Career Profiles: John E Ward

What is your name?

John E Ward

 Where do you work and what is your role/job title?

 I work at Réaltra Space Systems Engineering in Dublin as a Space Product Manager

Does your job allow you to have a lifestyle you are happy with?

 Yes, the job challenges me every day in interesting ways, with some periods of high-intensity work, but is flexible enough to let me pursue other interests.


Questions about your current Job

 How did you get your current job?

I sent an email to the Réaltra website enquiring about any open positions.

Describe a typical day.

Usually, I will go through my action list to check what are the most pressing things for the day – these can range from organizing or attending the test facility for a qualification campaign of a new space product, to writing and reviewing project documents and proposals, to meetings with customers, to assembling or testing space hardware in our laboratories.

What’s the coolest part of your job?

Seeing something you have worked on go to space and work as planned, providing some real value to a scientific or commercial problem.

Are there any elements of your job that you dislike?

There is a lot of documentation that needs to be written due to the focus on customer requirements and ultra-low-risk nature of some space projects, also it can be stressful if have a tight schedule and your product suffers anomalies during the rigorous environmental testing needed for space.

Questions about education and training

What subjects did you take in school/college and how have these influenced your career path?

I took physics in secondary school, then focused on experimental physics during a BSc in Physics with Astrophysics at Maynooth University, then through a PhD in experimental astrophysics at UCD.

I worked on Cherenkov telescopes and balloon-borne cosmic-ray experiments – that exposed me to cutting-edge technology which allowed me to work as a physicist but still gain some engineering experience. Once I decided to leave a career in academia, that continuous engineering exposure allowed me to finally pivot to working in the space industry.

What non-technical skills are necessary for your job?

People management/Emotional Intelligence – understanding the needs of your colleagues is crucial, especially during stressful situations with approaching deadlines or product testing. In addition, having a customer-orientated mindset is important as a reputation in the industry for being easy to work with is important.

How did you develop those 21st Century Skills?

Studying how to practice mindfulness, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, some philosophy.

Questions about yourself

What have been the most rewarding events in your career so far?

Working as an undergrad on the TRACER cosmic-ray balloon experiment and getting to support the flight preparation and launch from Kiruna, Sweden.

Graduating with my PhD in Astrophysics.

Seeing the SuperTIGER balloon-borne cosmic-ray experiment launch from Antarctica after helping build it for nearly two years, then monitoring the flight as it collected quality data while breaking the NASA record for longest-duration balloon flight around Antarctica.

Watching via livestream as Space-X and ISRO carried nanosatellites that I worked on to orbit for a small Spanish start-up.

Working on the Réaltra VIKI system and seeing it successfully transmit the HD video of the James Webb Space Telescope separating from the upper stage of the Ariane 5 launcher, this was achieved in extremely difficult circumstances during the pandemic with a small dedicated team at an Irish space start-up.

What is your dream job?

Founder of my own space company, or head of future Irish Space Agency.

Advice for people thinking of this job as a career choice

What advice would you give to someone considering this job? Are there important personal characteristics, or good work experience they can undertake for example.

Internships or summer work in an engineering company will give you a head start when looking for work in the field. If the engineering is for a regulated/requirements driven field (e.g., space, medical etc.) that is an additional advantage as it will expose you to the traceability and documentation rigor needed in the space industry. Réaltra offers internships and work experience for example.

Any personal engineering/science projects or hobbies can also help your CV stand out. Many people have engineering degrees now, so you need something to help differentiate yourself from the rest.

Also, in a start-up company, an independent mindset is crucial as there is a lot of varied work with usually few staff and resources – so flexibility and a willingness to put your mind to many different problems, i.e., working outside of your comfort zone, is critical. A pro-active mindset is important too – taking on work that you think needs to be done, without being told to do it.