Promotion: Software Development Manager

Over the past 8 months I’ve gradually taken over responsibility for our Ground & Control segment here at Spaceflight Industries, making sure we’re on-track to support our upcoming launch. Apparently I worked myself into a new role. Today I was promoted to Software Development Manager over Ground & Control.

It’s been insanely exciting watching our next-generation ground systems come online. The team is doing some highly innovative and industry-leading work on automated satellite commanding, whole-constellation planning, ultra-low-latency telemetry propagation, distributed system monitoring & alerting, and more. We learned a ton from our first iteration that is operating Pathfinder-1 and we have significantly improved on it now that we better understand the problem space1.

I’m stoked to be a part of this team as we prepare for Global-1 and beyond!

1 Ba dum bum.

1 year at Spaceflight Industries

Today, June 27th, marks my 1-year anniversary at Spaceflight Industries1 (SFI) and it’s hard to believe it’s already been a year. I was brought on to build up their validation team and was promoted to Validation Manager three months later. Spaceflight is the first company to successfully convince me to be a manager and so far it has stuck.

It’s been great to work alongside such a passionate and knowledgeable set of engineers, both software and aerospace. Getting to work with Jane and Eric again, in particular, is fantastic. I’ve had to learn a whole different set of terminology and skills being a part of New Space. IBM and EMC have absolutely nothing on aerospace’s use of obscure initialisms or their fascination with waterfall development.

I was excited to be at SFI on September 25th when we launched Pathfinder-1 and subsequently confirmed communication with it & downloaded our first images. It is thrilling to task a satellite to take a picture of the other side of the Earth and get the photo back in less than 2 hours.

The team is hard at work as we take lessons learned from Pathfinder-1 & our first-generation ground systems and build out our next-generation satellite constellation & ground systems. It’s been a fantastic year full of challenges and fun and I look forward to what lies ahead!


1 nee BlackSky — same company, just some marketing/branding changes.

SDETs in Space!

I’m having a heck of a time finding, much less hiring, SDETs to fill my open Ground Systems and Platforms SDET positions. My gut tells me that the job descriptions just aren’t exciting enough to get people’s attention. What does a “Ground Systems SDET” do? What “Platform”?

Lets see if I can’t explain them a bit better.

Talk-To-A-Satellite SDET

Ground systems refer to all of the hardware and software components here on the ground that work together to talk to a satellite in orbit. That’s everything from the software the satellite operators use to issue high-level commands, to the systems that relay that information to our ground stations around the world, to the services on the ground station that control and task the radio chain, to the services that move the antennas, to the entire telemetry pipeline back to the missions operations center allowing the operators to know the health of the satellite and ground system components.

Everything that goes to the satellite or comes from it goes through our ground systems. These systems have to work reliably to support our growing constellation.

Making sure they all work together is where the Ground Systems SDET comes in. You’re the first line of defense in making sure that all the awesome code our devs are slinging actually cling together and make a functional system. You get to play with our satellite-on-the-table (aka: Flatsat) in our staging environment to make sure what is being built works, and then see that be deployed to our production systems and task Pathfinder-1 (and soon Pathfinder-2!) in space.

If that sounds interesting and you either live or are willing to relocate to Seattle, WA, take a look at the Ground Systems SDET position and toss me your resume!

Satellite-Picture-Selling SDET

We’ve taken all of these pictures of the Earth from space, how do we sell them to people? Well, you need an intuitive interface for customers to see all of the images you have in your catalog, buy them, and task new pictures to be taken. That’s our Platform that ends up tasking the satellites in space through our ground systems.

There are a lot of factors in play when you start talking about satellite imagery. How cloudy was it when the picture was taken? What angle was the picture taken at? Where, exactly, was the picture and how does it map onto the earth? When was it taken? Is the customer allowed to see an image over this country?

And you can’t just show them a grid view of the images. You need to place those images onto an interface that makes sense, such as a map of the Earth, and oriented such that they align up correctly.

The interface needs to scale with the ever-growing number of users as well as the ever-growing number of images in the catalog. It also needs to have good access time to our customers around the globe while maintaining security restrictions on what geographies have access to what images.

Making sure all of this works is the role of the Platform SDET. As the devs craft javascript and RESTful backend code at a break-neck speed, you’re the one that ensures cohesion and functionality. Oh sure, their new gee-whiz feature looks great in demos, but how does it scale? What did they break adding that new feature? You’re one of the first to see new images from the satellite as they make their way into our catalog and enable customers to fully realize the power of our satellite constellation.

Interested? If you live in the Herndon, VA area or are willing to relocate, take a look at our Platform SDET position and apply!

Pathfinder-1 images are here!

I’m excited to finally share some of the images Pathfinder-1 has taken in its first 53 days in orbit! We’ve had access to these internally for several weeks now and it’s super-exciting to finally share them publicly.

See the BlackSky blog post Hello Beautiful! for the full story and first set of released images. More images to come on the BlackSky twitter feed!

Next up: Pathfinder-2 launches early next year.

Pathfinder-1 launches today!

This evening at 8:43p Pacific, BlackSky will launch our first satellite, Pathfinder-1! PF1 is going up on an Indian rocket, PSLV-35, and there will be a live stream of the launch. We have a 15-minute launch window, so if the weather doesn’t cooperate and the rocket is unable to launch within that window the launch will be scrubbed and attempted again Monday night at the same time. So far the weather looks good!

The primary payload should separate from PSLV-35 about 15 minutes after launch. Then the rocket will change orbit in space before PF1 will be released around 11:30p Pacific.

The BlackSky Twitter account has links to some interesting blog posts about PF1’s trek to India and will have updates on the status of the launch and early operations. The SatOps team has been asked to not discuss the status of the sat after launch and let all official communications happen through corporate, so the Twitter account is the best place to figure out how things are going with PF1 after launch.

LEO, here we come!

Promotion: Validation Manager

I’m excited to announce my promotion to Validation Manager! I’ve lead teams in a technical capacity many times over my 16-year career, but this is the first time I have HR management responsibilities.

My team and I are the sole software validation team within Spaceflight Industries. We’re responsible for the end-to-end testing of our entire software stack: from the web interface customers use to task and purchase satellite imagery, to the ground-station software that operators use to communicate and task satellites, to the flight software running on the satellites in orbit.1 One of our missions is creating and implementing software validation practices across the entire company.

I’m very fortunate that my direct reports, whom I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with over the past three months, are rock stars. I fully expect the bulk of my “manager” duties to be protecting them and giving them space to work.

Oh, and did I mention we’re hiring? I’m looking for a strong SDET with embedded experience to work with our satellite flight software team. Have a strong test background? Feel at home in a Linux terminal? Have experience with C? Like to play with hardware? Excited about SPACE? Contact me!2


1 I like to joke that “we prevent your satellite from becoming a meteor!”.

2 Unless you work for DellEMC, because this is NOT a solicitation of any kind for you.

Ciao EMC Isilon, hello BlackSky

Friday, June 17th will be my last day at EMC Isilon. It’s been a fun 5.5 years but for a variety of reasons it’s time to move on to new adventures. I’ve had the pleasure of working with some amazing people on some superbly-interesting projects and I wish them all the best on the cool stuff they’re working on next. (To Infinity and beyond!)

Monday, June 27th I start work at BlackSky Global (BSG) where I’ll have the pleasure of working with Jane Vail and Eric Rybczynski again. I’m being brought on to build up their validation team1 and drive their end-to-end testing alongside Eric.

BSG began courting me last August but that was just two months into my sabbatical and I decided the sabbatical wasn’t something I could give up. I am unbelievably fortunate that they were unable to fill the position and still have a place for me now.

I’m excited to be working at my first startup and at a company solving complex problems in space, [say it with me] the final frontier.

An unexpected bonus is that BSG is only a 10-minute walk from my house down a long flight of stairs, making my morning commute a bus-free breeze. The walk back home, on the other hand, is going to be a 15-minute straight-up Stairmaster workout. Buns of steel, here I come!


1 This is in no way soliciting existing EMC (and soon, Dell) employees to join us, unless today’s date is after 2017/06/17.