive attitude. She has been with her company since her graduation from Georgia Tech in 2014 and expressed how much she values their efforts with being inclusive and supporting their women engineers. When asked if she had experienced any challenges as a female in aerospace engineering, she assured me that the challenges she faces are a result of internal struggles. “You always have the stereotypical ‘I’m the only female in my group’…I would say my biggest challenge is my own insecurity and standing up in the room and being vocal about what I want in my career, and just owning my successes and not putting them on the team, or you know, actually saying yeah I did that! I think every female engineer struggles with that though: just being more vocal.”
And boy, do I agree. The struggle is real. Almost every female engineer I’ve ever known has expressed this internal struggle - whether it be asking for a raise, requesting to work on a specific project that she is interested in, or just even being confident enough in herself to solve a problem.
Heidi may have worded it better than I possibly ever could: “Being more comfortable and vocal comes in time with experience. I think overall, guys are just more confident in themselves and they will just speak whatever is on their mind, and women will internalize it more. I don’t want to be stereotypical but I think we internalize it more than just saying our opinions. We don’t want our own ideas to be dumb ideas. We are a lot more careful about what we say and what we do.”
And then I just had to ask her: if you could back in time and speak with your 18 year-old self, what would tell yourself to do differently? Heidi’s response: don’t be scared, take more chances, and ask more questions. “Engineering when I was 18 was more of a word than a meaning. I didn’t really know what it was before going into it. We didn’t really have a STEM program at my high school. STEM wasn’t a huge thing. The word ‘engineering’ was not a buzz word.” When asked if she would still choose to be an engineer after knowing what she knows now, there was no hesitation in her assurance that she would.
One of the main reasons why I began this blog series was to tackle the non-conventional question about identity. For me personally, being a female engineer has become so ingrained in my identity and what I allow other people to see. It makes me feel good on the outside to other people, but on the inside, it’s not the only thing I want to be defined as. I asked her if she felt the same way. “So this is really interesting because I have the same sentiment as you. It goes back to how I was raised. For my whole life since I was 6 years old, I started on a US competitive swim team, and my identity was always being a student athlete. When you tell people that, they think it’s crazy, but that’s normal to me. I didn’t know anything else. Normal life was having a workout in the morning, school, workouts in the afternoon and on the weekends. This went throughout college too. Doing well in school was a part of that as well and was just normal. Now as an adult, people ask how I was able to swim Division I, major in engineering, and get a master’s degree, and I jokingly want to ask them: ‘Why not, why didn’t you?’” she said laughing.
But in all seriousness, Heidi is truly formidable, whether she thinks so or not. She wakes up at 4 am every morning to do a workout, goes to work as an aerospace engineer, and then works out after work. On top of that, she’s involved with races and triathlons on the weekends. Talk about goals!
When it comes down to her passions and what gives her joy everyday, Heidi listed a number of things: family, friends, pushing herself both mentally and physically, traveling and being outside. “I’m all about stretching my limits. I think the human body is so interesting and what it’s capable of doing, so I like to see how far I can push it. I’m also into outdoor adventures and traveling. After a big race, I like to go on a big vacation and explore. I really enjoy the outdoor adventure - any sort of traveling. I think the reason why I love my job is because I get to do the travel while still working and being challenged by these projects.” In fact, she’s traveling to Florida for the next few months to get involved with a space program for her company.
I asked my last question as we both sipped on our warm beverages: would you recommend a young girl to do engineering? “Initially I thought, 100% yes. Then I came back to this question a few days later and thought 'only if it’s what you want'. I wouldn’t want to push anything on someone. Engineering is great, but it's not for everyone and there are so many other professions out there to explore. Do what makes you happy!”