Get Hired

Get Hired: Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic are hiring engineers. Read on for tips on how to work at one of the most exciting companies on earth (and beyond!)

Will says Virgin Galactic will ask about something you've 'designed, built and tested' at interview.

Will says Virgin Galactic will ask about something you've 'designed, built and tested' at interview.

William Pomerantz is the Vice President for Special Projects at Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic.
 
We know from snippets in the media that Virgin Galactic wants to take space boldly into the tourism industry. Is this really going to happen?
It’s already happening—and as someone who desperately wants to go to space myself, I think it can’t happen soon enough! Here at Virgin Galactic, we’re in the final stages of a multi-year test flight program for our suborbital spaceflight system. Our vehicles are based off a proven technology, namely SpaceShipOne, the vehicle that won the $10 million ANSARI XPRIZE by becoming the first privately-built vehicle to carry people to space back in 2004. We’re working on SpaceShipTwo, which uses essentially the same technologies, but scaled up to be able to carry to pilots and six paying customers, all of whom will earn their astronaut wings.
 
We've had an amazing response to what we’re doing. Already, we've had more than 600 future astronauts reserve their tickets and pay deposits of tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to secure their place in line. We're incredibly pleased with that, as it means we've already signed up more future astronauts than the number of humans who have ever flown in space (about 540 total, if you had up every astronaut, every cosmonaut, and every taikonaut).
 
I’m a huge admirer of NASA, and I think that the NASA astronauts are among the most impressive people in the world. But I also have realized that fundamentally, NASA isn't addressing the issue of how to let ‘the rest of us’ get to space—we as a nation have never asked NASA to do that, and we've certainly never funded them to do it. Literally billions of people want to go to space, and if we want that to be a possibility for any reasonable number of them, it’s going to take companies like ours working on much cheaper technologies that are designed explicitly to fly people affordably, frequently, and safely. We’re on pace to double the number of people who have been to space within the first year or two of operations, and we’ll only keep growing from there.
 
What is your role at Virgin Galactic, and how do you find working there?
I love my job, and my job title: Vice President of Special Projects (you know, as opposed to the boring old regular projects at our commercial spaceline). My actual projects and responsibilities change from week to week, always presenting new opportunities and new challenges, which is something that I really enjoy. Broadly speaking, I mainly work on everything that is not the company’s core business of space tourism. Two major examples of that that I am able to talk about are our program to fly research and educational missions of SpaceShipTwo and our new launch vehicle for small satellites, called LauncherOne. Both of those were ideas that had been around since the beginning of the company as good ways to get even more out of the technologies we've been developing and the amazing team we’re putting together, but they weren't active projects before I started. I've had the great fortune of working with some brilliant and extremely hard-working people to stand-up both of those efforts.
 
Now, we’re proud to have both of those programs up and running. They are great fun to work on, and have led to lots of cool opportunities for the company and for me personally. As one example, through our suborbital research flights, NASA is now a customer of ours; they've chartered a flight of SpaceShipTwo which will be used to fly research experiments. Especially because I come from a science background myself, I find that really exciting—talented scientists, researchers, and engineers of all ages need more opportunities to do novel things, and SpaceShipTwo is a great platform to put experiments and the principal investigators themselves into space quickly, affordably, and safely. I encourage your readers to think about how they might be able to conduct an experiment in space on SpaceShipTwo, and to look into programs like NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program, which offer funding to do exactly that. (You can find details about our research flights and a list of some of the available funding opportunities here.)
 
So you guys hire engineers. Any tips on how to apply?
We’re hiring quite a lot of engineers these days, as well as lots of technicians and many other types of jobs. We are really ramping up as a company as we approach commercial operations.
 
Anyone who is interested in applying should keep an eye on our website for our job postings (specifically, here - that lists openings both at Virgin Galactic and at our sister company, The Spaceship Company, which manufacturers our vehicles). That site is updated on almost a daily basis, as we add new jobs and remove the ones that have been filled.
 
Look for the jobs that seem like a good fit for you and your particular skills, interests, and background. If you see something you like, send us a line and apply! And, of course, it’s always good to have a chance to meet a Virgin Galactic employee. If get a chance to meet me or one of my colleagues at a conference or something like that, please come up and say hi, and let us know that you are interested. Our jobs are usually quite competitive, so it’s useful to know an employee who can check in with our recruiters and make sure that your application is getting to the right people.
 
And a side note—we’re not just “you guys.” We've got lots of amazing female engineers, too!
 
What kind of engineers are you looking for? From any particular schools? 
We don’t really focus on what school you went to or what your GPA is—though as I said, our jobs are very competitive, so obviously having a good GPA from a great school will help. But usually, we are looking for hands on experience on a challenging project. We don’t just want to know about what you’ve done in your school assignments. Instead, tell us about something you designed, built, and tested. It doesn't have to be a space project like a rocket—it could be an airplane, or a car, or really anything. Just be able to explain to us what you did, why you did it the way you did, how it worked, and what you learned from it. And don’t be shy about telling us about something you tried that didn't work—as long as you can learn from failure, that’s still a very good thing to have on your résumé. 
 
What do engineers working for you currently do?
All kinds of things. Many of them work on our suborbital spaceflight program, helping us design and build new SpaceShipTwos and new WhiteKnightTwo motherships to add to our fleet. Others of them work on our LauncherOne small satellite launch vehicle, or on the liquid rocket engines we’re building for LauncherOne.  Each of them gets to say at the end of the day that they are working to revolutionize the way we access space, which is a pretty cool thing to do.
 
Do you think space travel is going to be a viable industry for aeronautical (and other) engineers to think about for the future?
Definitely. I speak to student groups quite frequently, and what I always tell them is that they are incredibly fortunate to be entering the workforce at this point in history. Really for the first time, young engineers who want to work in the space exploration business have real choices about what to do. They can of course still go work at NASA or at one of the traditional aerospace companies, like Boeing or Lockheed Martin. But there’s also now a huge range of entrepreneurial companies and start-ups in the industry, working on a lot of really cool things—everything from space tourism, to privately-funded lunar rovers, to asteroid mining, to 3-D printing in space, and many more beyond that. If you are early in your career and looking for your first job, you have an unprecedented level of choice about what kinds of projects to work on, what type of working environment to work in et cetera. Making a choice always entails some risk, but I think the opportunities are incredibly exciting.
 
What qualities do you think really mark out a top engineer?
Creativity and a willingness to learn. I truly hope that the next generation of engineers will be able to avoid the pitfalls of the ‘Not Invented Here” syndrome that have affected so many others, and will be open to considering and building upon great ideas regardless of where they come from originally.
 
A final cheeky question: although you are not an engineer yourself, I believe you are married to one. Since this will be read by engineers, who one imagines one day might have a non-engineer spouse, any advice for them on how to, um, better relate to their partner?
Whenever anything is broken at the house, I always ask my wife to fix it—I tell her that it’s only fair, as she is the engineer in the family! Of course, that’s never actually worked for me, but that doesn't stop me from trying.
 
In all seriousness, though, young engineers absolutely need to learn how to communicate and work with scientists, business people, et cetera. In school, it’s easy to find yourself only every working with people in your same department. Once you've graduated, though, that won’t be the case anymore. You need to learn how to speak the same language as those other people, and it’s best to start early.

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Imran Yusuf
Author:
Imran Yusuf
Published:
Wednesday 24th July 2013 09:08:00 GMT

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