1.What is your name?
2.Where do you work and what is your role/job title?
Curtiss-Wright: Avionics & Electronics, Space Engineering Department, Title: Senior Systems Engineer.
3.What were the main ‘career decision’ milestones in your life so far?
The main decision I made that affected my career path was initially what I studied in University, which was Electronic Engineering. All subsequent major decisions that followed were geographical. I’m from Canada, but after finishing University I travelled and lived in New Zealand for 18 months and then came to Ireland. Initially I was just taking whatever temporary or contract jobs I could get which were mainly IT based, but as I settled in Ireland I began looking for more engineering oriented roles.
4.Who are the people who most influenced your career direction?
My Dad was the one who pushed me most towards engineering as a career path. I’ve always been interested in Science Fiction & Fantasy books, movies, games, etc. and I was good at Math and Physics in school so engineering seemed like a good fit. I was interested in robotics and computers so electronics engineering was the way to go.
5.Does your job allow you to have a lifestyle you are happy with?
I probably should be happier, but generally it does. Sometimes work outbalances life, but I’m hoping that will change as my career progresses.
6.How did you go about getting your current job?
I was already working in the company as an Applications Engineer, basically the first and last line of defence to help customers get the equipment to do what they want it to do. An opportunity opened up in the Space Engineering Department and I applied for it and got it. I was to start on a newly won project for the CST-100 Starliner and was already behind schedule before starting the new job.
7.Describe a typical day?
Typically I would prepare for or perform testing of the system that is to be integrated into the CST-100 Starliner. This could include liaising with test houses, running tests, documenting results, creating or reviewing other documentation and debugging issues.
8.What are the main tasks and responsibilities?
Besides test preparation and execution I act as a main point of contact for the customer when they have technical issues. I’ve managed to pick up the specialty of analysing and testing the equipment for working in a space radiation environment.
9.What are the main challenges?
There are a lot of things to consider in systems engineering and you can’t be an expert in all of them. You have to become a jack of all trades and be comfortable talking about a variety of subjects where the other person may be an expert and you may only have a passing knowledge. It’s not just a question of whether something works or not, but does it work at certain temperatures, in a vacuum, under radiation, vibration, shock, etc.
Going to do radiation testing at a particle accelerator facility is cool. I’ve been to three such facilities so far, one in Switzerland and two in the United States.
11.What particular skills do you bring to your workplace?
I don’t think that I bring anything special, but good skills to have are circuit analysis, mathematics, electronics theory, some kind of scripting language, e.g. Python, Excel and data presentation skills. Also, writing is very important. The ability to write clearly and concisely for technical documentation or training courses.
12.What subjects did you take in school and how have these influenced your career path?
Lots of Math and Physics in Secondary School followed by Electronics Engineering in University have served me well during my career.
13.What is your education to date?
I have a Bachelor of Applied Science in Electronic Systems Engineering from the University of Regina in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada.
14.What aspects of your education have proven most important for your job?
All the electronics classes that I took have served me well when I’m trying to decipher a schematic to see what a circuit is doing. Computer Science classes have been useful in giving me a good background in how to write code. Also, anything that has helped me hone my writing and presenting skills.
15.Have you undertaken, or do you plan to undertake any further training as part of your job?
There’s a lot of on the job learning for the radiation related subjects that isn’t easy to find courses for so that has to be mostly self-guided. I have no specific plans, but I’d say if I redid some of the classes that I took during University now that I’ve been in the working world I’d get a lot more out of them.
16.What have been the most rewarding events in your career so far?
It’s always rewarding when you have helped a customer out with a problem or delivered some training that was well received. I am definitely looking forward to the first orbital flight test of the CST-100. One of my colleagues who worked on a previous project was able to travel to Kourou in French Guiana for the launch of the IXV vehicle which he worked on so I look forward to something similar on the CST-100.
17.What personal qualities do you have that helps you in your career?
I’ve got a good analytical mind that helps me when debugging issues. That coupled with patience has gotten me far. The ability to learn new concepts quickly is also good to have.
18.What is your dream job?
Something that requires little effort and gives a lot of reward. I don’t think that’s achievable though. I’d like to do something that requires more creativity. That’s one brain muscle that I don’t get to flex very often in my job. I’ve gone back to doing a bit of creative writing in my spare time to try and feed that desire.
19.What advice would you give to someone considering this job?
Make sure you’ve got a valid passport and driver’s license as you will likely be doing a fair bit of travel to customer sites and test houses. Be ready to have conversations with people who know a lot more than you do and don’t be afraid to ask the seemingly stupid questions.
20.What are the three most important personal characteristics required for the job?
Patience, the ability to step back from a problem and the courage to admit when you don’t know something.
21.What kinds of work experience would provide a good background for this position?
Something related to testing, e.g. Design Verification. Electronics design would be useful. Some kind of computer programming related job. That said I didn’t really have any of that before I got this job. My roles have all been technical, but also customer facing, which is important because there can be a lot of interfacing with customers and if you don’t work well with other people then that could be pretty difficult.