Working from home
My high school was in Morpeth in Northumberland, and I went to university in Durham and then Newcastle.
8 GCSEs, 4 A-levels (Maths, Physics, Chemistry, General Studies), BSc Physics, MSc Electronics, PhD Microelectronics and Computer Architecture
Germany, France, Spain, UK
I work for Goonhilly Earth Station, almost right at the end of Cornwall, but we have offices in Farnborough and Leicester where I spend most of my time. Our main purpose is to be the UK’s primary commercial ground station for communicating with spacecraft – satellites, probes, and soon even human crewed vehicles.
I live in Leicester with my wife and two sons, who are in primary school. We have no pets, but my imaginary cat is called Pickles. I am a school governor, a STEM ambassador, and the regional Schools Liaison Officer for the Institute of Engineering and Technology – so yes, I’m passionate about education. I also love travel, forests, languages, the sea, music. I’ve been lucky to live and work in several different countries and cultures, so most of my friends are in other countries.
I work with the ground control facilities that form part of space missions, providing communications and tracking for spacecraft.
My main project right now is to upgrade a huge (32m diameter) dish for future missions to the moon, Mars, and elsewhere in deep space. This dish is about 40 years old, and used to just sit and support geostationary communications: this year it will become the world’s first privately owned and operated deep space communications facility. I am responsible for making sure that every technical requirement we have for the system will be met by the design, and also that it will be tested, and that the whole series of tests together prove that the facility is ready for operations.
Sometimes this is reading and reviewing work done by other people, and asking ‘what if this doesn’t work?’, ‘how can we break this and still keep going safely?’, or ‘what’s the best way to test this?’ I also write software sometimes, I use tools to analyse space missions and how our ground stations can most effectively form part of those mission systems. Being a systems engineer means being responsible for the overall behaviour of the entire system – I don’t need to know all the details of every block – just what the interfaces are and how they are interdependent.
Most of my work is computer based. There is a lot of formality needed in large projects, and in space projects because of the cost and risks. And requirements verification is always a formal exercise in any kind of engineering. So, I use online management tools, I use spreadsheets, project planning tools, analytical tools, and my own custom software sometimes.
But I am just one person in a team that continues to grow, and everyone needs to understand their role in the team and stay aware of what each other are doing. We have project level meetings, sub-team catch-up and planning meetings, progress reviews, and so on. Normally some of these would be real meetings, just now they are online.
My Typical Day: I start around 9am, and check to see if there are any new urgent questions I have to answer or tasks to do. Then I check again the schedule for the day - any meetings, phone calls, or other things with fixed times. I go for a walk or bike ride in the middle of the morning and get a coffee. I have a couple of hours off at the end of the afternoon with my children, then often work again in the evening/night.
I start around 9am, and check to see if there are any new urgent questions I have to answer or tasks to do. Then I check again the schedule for the day – any meetings, phone calls, or other things with fixed times. I go for a walk or bike ride in the middle of the morning and get a coffee and newspaper. I then work until I collect my children from school. I usually in the evening or night also.
I think I’d put together some kits using software defined radios to make practical workshops for people to learn about signals and communications, in particular demonstating satellite communications.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Hopeful, Calm, Flittery
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
Land a spacecraft on the planet Mars.
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
The NASA Viking landings in the late 1970s were the main inspiration though i didn't find out about them until a bit later.
What was your favourite subject at school?
Design Technology, closely followed by Physics.
What did you want to be after you left school?
I really didn't know. Something technical. A bit later, I really wanted to be a teacher.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Very rarely, but when I did, I went large with the immediate detention kind of silliness.
If you weren't doing this job, what would you choose instead?
I'm a certified facilitator of Lego Serious Play, so I'd be working with businesses using Lego to help them be better companies for the people within them.
Who is your favourite singer or band?
This is tough. I listen to Dave Matthews Band, Sigur Rós, lots of jazz, Taylor Swift, Bach, Coldplay...
What's your favourite food?
Rice. Any kind.
What is the most fun thing you've done?
I've had some very special/scary moments snowboarding.
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
To be able to run like I used to. To properly understand software engineering. To be able to speak Welsh properly.
Tell us a joke.
Two deep space antenna dishes met on the roof of a ground station. They fell in love, and were quickly married. The wedding was a bit meh, but I hear the reception was excellent.