Career Profiles: Sam Franklin
  1. What is your name?

Sam Franklin

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

My current role is an Earth Observation Specialist at Archangel Imaging.

  1. 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 “predicted” 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, I’m currently on my third career “change of direction” 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.

  1. Who are the people who most influenced your career direction?

My school science teacher that I mentioned previously. The second I’d 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.

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

It does, I’m lucky enough to be able to work remotely for 50% of my week. Allowing me some flexibility to do things outside of work, like fit in a run around the lovely countryside and spend time at home rather than on a commute.

  1. How did you go about getting your current job?

I was lucky enough to win a scholarship and attend the International Space University (ISU)’s summer “Space Studies Program” (SSP17) as a participant. My current boss was also attending SSP17 and got a job following that course.

  1. Describe a typical day.

It varies from project to project. In the last two months, I’ve worked on projects researching cloud coverage and its impact on future optical satellite communication systems. I’ve been involved in designing an Internet of Things hardware solution for improving wildlife collaring for zoology research. I’ve 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 we’ll all hear a lot more on soon.

  1. What are the main tasks and responsibilities?

To provide technical support to the business in terms of geospatial technology and Earth Observation (EO) data. To lead product development of new and existing services leading to commercialisation.

  1. What are the main challenges?

Working at a start-up, there are challenges in terms of limited resources and time. You have to be able to do multiple jobs and tasks, as the business demands. This is not a negative, it just means that you need to be willing and prepared to become an expert at something you’re not trained in.

  1. What’s cool?

Working at the Harwell Space Cluster in the UK. It’s an inspiring location with lots of activity and enthusiasm for innovation. Dealing with space data. That is COOL!

  1. What’s not so cool?

It is always a challenge to manage ever-changing requirements within the business. It ultimately means you have to always compromise a bit in terms of the scope of what you are doing with the time available. However, you get used to it!

  1. 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 what’s cool and new and customers want what works and is reliable.

  1. 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 you’re interested in) for as long as possible. It’s like a VIP pass in your career. If you’ve got maths, then that takes you anywhere. I wish I had known this earlier on.

  1. What is your education to date?

BSc (Hons) in Oceanography and Geology from University of Southampton (UK). MSc in Environmental and Water Engineering from the University of Surrey (UK). International Space University, Space Studies Program, 2017.

  1. What aspects of your education have proven most important for your job?

My undergraduate and masters degrees have enabled me to access the jobs I’m 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 it’s 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.

  1. Have you undertaken, or do you plan to undertake any further training as part of your job?

Yes, with previous roles, I’ve 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, I’ve consistently taken the opportunity read around my subjects and take evening courses to supplement my skills.

  1. 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 Lloyd’s Register. Key members are still with the business and are moving forward which is great to see.

  1. What personal qualities do you have that help you in your career?

Keeping perspective is important. I’ve learned that a career, although is important to me, it’s not as important as your health and your relationships. I’ve 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. It’s important to understand and appreciate what motivates your colleagues and find ways to help them achieve their goals as well as yours.

  1. What is your dream job?

To be a Planetary Scientist at JPL, that would be SOO cool. Also, I’d love the opportunity to use Earth Observation data about the oceans and my data skills to ultimately move help society move forward sustainably. I’m currently working towards this goal.

  1. What advice would you give to someone considering this job?

Earth Observation is quite technical and has a number of research opportunities. I’d 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.

  1. What are the three most important personal characteristics required for the job?

Be curious. Be tenacious. Be resourceful. If “an expert” says “it can’t be done”, that means they haven’t figured it out. It doesn’t mean you can’t add something new. If you get something wrong, you’ll survive and likely learn a lot in the process.

  1. 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 don’t tend to look for a mentor or don’t realise how influential someone was until afterward.