The Space Industry offers a wide variety of careers and opportunities. You might be surprised at the variety of opportunities across maths, physics, chemistry, engineering and computing.
The Space Science and Technology sector typically employes people with primary degrees (NFQ Levels 7 or 8) and with a relatively high proportion of employees at postgraduate level (NFQ Levels 9 and 10).
The “space” sector in Ireland is quite varied and includes companies from many areas of technology. These include aerospace, structures, electronics, optoelectronics, software and bio-diagnostics.
School leavers should think about continuing their education at third level, before considering a career in the space sector.
What were the main 'career decision' milestones in your life so far?
There were several. At school when I was 14, a new science teacher joined the school. He made science accessible and I realised I loved the science subjects. I started to select science options at GSCEs, A-Levels then on to university. A key milestone was actually failing to receive an undergraduate place on my chosen subject of Oceanography due to poor ďpredictedĒ grades. This failure galvanised me and taught me that nothing is achieved without hard work. A year later I reapplied with much improved grades and was accepted on the course. Now, 15 years into my career, Iím currently on my third career ďchange of directionĒ moving into Earth Observation. First, I spent 8 years as professional oceanography consultant and then 7 years as a geospatial specialist. For me, it is important to try new things and follow your interests.
Who are the people who most influenced your career direction?
My school science teacher that I mentioned previously. The second Iíd say my mentor in my first job who I respected, so absolutely for their quiet technical brilliance and lateral thinking in problem solving. It so most crucial that I had someone I admired and looked up to at this early stage of my career.
How did you go about getting your current job?
Describe a typical day?
It varies from project to project. In the last two months, Iíve worked on projects researching cloud coverage and its impact on future optical satellite communication systems. Iíve been involved in designing an Internet of Things hardware solution for improving wildlife collaring for zoology research. Iíve been researching and developing a product that uses advances in Deep Learning, a nascent form of artificial intelligence. This is a truly exciting technology that weíll all hear a lot more on soon.
What are the main tasks and responsibilities?
What are the main challenges?
What's not so cool?
What particular skills do you bring to your workplace?
I bring extensive technical expertise in software development. Also, I have lots of experience in product development which balances needs of customers with expertise within the business to achieve a positive customer outcome. This is always a challenge, as technical developers want to do whatís cool and new and customers want what works and is reliable.
What subjects did you take in school and how have these influenced your career path?
I took science and geography options at GCSE level (up to 16), followed by geography, biology and psychology A-Levels (16-18). At A-level, I followed my interests, but with hindsight I wish I had pursued Maths and Physics. The UK system has changed now and you do a wider number of subjects between 16-18 which is a good thing. My lack of science at A-Level did hurt my career progression at university, which required me to get extremely high grades to demonstrate that I could take on the harder science topics at University. My advice is to study Maths (in addition to other things youíre interested in) for as long as possible. Itís like a VIP pass in your career. If youíve got maths, then that takes you anywhere. I wish I had known this earlier on.
What is your education to date?
What aspects of your education have proven most important for your job?
My undergraduate and masters degrees have enabled me to access the jobs Iím currently doing. In general, learning from my science tutors at university how to approach projects and research systematically was extremely useful. The dissertation projects are valuable as you get tackle a large problem and itís up to you how to approach it so you make mistakes but learn how to overcome them. I topped up my core studies with additional course in programming.
What have been the most rewarding events in your career so far?
Getting recruited at 22 with a BSc to join a top environmental consultancy was a real achievement that I was proud of. They had never taken anyone on without at least a Masters degree. Looking back, achieving the highest grade in the my class on my (part-time) Masters course whilst managing demanding complex consultancy projects with work was a challenging time, but I felt I learned a great deal. I was especially pleased with the feedback I got with a talk I gave at an international in London Conference. It was a fairly controversial subject at the time, as I was advocating the use of Open Source software in a sector where proprietary software was very dominant, therefore it was I was challenging convention. I felt a sense of achievement in helping drive new ways of tackling problems within an industry. Finally, I was really proud of the team I recruited and led at Lloydís Register. Key members are still with the business and are moving forward which is great to see.
What personal qualities do you have that helps you in your career?
Keeping perspective is important. Iíve learned that a career, although is important to me, itís not as important as your health and your relationships. Iíve seen many people compromise either or both of these for the pursuit of their career. To be successful you need to be an excellent team worker. Itís important to understand and appreciate what motivates your colleagues and find ways to help them achieve their goals as well as yours.
What is your dream job?
Does your job allow you to have a lifestyle you are happy with?
What advice would you give to someone considering this job?
Earth Observation is quite technical and has a number of research opportunities. Iíd advise trying to achieve a PhD in Remote Sensing and get comfortable with a variety of computer skills, from coding to databases and cloud computing infrastructure. Also, do not overlook the value of learning to work in teams.
What are the three most important personal characteristics required for the job?
Have you undertaken, or do you plan to undertake any further training as part of your job?
Yes, with previous roles, Iíve undertaken targeted software training courses. However, largely these have been self-directed, rather than any company strategy. Depending on the organisation, training budgets have been limited. Therefore, Iíve consistently taken the opportunity read around my subjects and take evening courses to supplement my skills.
What kinds of work experience would provide a good background for this position?
I think a variety of work experience is always good. Being able to work in teams is really crucial in just about every career, so the more varied your team working experience, the better. For Earth Observation, any work experience in a computer lab or with an organisation that uses GIS or geospatial data and technology would be beneficial. Also, try to look out for a good mentor. This is always a challenge as you donít tend to look for a mentor or donít realise how influential someone was until afterward.