Meet Wanyika Njuguna, A Kenyan Working With Boeing As A Design Engineer


By Aw Magazine

My name is Jesse Wanyika Njuguna. My friends call me Wanyika.

Growing up in Kenya was certainly different from the societal norms I experience here in the US. My loving parents have always had a strong opinion on education, putting me through good schools while growing up. My dad emphasizes hard work and integrity. My interpretation of that is that I must always work smart and learn from failures.

In Kenya I attended Good Samaritan Academy for primary school education and Moi High School Kabarak for my “O” levels though I did not sit for KCSE exam. Up to that point, life was served on a silver spoon.

I moved to the US in January of 2008, right when the post-election violence was taking root in Kenya. I was 17 years old then. I think at this point, reality was catching up fast. My parents had moved to the US seeking better lives. While growing up, I never saw my parents struggling to pay fees, or give me the kind of lifestyle I had. Truth is; any parent seeks to make the life of their child better than they had it.

Life in the US

The first struggle I met was when I enrolled in high school. It shocked me to learn, that Kenya is listed as a non-English speaking country in a catalog that determines whether your English credits from Kenya transfer to the American system. A challenge being thrown at me to prove that I can speak and write English fluently. I had to be moved back one year because of this. However, I graduated within a semester, and on time, as I condensed my studies

High school education in the US is different from the one offered in Kenya. From my experience, Kenya has a better high school education system in terms of subject material. A student is ready for college since most classed are mandatory. The US gives students options whereby a teen might never have to delve into what I can describe as ‘hard’ classes. They have the option of going for the easier way out. Needless to mention, the American system has its own advantages that cannot be overlooked.

After High School I joined a local community college. I also landed my first job at a call center, but due to scheduling conflict, this did not work out. So, I left this job and to work as a health care professional which gave me the night shift option.

Night shifts are meant to be a breeze, I thought. One of the greatest motivations to soldier on through college happened during one of the night shifts. After spending a day in school, and tired as I was, I went to work. I ended up taking a nap while the patient I was attending to slept.  While napping, the patient woke up and color painted his room using his soiled diaper.  I remember walking in his room and breaking down just imagining how much I had to go through to meet my goal. This was one among the many things that shaped me up to who I am today; not because I wouldn’t do that kind of a job but because I aspired to succeed in another line of profession.  After graduating from the community college, I joined Washington State University.

I graduated from Washington State University in 2013 with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Computer Engineering.

I attribute my success to my parents who supported me. Life gives you lemons and it’s up to you to make the best lemonade. Right after college, I couldn’t find a job. I moved back in with my parents and got a job at a local hospital, delivering supplies to different floors, at minimum wage. This is what some will describe as ‘ kanda ya moko’ (Handy man’s) job. One day while running a cart full of oxygen tanks, I overheard someone say, “This dude thought he was clever trying to go to school, he should have just done this from the beginning.” Realizing I had nothing to lose, I decided to move back to the college town, seeking an internship and exploring option for graduate school.

I left Seattle for Pullman, targeting one of my former professors who owned an engineering company. I remember going to his class and telling him that I was not looking for a salary; all I wanted was the experience. A couple of weeks later, one of his Project Managers offered me an Application and Systems Engineering internship position, with pay. I have never had a humbling experience such as this. Knowing this was an internship, I was not planning to stay there for a long period. I actively continued applying  for jobs, while rethinking about a master’s degree. I set a goal to wrap up the internship within a year and move to Texas for graduate school. I didn’t know anyone there nor did I have a job there but I felt I needed to step up and not get comfortable. While getting close to a year down and preparing for my move, I got an interview with Boeing.

Boeing offered me a job in Southern California as a design and analysis engineer in the C-17 Program. C-17 is a strategic and tactical airlifter developed for the US Air Force. The C-17 is designed to operate from runways as short as 3500 ft. (≈1 Km) and as narrow as 90 ft. (27 m). The thrust reversers can be used to back the aircraft and reverse direction on narrow taxiways using a three- (or more) point turn. (Wikipedia, Boeing C-17 Globemaster III). The C-17 accompanies the President of the United States on visits to domestic and foreign grounds transporting the presidential limousine and security. As a design engineer, I get to work on new systems that go on the plane as well as support equipment ensuring health management of the airplane.

The C-17 Globemaster III T-1 flies over Owens Valley, Calif., for a test sortie. Edwards welcomed home the aircraft after 208 days of life extension modifications in San Antonio. T-1 is the first Air Force C-17 built to perform developmental testing. The aircraft is scheduled to perform flight testing to include airdrop improvements and core-computer replacement testing. (Air Force photo)

Now I am looking forward to going back to school for graduate studies while continuing to accumulate experience.

Life is what you make of it and certainly what you do to create your opportunities.

My two cents to anyone is, ‘treat your first like your last –Notorious B.I.G’