If someone is a programmer, but without any kind of knowledge or know-how about engineering and would want to work in space industry, what would be his chances to find a job anywhere? (NASA or other space agencies)

  • $\begingroup$ That kind of depends on what you mean by "in the space industry". Do you want to actually be writing software that controls satellites, aeronautical equipment, or robots in space? Or would you be happy building and maintaining less-exotic applications which are still essential to maintaining the operations of a space agency such as work order tracking systems, HR databases, or multimedia websites? $\endgroup$ – Iszi Apr 19 '14 at 3:13
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    $\begingroup$ You get out what you put in. If you rely to much on other people - it's a bad idea because people let you down. What I'm getting at here is go it alone initially. Have an idea to get a cube sat in space - program, design and build it your self. Get funding on kick starter. When you have achieved significant goals by your self. Then you will notice more and more people will take an interest in your work and soon you will get a job offer but by then you may even be hiring your own employers in the SPACE Frontiers. Source: leighman Guru life Experience and intuition. $\endgroup$ – Mr_leighman Apr 19 '14 at 6:32
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    $\begingroup$ The chance is zero if you don't apply. $\endgroup$ – Mark Adler Apr 19 '14 at 16:07
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    $\begingroup$ I have been working as programmer in the financial industry for close to 20 years. When I was first hired, I knew knowing about finance or financial engineering, but I knew how slice and dice data and write code that worked. I believe it would be the same in any industry. I do not write the algorithms for high frequency trading modules, and you won't write code that calculates the trajectories for space craft. But if you know your trade well, I believe you can find work. If you have the urge, go for it! You will learn, and perhaps blossom and go on to do things that you can't even imagine now. $\endgroup$ – Vector Apr 23 '14 at 3:55
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    $\begingroup$ As an aside, if someone is a good programmer, they already know a plenty about engineering and systems architecture, even if they don't know the formal terminology. Writing complex software systems is engineering. $\endgroup$ – Vector Apr 23 '14 at 4:01

If you were trained as a computer scientist with a reasonable amount of math and science classes, yes. If you are a self taught programmer, or if you majored in computer science so that you only had to take a token number of pre-calculus math and Physics for Poets type classes, not so likely.

There are plenty of places in the aerospace industry where computer science skills dominate over engineering. Some examples:

  • Flight software is oftentimes tested in a simulation environment. Somebody has to write the simulation engine. There's a physics engine part that you won't write, but there's a huge computer science part as well.

  • The flight software itself has to receive data from sensors and other computers, send data to effectors and other computers. How those inputs are converted to outputs, that's going to be directed by engineers. But those input / output processes themselves: That's a computer science problem.

  • The flight software runs on computers, sometimes multiple computers for redundancy purposes. How do you know if one of those computers has failed, has a rogue I/O card, has had it's memory messed up by a single event upset? That once again is a computer science problem.

  • Modern flight software is multithreaded. Do aerospace engineers know about threads? Maybe, maybe enough to be dangerous. Making that right, getting the scheduling algorithm right, that's yet another computer science problem.

  • Getting stuff into space is a huge logistics problem. That means databases galore. Once again, this is a problem for computer science majors to tackle rather than aerospace engineers.

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  • $\begingroup$ Good analysis. I work in the simulation industry referred to in your first bullet, we are about half engineers and half computer science majors. Both sides of the coin are needed. That said, a lot of our engineers are computer/electrical, not aerospace, because they tend to be stronger coders with the same math core. $\endgroup$ – Jack Apr 21 '14 at 22:02

In addition to David's answer, there's a few other key fields where programmers are often needed. The biggest need is usually in managing the data from the spacecraft. For instance, at my company, there's around 8 programmers that I'm aware of working on stuff related to the spacecraft. Of those:

  • Two work on the spacecraft themselves.
  • 1.5 work on building tools to simplify the process of command processing and data analysis.
  • The rest work on programming the ground network to talk with the satellites, and optimize the comm schedule, etc.

From my work with the HiRISE camera, here's the approximate breakdown of programmers at that time:

  • An unknown number programmed the flight software. I didn't have many dealings with them.
  • One programmed a bunch of web tools used to assist with planning upcoming passes, and a lot of other misc. tasks.
  • One programmed a PR tool to look at images.
  • One programmed a Java application to do the short term planning and commanding.
  • One managed the databases.
  • One did the image process programming.

Of these, all of them were computer science types. I'm not as familiar with those writing the Flight Software, however.

As a non-engineering oriented programmer, you are less likely to be writing the spacecraft code itself, but there's plenty of work outside of that realm. I as a self taught programmer ended up programming a significant part of a simulation used by a aerospace company.

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