Heritage Month Spotlight: Michelle Hauer, Raytheon

Michelle Hauer
Senior Engineering Fellow
Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems

It was during a car-ride when 9-year-old Michelle Hauer’s mother first told her she should be an engineer. “You mean like on trains?” Hauer asked.

No, her mother explained: an engineer is an inventor and spends her days building things, just like Hauer loved to do. It was the first engineering seed planted in her life, Hauer said.

That seed, and many more like it, grew into three degrees and a career as a Senior Engineering Fellow for Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems — but it would be a while before they truly bloomed.

Finding her way

Hauer has a bachelor’s in physics and a master’s and doctorate in electrical engineering. She has been a contributing author on more than 40 peer-reviewed publications, including two book chapters and an encyclopedia entry. She has been granted a U.S. patent for an intraocular camera for retinal prostheses. And until a year ago, she was still waiting for someone to figure out she was out of her league.

“I had a pretty bad case of impostor syndrome. I was constantly wondering when I was going to be found out,” she laughed.

Hauer doesn’t define success by the end result; she takes pride in the path to achieving her goals. It’s about the hard work and missteps, and she says her path included plenty of both.

“One of my biggest mentors was a Principle Engineering Fellow,” Hauer said. “He came up to me about six years ago and said, ‘I’m not going to be here forever and I’m looking for people to fill my shoes.’ I was a section manager at the time. And he wanted me to follow in his footsteps.”

Hauer said yes, signing up for a path she once thought was unattainable.

“I was so happy where I was and could have stayed there for a long time. I never set out to be a senior engineering fellow — I didn’t think it was possible for me,” she said.

Walking the path

Within six months Hauer was a technical leader of an IRAD project and had been put in several leadership roles. They taught her to look at not just her engineering projects, but their relation to how Raytheon develops technology and obtains customers. One can’t simply read about our business in the newspaper, she learned. She had to immerse herself in it to understand her role.

“As Engineering Fellows it’s our job is to bring credibility to the table,” she said. “We have to show our track record of success. I learned that it doesn’t matter how good you are at doing things if no one knows about it.”

Hauer became an Engineering Fellow in 2016. With her mentor’s retirement close at hand, she says 2017 was both the best and the most difficult year of her career. Her projects were bearing fruit, but she found herself over-committed for the first time.

“I was getting everything I wanted — but all at once. It was too much to handle. I’d look at other engineering fellows and couldn’t understand how they juggled it all.”

Her mentor was now pushing her to become a Senior Engineering Fellow, but Hauer was just trying to breathe. She had to face the fact that everything had changed so quickly, and it was now her job to deal with complexity.

“I had been constantly looking to people above me for advice,” Hauer said. “That was the first time I realized that I needed to look down, because people were starting to ask me for advice. It was a tough transition.”

Reaching the destination

In the midst of the chaos, Hauer was invited to represent SAS Engineering Fellows on a women’s panel. Her topic was to talk about her success, something she had been too caught up in the whirlwind of change to reflect on.

“I had been constantly looking to people above me for advice. That was the first time I realized that I needed to look down, because people were starting to ask me for advice. It was a tough transition,” she said.

With that realization, her impostor syndrome began to dissipate.

She recalls sitting at the panel and looking out to the crowd, of mostly men. She wondered if her advice would apply to them.

“After the panel two things happened. I discovered that my advice applied to everyone in the  room. I’m an engineer just like they are. And I realized the men sitting in that room were fathers to daughters. They wanted our advice so they could push their girls into STEM just as my mother had pushed me.”

Hauer says she is more grateful than proud of where she is. After a two-decade journey, she is now a leader among her peers who confidently inspires others. But would she do anything differently?

“My advice to young women is don’t spend 20 years waiting to be found out,” she said. “Impostor syndrome is a huge waste of energy.”