At 14, Crystal Jackson was confident she would be a math teacher: Her uncle encouraged her to use her love for math to become an engineer. Today, she and her Raytheon teammates develop software that helps F-16 pilots navigate fighter jets.
Crystal founded “The No-Quit Zone” to share her journey from teen mom to senior principal software engineer. She helps students identify the triggers in their lives that make them feel like quitting and equip them with “I refuse to quit” tools. Crystal knew quitting could never be an option for her and her daughter. Her experience overcoming obstacles inspires students from elementary school to college age to pursue their dreams.
In your own words, what do you do?
Build software that allows a pilot in a fast plane to navigate through the sky – think about the GPS displays in cars today – but with one very big difference – SPEED. Highway speed limits allow drivers to go maybe 70 MPH while an F-16 pilot can fly that jet more than 1,000 MPH.
I am also the founder of the No Quit Zone where I help students realize and maximize their full potential by providing tools and tips for personal growth. My focus in the organization is science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and leadership development.
Why do you love working at Raytheon?
I get to work with really smart men and women who love math and love to have fun building solutions for challenging problems. We work together as a team. I also love the company because they continue to teach me how to become a better engineer through specialized training, a variety of assignments with increasing responsibility and recognition of good work.
What toys did you like most as a child?
The pink Barbie Jeep
What did you want to be when you were little?
A math teacher
What advice would you give to a 12-year old girl who was curious about becoming an engineer?
If you like math and science and are good in math continue to have that passion – that is what will guide you to engineering. Get involved with activities such as robotics and other programs that use technology. These will give you an idea on what engineering is and you may get to use those skills later when you start your career.
If you were telling a classroom of elementary school students about a really creative and challenging project that you did, what would you say?
I helped design a really fast system that was like having eight fast computers built into one. It was used as research to determine if we could improve information on a fighter jet, a really fast airplane used in war. A team of four including myself did a lot of research to design the system and test it. We were nominated to receive an award for our work
How did you discover engineering?
Growing up I always wanted to be a math teacher until one day under a walnut tree in a little town in Oklahoma my Uncle Chris said to me, ”If you like math and you are good at math, you should become an engineer.” From that day forward I said I would become an engineer and in 1999 I obtained a degree in Computer Engineering. My uncle inspired me so much that in 2012 I published a children’s book called Crystal’s Magical Journey into Engineering that shares my story about my love for math at a young age and my journey into engineering.
What do you like to do for fun that your co-workers would be surprised by?
In my free time I travel with my organization the No Quit Zone and speak to youth and teens from elementary through college. I love sharing my story about being a teen mom who graduated (with honors from high school) and went on to college raising a small child to obtain a Bachelor’s in Computer Engineering.
I get up every morning at 4:30 to go to the Cross-Fit gym. I had a goal to make it onstage for a bodybuilding contest and I did it. After it was over, I couldn’t wait to eat peanut butter and rice cakes.
What obstacles did you have to face to reach your goals?
I overcame incredible odds to become a leading engineer at Raytheon. At age 15, I became pregnant and gave birth to a beautiful baby girl at age 16. However, I decided quitting would never be an option and set out to be the best that I could be for me and my child. Today, I am an engineering leader at Raytheon holding both a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Engineering, I am the founder of the No Quit Zone, and a published author of Crystal’s Magical Journey into Engineering.
What excites or inspires you about your job?
The company. Raytheon and the leadership team value me as an employee and they show that by the opportunities they give me and how they reward good performance.
Engineers in the Wild is a series of interviews with real-life engineers. Click here to read more!