TJ Wuth serves as Lead Instrumentation Operations Engineer for F-35 stealth fighter planes, Lead Engineer for the Instrumentation Research and Development Group and a Team Lead for the 412th Test Wing Innovation Team at Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California. Since graduating from college in 2011 from Fresno State’s Lyles College of Engineering, the electrical engineering alumnus has managed to lead a successful career with the support of his wife, Becca, who is a professional photographer and their three small children.
“It’s my kids that inspire me to keep going. I want to be an example to them and I hope to help set them up to go out and make a much bigger impact on the world than what I can,” Wuth said.
After he began his college career in 2001, Wuth took some time to explore various majors, work full-time and gain experience, start a family and return years later to finish his degree in electrical engineering.
“There was never a dull moment while I was in school. I took the long way in getting my degree [10-years]. By the time I graduated, I was married with two kids and a third on the way,” Wuth said.
A native of Porterville, CA, he grew up playing the drums and was passionate about audio and acoustics, which involves both mechanical and electrical engineering principles. By combining his musical experience and interests in design and development, he chose to major in electrical engineering.
“It just made sense to become an electrical engineer. I wanted to understand the underlying principles of my interests and I really love being in a classroom, participating in the interaction between professors and classmates … nothing beats face-to-face collaboration and learning.”
During the first day of the spring 2010 semester Wuth reached to pick up his backpack and felt a pain in his back.
“I thought I had pulled a muscle, but it didn’t seem to heal,” he said.
Around that same time, his son was born and he began to feel numbness in his feet. Wuth the found himself lying in a hospital bed studying for his engineering classes and recovering from back surgery.
“Then, my son had a seizure and I continued my studies at Valley Children’s Hospital when my son experienced a seizure and was taken there for a few days,” he said. “Rusty’s seizures turned out to be a febrile seizures resulting from Hypogammaglobulinemia and the reduced ability to fight infections meant that he would spike high fevers and then experience seizures. It took several years
and several more seizures, but he finally grew out of it.”
Nearly eight months after Wuth graduated college and with only two-months of employment at Edwards, he needed another back surgery.
“The second back surgery resulted in a fusion so my surgeon found it odd when I showed up again in 2014 with more pain and trouble walking,” he said. “I had a third back surgery to remove some of the titanium screws and rods and about that time is when I got diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis and suddenly a lot of medical history finally made sense.”
“I couldn’t have done any of it without Becca’s support. She held everything together and provided me with the time to devote to school and the encouragement to press on.”
Wuth says his oldest daughter, Ashley, is fascinated with robotics and also wants to be an engineer. “She creates detailed sketches and drawings of robots that she wants to build and even adds little notes on the intended function of each part.”
“It’s fun when your kids proudly announce to others that their dad is an engineer, but then that also comes with a lot of technical questions that I have no business answering,” he said.
Like his daughter Wuth was always interested in figuring out how things worked. As a child he would take things apart and figure out how to put them back together, but always with a purpose.
“I wanted to make things better and improve on what the design lacked,” he said.
Wuth’s scholastic efforts led to his name being placed on the Dean’s and President’s List’s. He was inducted into the Electrical and Computer Engineering Honors Society, Eta Kappa Nu (HKN) as well as the Distinguished Engineering Honors Society, Tau Beta Pi (TBP). He credits his achievements to the use of “The Academic Game Plan” by former Fresno State football coach, John Baxter. He also gained leadership and mentoring experience serving as Vice President and then President of HKN and by participating in MESA Saturday Academy events for local elementary students.
“What I got most out of my education was the discipline of perseverance and the realization that I can do much more than what I think is possible,” Wuth says.
Wuth was awarded a $20,000 grant for the MagLev Train project, a project that continued for several years after he graduated. Lastly, his senior project design team also won the “Best Project Award” from a panel of industry judges. He also participated in many campus events and during his last semester at Fresno State, he came across a leadership class taught by two-time Fresno State alumnus, Tony Rubino who worked at Edwards Air Force Base. Rubino, earned a B.S. in electrical engineering from Lyles College in 1988 and an M.B.A. from the Craig School of Business in 2010.
“When I heard that it [leadership class] was a course they taught to engineers at Edwards I became more interested in going to work for the Air Force. I was eager to work at a place where the leaders, like Tony, cared about developing people,” he said.
Still Inspired by Rubino and his career at Edwards, Wuth sought out a career as a civilian engineer at Edwards upon his 2011 graduation and now serves as
It’s something I am passionate about and enjoy contributing to, but it’s not in my job description. Everyone on the team volunteers to participate and we have to get creative in carving out time for it in addition to our regular jobs.”
He says he appreciates that Edwards allows staff to think critically, offer solutions, mentor others and develop leadership skills.
“I’m not a “turn-the-crank” kind of person. I take job descriptions as more of a guideline and then I try to figure out how I can be most effective. I’ve been fortunate enough to have the autonomy to do that here [Edwards] and that practice has led to new opportunities along the way.”
During National Engineers Week in February, Wuth took some time to take advantage of those opportunities by giving back to his alma mater and spoke to engineering students at Lyles College. His talk named “That Will Never Fly – How to Overcome Obstacles and Get Innovation Airborne,” focused on how to promote ideas to others and the “non-technical skills required to help students navigate through organizational cultures, structures, policies, and strategies for dealing with the “no” police.”
“My first piece of advice: read! There are a lot of brilliant minds out there and we are fortunate that so many of them have dedicated time to transfer their knowledge and ideas into words that we can read.”
He also spoke about the “know, like, & trust” factors. Wuth told students to work to develop all three and utilize with the people they’re trying to influence as well as avoid actions or behaviors that will harm any of those aspects of the relationship. He also added that students should play to their strengths and stay open minded about their career path.
“I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. There are so many interesting things and there is a lot of fascinating work going on. I can’t even imagine some of the technologies that I will see in my lifetime and the new jobs that those technologies will bring. I don’t necessarily want to be anything, I just want to do interesting and fulfilling work that has a lasting and positive impact on other people.”
10 Tips from TJ
Wuth plans on dedicating more time to mentoring students at Lyles College, but in the mean-time, he has a few words of advice:
- Stay Curious.
- Get mentors and learn from them.
- Develop soft skills like leadership, team work, collaboration, sales. What sets you apart is the ability to work with and lead people and to communicate your ideas.
- Play to your strengths. Spend some time analyzing yourself and be honest about what your strengths and weaknesses are. Develop your weaknesses only to the point that they won’t hold you back and then spend a great deal of effort refining your top 2-3 strengths.
- Consider carefully the industry in which you want to build your career. Switching jobs is easy, switching careers usually requires that you start back at the bottom and work your way up.
- Don’t be afraid to use those first few years out of school to explore different industries.
- Don’t ask “If,” ask “how.”
- Take risks and tolerate failure.
- Seek to understand your organization, its culture, structure, and policies.
- Think 2 Levels up. Learn to think at your boss’ boss’ level.