What field do you currently work in? *
What is the highest degree in astronomy/physics you have received? *
What is/was your most recent academic position in astronomy/physics? *
What has been your career path since you completed your degree? *
Software developer of Internet software and applications, Internet network engineer (several networks and firms), Telco network designer, business founder/owner of consultancy practice, head engineer/chief technology officer for telcos, startup business entrepreneur, mentor
What were the most important factors that led you to leave astronomy and/or academia? *
From working part-time during PhD studies to fund living expenses, it was easy and more secure to move to full-time work with the same company following completion compared to moving to a post-doc role. Became disillusioned with the funding/no funding cycle that prevented multi-year academic projects from being completed effectively, and caused contract support staff to have to be terminated.
What is the job title for your current position?
Head of Technology & Networks
What is the name of your company/organization/institution?
Trident Subsea Cable
What city and country do you live in and/or work in?
Sydney, Australia, working all over Asia-Pacific
What do you do for fun (e.g., hobbies, pastimes, etc.)?
Astronomy (Amateur), remote control aircraft, playing and researching cool Internet things, holidays with family and kids
What’s something you greatly miss about grad school? What about something you definitely don’t miss?
I miss the interaction with seriously smart young people. I definitely don’t miss having projects de-funded before the equipment has been finished being built.
If you have made a career change, what was your age at the time?
I have made several career changes over the years – switching to full-time employment after completion of PhD at age
What have been particularly valuable skills for your current job that you gained through completing your degree?
Being able to research and recognise authoritive references from derivative pseudo-sources, and constructing business cases, consultancy reports and legal expert reports based on clear foundations, clear arguments, well referenced, so that the ultimate conclusion is easily seen to be derived from the initial assumptions and known facts. Creating business reports and analysis using similar methods as constructing a scientific paper for publication is a highly valued skill in business.
What advice do you think advisors should be giving students regarding their career path?
Don’t just look at the subject matter you have been working on, when thinking about the next step or industry. Think about all the false steps you have had to investigate, difficulties you have had to solve and work around – the problem-solving steps you had to do to get to do the thing you thought you were trying to achieve. Often solving those problems along the way will be just as satisfying, and point to a possible future career or passion, as the original outcome you thought you were trying to investigate or solve.
What, if any, additional training did you complete in order to meet the qualifications of your current position?
A smattering of vendor certification courses – however time on-the-job training working next to experienced experts and learning from them was probably more valuable. Doesn’t matter how much education you have under your belt, you’re never too old or too experienced to learn something from time as an apprentice to an even higher expert.
What job hunting or networking resources or other advice/resources did you use to land your current position?
Past and present colleagues from previous jobs introduced me to this role. Never ignore your past workmates and colleagues, that growing professional pool of recommenders is gold!
Describe a typical day at work.
Deal with overnight email, find out what colleagues are up to, sometimes work from home, sometimes work from city office. Deal with suppliers questions, learn more about technology, visit and call customers, build something they need and want to buy. Plan next week’s international travel across the globe.
How many hours do you work in a week?
30 – 60
What is your salary?
Variable/lumpy as a consultant – some months little, some months are very good as customers pay their consulting bills. Up to $300k/year is achievable.
What is your level of satisfaction with your current job?
What are the most enjoyable aspects of your job? Least enjoyable?
Enjoyable – international travel, respect as an expert in my field, and working with seriously smart and fun people who are experts in their fields, at the forefront of technology (in my case, fibre-optic networking technology). Least enjoyable – the startup business scene can be difficult to deal with the uncertainty of working out if the business will go ahead or have to be wound up if not successful. Exhilarating when a business is successful and grows, but gut-wrenching for a while when it can’t be successful despite pouring so much effort in.
What opportunities does your job provide to be creative and/or to take initiative?
I am a senior executive, investor and part owner of the business, and a number of other start-up businesses – I take the initiative on everything I want to become involved in, and every aspect I choose to inject myself in, either because I can help lead the solution, or I want to learn more from the people I work with and respect who know more about the aspects I don’t know much about. Ultimately, I use my experience and knowledge to build networks and services and solutions that are better than what was available before – that is very satisfying.
How satisfied are you with your work-life balance in your current job?
Fairly satisfied – more work than home life, but not unreasonable.
How family-friendly is your current position?
Fairly family-friendly, as I can somewhat choose my hours, or work from home – except when travelling internationally which requires a week or two away from home occasionally.
What advice do you have for achieving work-life balance (including having a family)?
Target roles with lots of international travel and activity early, before family and young children have you wanting to spend more time at home, and not tying up evenings with international conference calls. When family and young children are factors, target smaller institutions and businesses with more of a local/national focus, where work occurs during daytime and nights and weekends are clear to spend time with family – always family should come first before work.
Do you still interact with people who work (directly) in astronomy and/or are you still involved in astronomy in some way?
Yes – I’m involved with the Square Kilometre Array, and recently spent time at a workshop in Shanghai with Chinese and Australian big data experts looking at solving SKA problems. I’m also involved in designing the next generation of Internet protocols for interplanetary communication, working with colleagues from NASA and other space institutions.
Were there any emotional difficulties or social consequences to your career choices? Do you have any advice for those who are thinking of switching careers, but are wary of the side effects?
I sometimes miss academia, but I don’t miss the funding and remuneration uncertainty. I feel I’m more in control of my own destiny in industry. The best advice when considering a change is to think “whats the worst that can happen if it doesn’t work out?” – usually its nothing more than maybe spending a couple of months out of work until the next role comes up, and if you have some savings to tide you over in the unlikely event that comes about, thats not so scary – you don’t want to spend the next few years wondering “if only I jumped and seized that opportunity”.