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Life at Course Hero: Cecilia Lyon, Senior Engineering Manager

A former aerospace engineer soars in her new role at Course Hero and shares the experiences and insights the industry career shift has brought her.

Cecilia Lyon’s career trajectory beganin childhood. “As a kid, I loved reading science fiction books and watching space-related reruns on television, like Star Trek and Lost in Space,” she says. “Both forms of media inspired me to want to design and build spacecraft.” Cecilia took her interest in space and transformed it into an impressive aerospace career, built on the humble foundations of watching a robot say, “Danger, Will Robinson.”

Cecilia Lyon, Senior Engineering Manager, Course Hero

Current City: Campbell, California
Hometown: Lived in 5 of the 9 Bay Area counties while growing up
Education: BS in Aerospace Engineering, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, LAMP, MEAN, and Ruby Rails Stacks, Coding Dojo

Career path:

  • R&D Engineer, Systems Simulation, Space Systems Loral(SSL)
  • Software Engineer, Systems Group, Agilent Technologies
  • Member of Technical Staff, Orbital Network Engineering
  • Software Technical Project Lead, Space Systems Loral
  • Software Engineering Manager, Systems Simulation, Space Systems Loral
  • Software Development Manager, Cengage Learning
  • Senior Engineering Manager, Course Hero

After years spent focusing on designing, building, and installing spacecraft simulators, Cecilia saw that the aerospace industry was changing. “I was in the commercial aerospace industry for 17 years and found the career challenging and exciting, but aerospace is an industry that requires large facilities on large swaths of land. With the ever-increasing costs of the Bay Area, aerospace started moving out of state,” she says. Cecilia was left with a choice to either follow her industry or find a new field. Staying in California was the best choice for her family, so Cecilia then had the task of finding a new industry that challenged and inspired her as much as aerospace did.

While Cecilia left aerospace for practical reasons, she was drawn to Course Hero’s mission for personal ones. “I wanted to move into an industry that was technologically challenging, but with an important mission. So I decided to go into edtech. Course Hero in particular appealed to me because the company values align with my own, and the company mission (Helping students graduate confident and prepared) really speaks to me. I can identify with the students that use Course Hero. During my college experience, as a woman of color in a male-dominated major, I felt isolated, and I would have loved to have had a resource like Course Hero,” she says.

Since her transition to Course Hero, Cecilia has happily settled into her role as senior engineering manager, working closely with Compliance, Customer Support, Finance, Marketing, Engineering, and TechOps to understand their business needs and translate them into usable tools. She’s also able to translate her extensive, varied background into concrete skills that help her succeed in her new field of edtech.

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Career and life lessons from Course Hero’s Cecilia Lyon

On evolving and transitioning into a new career

Ironically, the area in which I consider myself an expert is something I no longer work on: spacecraft simulators. I spent most of my career designing, developing, building, and installing spacecraft simulators at ground stations all over the world. However, I also think that I am an expert in learning and evolving, and that has helped me to progress in my career and transition into a new industry.

On applying skills from her previous industry to her current industry

In aerospace, everything is custom, and translating customer pain points into requirements is vital to competing in the marketplace. So it is a very client-driven industry where there is close partnering with our customers. Through decades of working closely with customers, I have developed strong communication skills—especially active listening—and have used them at Course Hero.

On the biggest differences in switching industries

In aerospace, I had to focus more on the precision of the software and making sure the modeling is correct. The software was written for a small and highly trained pool of users, essentially other engineers. So we didn’t focus so much on the ease of use or worry about scale.  We were also able to partner directly with our users to make sure the software met their needs. At Course Hero, we’re writing software for a large volume of users that have broad and diverse experiences. So I now have to really think about scale and usability.

On succeeding in a technical career

I wish I had known that succeeding at a technical career was more than being good at math or understanding and applying engineering concepts. The soft skills, such as effective communication and knowing how to relate to others, are just as important. 

On being a woman in a male-dominated industry

While I have no comparison to what my experience would have been like had I been male, I certainly met people (both peers and people in authority) who discouraged me. I had one professor in an electronics lab who told our team (the only all-female team) that the lab was not a cooking class and that we would need to follow direction precisely. But I’ve also had others who provided me support and encouragement.

On her most important lesson from working at Course Hero

I don’t need to come up with solutions by myself. Finding the right people and bringing them together to develop the right solution is more effective than going at it alone.

Cecilia Lyon’s tips on career longevity for women: 

  1.  Be a lifelong learner.
  2.  In every company, don’t just find mentors, also find sponsors. (A mentor is a coach who may or may not work at your company. A sponsor is someone who works at your company with authority who has the cachet to advocate for you!)
  3. As a woman, you can have it all, just not all at once. Learn to prioritize and delegate both professionally and personally.

What Is Course Hero?

Course Hero is an online learning platform where you can access course-specific study resources contributed by a community of students and educators.