Space industry pressed to hire enough software engineers

Space

MOUNTAIN VIEW, California — Some space companies say their greatest hiring difficulty today is recruiting enough software engineers to work on their programs. 

“It’s an area I think this industry has always struggled with,”  OneWeb Principal Engineer James Grossman said Oct. 9 at the Satellite Innovation conference here. “We’re competing for people with some of the best-funded companies in the world, and that’s always difficult.”

Space companies, including many here in Silicon Valley, say competing with nearby tech giants — from Google to Apple — make it difficult to find the talent they need. 

“The interesting thing about space now is it needs a lot of non-space capabilities,” LeoLabs CEO Dan Ceperley said in an interview. LeoLabs is building a network of radar dishes for tracking satellites and space debris. Much of the company’s services rely on cloud computing, which is software-intensive, he said. 

“You need people who know how to run cloud applications,” he said. “Even the software that’s organizing the satellites or running the radar networks is in the cloud.”

Ehson Mosleh, chief scientist at manufacturer Tyvak Nanosatellite Systems, highlighted software for propulsion systems as an example of where engineering expertise is critical. With constellations planning thousands of thruster-equipped satellites, “a [software] bug could really cause a lot of havoc,” he said.

Ceperley said one advantage space companies have is the coolness factor. LeoLabs has hired software engineers from the advertising, video game and healthcare industries who are space geeks, or want to be, he said. 

“There are a lot of software engineers that are really excited about space,” he said. “They never expected to work in the space industry before.”

OneWeb, which is deploying a constellation of thousands of satellites for global internet access, sees the industry paying more attention to software talent in the next few years given its heightened importance. 

“It’s an area that increasingly is getting more and more focus,” Grossman said. “You can have a platform that’s commoditized and deliverable, but the software that runs it is the magic that makes it happen.”

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