When Elon Musk founded SpaceX in 2002, precious few people within the aerospace industry thought he had much chance of disrupting the expensive, challenging market for launching payloads into space via rocket.
Over the ensuing fifteen years, however, Musk managed to prove those doubters wrong. Not only did SpaceX manage to put satellites into orbit for (relative) cheap, but it engineered rockets capable of re-entering the atmosphere and landing upright. Long-established rivals, most notably the United Launch Alliance (a joint effort of Boeing and Lockheed Martin), took notice when SpaceX began challenging them for lucrative contracts at much lower cost.
Musk’s current goals include an Interplanetary Transport System that will (in theory) place human beings on the surface of Mars. “I would like to die on Mars,” he told an audience during SXSW a few years ago. “Just not on impact.”
The difficulty of SpaceX’s work, and the sweeping scope of its core mission, makes it attractive to tech professionals who want to do something more than create a great game or a slightly improved productivity app. That reputation is enough to pull in highly skilled engineers, despite regular complaints about low pay (which also resulted in a class-action lawsuit); it’s also a key reason why the company nailed a top ranking on Dice’s new Ideal Employer list.
If you’re interested in landing (so to speak) a job at SpaceX, prepare for a rigorous process marked by quite a few tests. The company actively recruits tech professionals who have a body of published work in engineering and aeronautics; it also dispatches recruiters to conferences and trade shows.
There’s also a longstanding legend—bolstered by Ashlee Vance’s biography of Elon Musk—that promising engineering candidates will eventually have a sit-down with Musk himself, who may ask a very special brainteaser:
“You’re standing on the surface of the Earth. You walk one mile south, one mile west, and one mile north. You end up exactly where you started. Where are you?”
There are several possible answers to that question; a comment thread on Dice offers some good ones (“The answer may be as simple as… earth.”), but the biography offers precious little clue about which one that Musk prefers.