Engineering a great life and career in Tucson

Early-career engineers call the Arizona city a hot spot of innovation and lifestyle.

You can build a life anywhere. And there are certainly good locations for building a career.

In fact, many early-career engineers have found the right place to do both: Tucson, Arizona, home to the headquarters of Raytheon Missiles & Defense, a business of Raytheon Technologies.

“I love having cheap rent and being able to live alone and save money,” said Amelia Swan, a mechanical engineer who designs, builds and tests missile steering hardware. “I have friends who are in San Francisco, and rent is half their paycheck.”

Affordability and quality of life are also big draws for Tyler Allen, a systems engineer building simulations for a range of defense solutions and systems. Even more important to him: chances to work on innovative technology.

“We create virtual environments that missiles fly through,” Allen said. “We give them targets, terrain and things that could distract them. That’s how we quantify how the missile’s going to perform before it ever gets to the range.”

Work-life balance

In recent years, Tucson has become a hot spot for engineers like Swan and Allen. The southern Arizona city ranks in the top 10 of up-and-coming tech markets, according to the commercial real estate firm CBRE. Its 2021 report noted an increase of 47 percent in technology industry growth over the past five years in the city, with wages rising by 13 percent in that timeframe. Meanwhile, in 2021, Forbes named Tucson one of the seven best places for remote work amid the COVID-19 pandemic, also citing that its cost of living is 8 percent below the national average. Compare that with San Francisco’s cost of living, which is some 90 percent above the national average.

“Tucson is a great place for young professionals who enjoy being outdoors and are looking for an affordable place to live,” said Shane Gill, who moved to Tucson in 2019 to join Raytheon Missiles & Defense as a senior systems engineer. The California native also appreciates the business’ support for women in engineering as well as its innovation mindset. “We're not just doing the same old, same old. You're not just innovating at the design phase; you're also innovating all the way to production.” 

Shane Gill, Senior systems engineer

Senior Systems Engineer Shane Gill, who relocated from Montana to work for Raytheon Missiles & Defense in Tucson, enjoys hiking in the mountain ranges of southern Arizona. (Photo courtesy of Shane Gill)

Home to Raytheon Missiles & Defense

Tucson-based Raytheon Missiles & Defense is the largest private employer in southern Arizona, with more than 12,000 employees there. “Many of the 200-plus companies in the aerospace and defense sectors, which call the region home are here, in large part, due to Raytheon Missiles & Defense,” said Joe Snell, president of Sun Corridor Inc., the region’s economic development organization. He added that, especially as the region rebounds from the COVID-19 pandemic, the company “has been a true partner of ours, assisting our efforts to recruit and expand high-wage, high-tech companies to our region.”

Raytheon Missiles & Defense also offers its employees opportunities for higher education, providing tuition assistance and flexible programs through a number of schools, including the University of Arizona and online institutions, such as the Johns Hopkins University Engineering for Professionals program.

Michael Thompson, Systems security engineer

Since moving from Florida to Tucson in 2020 to work as a systems security engineer for Raytheon Missiles & Defense, Michael Thompson has enjoyed many outdoor activities in and around Tucson, such as rock climbing, snowboarding and boating. (Photo courtesy of Michael Thompson)

Other opportunities to flourish

Swan realized early on that even though her education and career were important, she needed to do more outside her job, too. She found the perfect fit when she joined a Tucson performance company as a dance instructor.

“Dance is something I always did as a kid,” she said. “Eventually, a lot of those things you enjoy sort of go away as you focus on paying the bills, and so I was very fortunate to find this thriving dance community that I wouldn’t have expected.”

Allen also appreciates the size of Tucson – more than 540,000 people live there – and the amenities that come with it. “Tucson is a big enough city to give you that metropolitan feel,” he said.

Over the last few years, the city's vibrant food culture has blossomed downtown, where dozens of chefs prepare heritage foods in distinct modern ways. Tucson’s thriving culinary scene has earned it UNESCO's City of Gastronomy title.

All Souls Procession in Tucson, AZ

Members of Flam Chen, a circus and fire theater based in Tucson, perform in the All Souls Procession, an annual event that draws tens of thousands to the city.  (Photo: Nicci Radhe) 

Tucson’s downtown offers more restaurants, theaters and new living options, from urban lofts to eco-friendly single-family homes that generate more energy than they use. Locals and visitors also frequent the area for shopping and nightlife, which includes food trucks and concerts. 

With more than 350 days of sunshine and an average daily high around 80 degrees, it’s good to be a golfer in Tucson, where both private and public options are plentiful. For cyclists, there are over 100 miles of riding paths in and around the city. And hikers can choose from 226 trails in the area.

“You always know what the weather’s going to be like,” said Allen, a Midwest native. “It does get hot, but it’s pretty much always dry. You have monsoon season, which people here think is a lot of rain, but it’s not.”

“Every day is different,” said systems security engineer Michael Thompson, who makes the most of his spare time in Tucson’s outdoors. His job includes excellent benefits – competitive salary, job security and flexible work schedules, which include a day off on alternate Fridays. A major advantage, he added, are the multiple opportunities to grow his learning and career in such a large company: “Four years here is the figurative equivalent of a Ph.D. program in any engineering that interests you.”

Explore the cutting-edge opportunities today at Raytheon Missiles & Defense.