Space and Satellite Engineer Nick Smith talks engineering, as well as living and working abroad.
Nick is a British contractor working for a leading multinational technology corporation in Germany through Capital International Staffing’s AUG solution. He has been working through Capital for 3 years, since July 2015. He now lives happily in Bremen with his wife and newborn baby. He kindly agreed to give us an insight into his experiences working in the space industry.
What does your current role entail?
I am the lead mechanical engineer working on a large spacecraft project. I am responsible for and oversee all mechanical operations for the spacecraft; this includes the installation of all electronic instrumentation, harnesses, wiring, grounding, structural assembly, alignment and modular mating.
What aspect of your job do you enjoy the most?
At first it was the hands on activities, I always love ‘getting my hands dirty’.
However, as my career has developed I now love that people come to me, and rely on me, for important knowledge and information. As I have been in the space business for pretty much my whole career there are few engineers with as much ‘space’ experience as me. I like being the technical go to guy and getting involved with the higher management discussions and arguments.
What does a typical day working in engineering entail?
The stage of the build defines the activities at spacecraft level. One day you could be wiring up thermal control subsystems, and the next you could be installing an laser communication terminal capable of firing a giant laser beam over 15,000km!
What is the most exciting part of your current project?
I have been involved with the integration (building) and testing campaigns for spacecraft before, but this is the first time I will be involved in a launch campaign making it a real highlight for me. This stage involves stuff like the transport of the spacecraft to its launch site, as well as attaching it to the launch vessel.
It is a massive tick on the CV to be mechanically responsible for an entire spacecraft from start to launch! We will be launching using the ARIANE rocket from French Guiana (South America), so I’m really excited to go there.
What is the most challenging part of your current project?
Every day presents a new challenge. There is always something which pops up and surprises everyone. In the space business even the seemingly simple tasks can prove tedious and time consuming.
How did you find the interview process, in regards to applying for a job abroad?
Actually, surprisingly good. There was a slight language barrier, which in some cases can be used to your advantage. When applying from overseas just to get to the interview stages is a big achievement. Remember that they have read your CV and want you in their company. Be confident and be able to back up what you have touched on in your CV. For me personally, I always try to make them laugh!
What are the best, and worst, things about living and working abroad?
I love living abroad. You get to see the world from a different perspective and experience cultures and traditions which are not familiar to you. I often find that in social situations people like to interact with you because you are ‘different’.
The trickiest thing is the language barrier. Unless you can speak another language some things we take for granted can become tricky and frustrating. Utility bills, insurances and appointment booking etc. Learning another language is challenging but also extremely rewarding. Often in European space companies you will find the universal communication language to be English, so it’s not 100% necessary to learn the language, but it will definitely help you.
What would you say to someone worried about the prospect of working abroad?
You will never know until you give it a go! It’s not for everyone for sure, but it will only help you; especially in the space industry. I love to be challenged and setting up a new life in a foreign country is one of the biggest challenges one can think of, but not without its rewards. You will experience a different way of working, different tastes and traditions, different attitudes and morals. It will make you stronger as a person and more open and accepting of alternative solutions.
How has Capital helped and supported you with the process?
Oh well, they were absolutely fantastic in every way. Chewie (Capital Consultant Claire Hunter) is the best and deserves a massive pay rise!
Haha! Joking aside, they have been really helpful. If you have any questions or queries they are only too happy to help. They have also aided other colleagues of mine with the moving in and registration process which can appear daunting at first.
What inspired you to become an engineer?
My dad. He was an engineer in the navy and we had an awesome garage at our old house. He was always dragging me out of bed on the weekends to go into the garage and disassemble old lawn mowers to use their engines to build go-karts. He taught me to weld when I was 9, so I was always very hands-on with mechanical things. I loved to take everything apart, look at how they were made, and put them back together again.
What advice would you give to young people considering perusing a career in engineering?
DON’T DO IT, YOU HAVE TO BE MAD!!!! (Only joking)
I’d probably say that going the apprenticeship route is the best way to start. Nowadays I often find companies are full of people with degrees and PHD’s in engineering, but they don’t know how to screw a bolt in a hole! Don’t get me wrong, higher education is totally necessary but the way you obtain this makes a huge difference. I obtained my higher certificates and my engineering degree all on a part time basis. 4 work days per week and one Uni day meaning not only do I have the degree, but also the hands on experience. Regardless of your qualifications employers will always ask you, ‘What experience do you have?’ For me personally the experience I gained has been worth its weight in gold.
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