Career Profiles: Rory Fitzpatrick

Questions about your career and its development

1. What is your name
Rory Fitzpatrick

2. Where do you work and what is your role/job title
Chief Executive Officer of the National Space Centre in Elfordstown Earthstation, Midleton

3. Who are the people who most influenced your career?
The people who have most influenced my career would be my father and my wife. My father because he would have his own business when I was young, so I saw what he did and I suppose we all to some extent copy our parents.
And my wife in supporting me in doing this and buying into the idea and giving me the space to actually try it.

4. Are you happy with your hours of work? Are you paid well?
I’m paid well enough. As regards to whether I’m happy; it’s like being paid to do your hobby, to go and have fun. It’s like boys toys: space, the final frontier, Star Trek. I grew up with Star Trek, so for me every day is fun. I set up the company in 2010, so I created the job myself, effectively.

Questions about your current Job

5. What is your typical day?
Get up, shower, come to work, go home, play with the kids and go to bed. It’s very simple, but I suppose, a lot of my job is travel. I have to travel an awful lot because there’s no real business in Ireland, this is an international service that we do for people all over the globe: for big space agencies, governments, for big broadcasters… So most of my life is out there selling the services to people all over the globe. I’ve just come back from Jerusalem where I was for a week at a conference. The week before that I was in the States; next week I’m back to Knoxville, the week after I might go to Russia. It sounds great and glamorous, but I don’t like being away from my family for more than two days, so at the moment I’m trying to cut it back. If I was single and young it would be a dream. With my kids, I prefer to spend time at home now.

6. What exactly do you do?
Strategic planning would be the biggest part of my job. I’m planning what’s going on and driving it forward. The implementation of that, through the different managers that I have here, would be the second part. Then there’s constant fire-fighting, you always have issues or things that you’ve to focus on, so most of my life is spent jumping from one thing to another, while at the same time driving sales and getting in new business.

7. What are the challenges in your job?
Some days, we would have a challenge for sales, some days we’ve technical problems, or staffing issues, or weather; we’re down in Midleton so when you’ve bad storms the river floods and breaks its banks or you get power cuts. It very much varies depending on the time of year and what’s going on.

8. What’s cool?
Space. For me, this is absolutely so much fun. When you look at where we are right now, there are a couple of majors points in human history: we came from the jungle and stepped out onto the plains was one, we crossed the ocean (number two), and number three is we move into space and become an interplanetary species, and we’re right there at the start of that. This is, for me, the most exciting thing of the whole lot, everything we’re doing now; and you can see that the general public are buying into this, with all of the movies at the moment. In the sixties you had a bit of this, when people saw what was possible. And then, we went to the moon, and it was massive, and everyone was cheering, and ticker tape and all the rest of it. And then, it settled down, because we realised what we couldn’t do; we got to the moon, but in the process we realised all of the things that we couldn’t do, so science backed off and focused on what we need to do to move to the next step, now that we understood what it was like being in space. Since then, we’ve been gently gently probing, but now we’re on the edge of a move to Mars, and I reckon in my lifetime, I’ll see a Martian born, which is really exciting.

9. What’s not cool?
People management. I hate it, it’s one of the things that I despise doing, but it’s a key part of the job, something I have to do and it’s something I’m not good at, it’s not my natural instinct.

10. What skills do you use in your job?
Determination would be the biggest skill, just not letting it stop, keep going, no matter what happens you just keep going. That’s the biggest single thing that I would have as a skill.


Questions about education and training

11. What teachers impacted your career?
I wouldn’t have been what you would call a very studious student. When I was in school I was mainly playing rugby, and loved rugby, but didn’t really like studying so much. But I did study Latin, maths, English, Irish, art, physics and history. Physics I was very interested in and it’s the interest in physics right now that helps me with work, but it wasn’t something I excelled at in school. I had very good science teachers in school, and my interest in physics probably has pushed me in some way. With this industry you are learning every day; every day is a school day, you gotta learn stuff, you gotta read yourself a lot. I have to educate myself an awful lot on the technologies we’re dealing with and what’s going on in my sector, so it’s self-education really more than anything.


Questions about yourself

12. What have been the highlights of your career?
One thing that was a real giggle was meeting Buzz Aldrin; that was fun, having dinner with Buzz…he was a cranky old hound but it was fun meeting him because he’s been on the moon. And for me in this industry, that’s just mad. There’ve been tons of other things, like getting to the launch of [Cmdr Chris] Hadfield’s mission in Kazakhstan – that, again, for the team here was amazing.
Advice for people thinking of this job as a career choice

13. What advice would you give someone considering a job in science?
If you look at the staff we have here, they’ve come from all over the place. Some have been ex-Navy or have been Comms officers on ships; we have people who have been involved in building work and ended up coming really is very random how people have ended up here. Often people have studied science in school, but often they haven’t done science degrees, but have ended up meandering through various different industries to get here; so most of all it’s to follow what you’re interested in and what you enjoy doing. Like I say to the gang here, if they’re not waking up in the morning wanting to go in to work, they need to change jobs.
14. What qualities do you need if you want a career in science?
Certainly for my job, you need to have a brass neck and just be willing to go out there and take rejection and keep plodding on. With science and engineering you tend to need to be attention focused and be good on detail, and able to go through process. I have the attention span of a gnat, so I wouldn’t be good at tracking process, but our engineering gang here would be very good at that. So it depends on which job [you have]; and like they say with rugby that there’s a place for everyone on the team, so in companies [working on] space, there’s space for everybody. There’s accounts, there’s admin, there’s sales, there’s marketing. There’s a place in the company for anyone with any skillset, if they’re interested. And if you’re interested, you don’t mind coming in early, you don’t mind leaving late or working weekends. You’re doing what you want to do, so it’s easy.

15. What kind of work experience would benefit a career in science?
If you want to be a launch engineer, you would try and get work experience in the European Space Agency programme in the launch area. If you want to do a broadcast, you would try and go to the broadcasting show in Amsterdam and get experience at the show there. It’s such a broad industry, it’s very hard to say what any one person should do. It’s really what suits them and their aspirations for their future career. I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up, so for someone at 20, god help them.