Career Profiles: Daniel Vagg

1. Where do you work and what is your role/job title?
System Architect at Parameter Space.

2. What were the main ‘career decision’ milestones in your life so far?
I was studying tech drawing, art and construction studies in Secondary; aiming to be an architect. Abandoned that to study physics with computing (didn’t do physics before). Applied/accepted internship with FeedHenry, then ESA during the undergrad degree. Worked with FeedHenry after I graduated with Physics – gained a lot of Python experience while also studying online. Went for Space Science masters in UCD when I felt I wanted to do something more scientific. Felt that either space science or quantum mechanics are frontiers of physics.

3. Who are the people who most influenced your career direction?
Not a single person really. The construction crash made Physics one of the better options for a degree. Then I wanted to apply that to something challenging that would hopefully have a useful outcome.

4. Does your job allow you to have a lifestyle you are happy with?
Generally, yes. I suppose with software and science, it is a very mentally demanding field, so it can be hard to identify and manage the toll it takes.. risks of burning yourself out and losing drive, but I’m getting better at that.

5. How did you go about getting your current job?
I was told about an “invitation to tender” provided by ESA. I said I was interested and wrote the technical content of the response. Then when the contract was awarded I was offered a job.. I guess it was easier than some interview processes!

6. Describe a typical day?
I will read over recent emails from stakeholders in our system and mentally juggle the various technologies and implementations we can use to try find the best fit. Sometimes I work on system prototypes, or sketching ideas on whiteboards, or writing system documentation. The documentation admittedly is a bit dull, but it’s making me much better at conveying complex ideas – which is very easy task to underestimate when you have these ideas in your head for weeks.

7. What are the main tasks and responsibilities?
System architect, so I design the system we will be using to analyse Gaia data products (approx 1 petabyte in size). I present and liaise with other groups who will use the system. I will develop and write the majority of documentation on these systems.

8. What are the main challenges?
Trying to design a system that will answer the problems scientists will face in 3 years when the data products are released.. without adopting hyped new technologies.There are also lots of unknowns in how people can use our system; it’s constantly a balance of providing freedom and functionality without being too restrictive

9. What’s cool?
Knowing that this system will be used to analyse some of the most exciting scientific data available. It’s also using a lot of exciting technology in a quite unique way (especially unique in the astronomy community).

10. What’s not so cool?
Documentation I suppose? Or dealing with Ubuntu and dodgy display drivers

11. What particular skills do you bring to your workplace?
Physics, astronomy, data analysis, various programming languages, software design/development/management, cloud computing knowledge, operations experience, and I make a decent coffee.

12. What subjects did you take in school and how have these influenced your career path?
Not many were too useful, but that’s a good thing! You are not tied down in College because of choices you made in secondary school.I also took art in secondary school, and I really like drawing; I think it’s a great way of unwinding. Actually, I think art would be nice if it was provided for an hour during the week in third level – optional of course, but I think it would help.

13. What is your education to date?
BSc (Hons) Physics with Computing MSc Physics specialising in space science and technology

14. What aspects of your education have proven most important for your job?
With space science, understanding astronomy and space systems help me understand aspects of Gaia data and what to expect. Physics with computing probably provide some obvious ones like algorithms or data structures. But I think the most important part of physics is that it changes how you think about problems in every aspect of life. It’s not a set of equations you learn off and forget, it’s a lot more.

15. Have you undertaken, or do you plan to undertake any further training as part of your job?
It’s too early at this time to say for sure. I’d be happy to, but it’s very early days yet.

16.  What have been the most rewarding events in your career so far?
I started in March, so it’s quite early still. But we had a meeting in ESAC where we presented our system concept, and the other groups who have to use it were quite happy. So that was a huge relief given the challenges in designing the system.

17. What personal qualities do you have that helps you in your career?
Hugely patient, while having enough experience/confidence to know I can get something done if I keep at it. A sense of humor helps too, and also the coffee – I make good coffee. I suppose as a related quality, I recognize that taking a break to relax is crucial to working well. Even a half hour walk outside (during work hours) has made a huge difference.. like, if I think I haven’t achieved enough to balance out the break, I will be happy to stay and work if I am relaxed (though this has rarely happened for that reason)

18. What is your dream job?
It’s very early to say. It would always change along with the challenges we face. Soon we could be trying to support humans on Mars, or something equally exciting. So it will change, but perhaps after this job something with SpaceX would be pretty interesting.

19. What advice would you give to someone considering this job?
System architect is one thing; system architect solving space data problems is another. If you have a job and the domain planned, maybe try to get as much supporting experience in different areas as possible. For people choosing further education, work experience is extremely valuable!

20. What are the three most important personal characteristics required for the job?
Patience, humility, and motivation. You have to keep calm and work without panic. You must accept when your idea is not the best, and actively research something better.

21. What kinds of work experience would provide a good background for this position?
Experience as a system architect would be great. Without that, a lot of experience managing personal scientific/software projects, as well as a broad range of experience in science and computing.

22. What is your favourite music?
Changes from day to day. Rock, metal, electronic, alternative rock, dubstep, electro swing, blues, jazz, folk rock.. Music should complement other aspects of life, so tastes probably change.

23. What is your favourite film?
This is like music.. different films for different reasons. Interstallar was great. Armageddon. Inception.. I can’t think of too many!

24. What is your pet hate at work?
I suppose feeling tense or anxious is pretty horrible, because it gets a lot harder to work and think clearly, which just makes it worse. Is that a pet hate? I guess sometimes my screens aren’t well aligned, that can be annoying.


Check out Daniel Vaggs interview here: