Santa Fe Alum Makes Midlife Career Change, Lands at NASA

August 13, 2018 | By Anne Kniggendorf

Santa Fe Alumnus Josh Foster
Josh Foster (SF97) is a coder who landed a job as a contractor working at NASA. 

After spending some time in leasing and property management, Josh Foster (SF97) got to thinking he might enjoy another career more. He’d already followed his passion into music, and found that he couldn’t make a comfortable living, so he knew he was looking for a happy middle ground.

“I was always trying to balance keeping my curiosity and mind satisfied with the need to have a profession that’s going to reward you and pay the bills,” he says.

After some thinking, he says, “I realized I was really drawn to coding. This age of the internet we’re all in—it’s kind of staring you in the face. This is the new reality.”

He started teaching himself how to build websites using first YouTube videos, then online courses. Eventually, he built up a list of clients and ran the website for a brokerage firm for a year.

Foster says his degree from St. John’s College prepared him, because he knew how to approach the unfamiliar.

“Every single time we read any book, we had to dive headfirst into it, but then the next day step back from it,” he says. “That diving in and stepping back trains the brain somehow.”

Through hands-on work and training, he continued to develop his coding skills until he felt comfortable applying for jobs in the field.

“The pressure of making a career change at my age was practically enough to convince me to give up, but somehow being able to see it objectively … and realize ‘This is just a bunch of details, this is programming, you got to get it right’—if you get each parameter correct, you’re going to succeed,” he says.

After months of sending out applications, in the spring of 2018 the government contractor that NASA uses called him for an interview. Foster was thrilled to be offered a position that required a clearance and driving through NASA’s gates every day.

While Foster’s arrival in the world of coding was unexpected, his path to St. John’s College held an element of the serendipitous—or perhaps of fate.

Back in the 1970s when he was a preschooler, his parents moved to a new house in Houston. Month after a month, a unique alumni magazine for an unknown college arrived in their mailbox (presumably the result of an unchanged address from the previous resident). Of course, Foster never noticed them.

Years later in his 30s, long after he had attended the college that “is still blowing his mind,” his mother was visiting. She was in Foster’s apartment and saw a new copy of that same magazine that used to arrive, unbidden, to her old mailing address. 

This was the moment she mentioned all those old copies. It was, of course, The College magazine.

Had he known about the magazine growing up, things probably would not have gone too differently.

If he’d known on graduation day that he would find a position as a user interface developer at NASA at the age of 43, however, that might have made a difference—but he never would have believed it.