Monthly Archives: October 2015

The Military Space Operator–After the Military, Part II: The 3 Categories

How can a USAF space operator make his/her military space job relate, using very simple terms, to the civilian space world (or possibly other industries)? One possible answer is to align those duties with categories and terms already used in the space industry.

Some space industry sector categories are useful in accurately describing the kind of jobs people do within space operations. The categories–space mission operations, space mission support, and space infrastructure–better describe professions within the over-applied “space operations” label in the USAF (in some ways, the label is about as descriptive as “leader” or “synergizing weasel”). These categories communicate to potential employers a a job candidate’s area of expertise, instead of unintentionally fogging it up under “space operations.” Again, space operations can mean a lot of different things to different people–including the hiring manager interviewing you.

Why would a military space operator go to commercial space industry when the option of working for a space contractor who works with the government might appear to be simpler, less risky, and maybe more lucrative? Consider that the U.S. government—military and civil—makes up a very minor portion of the amount of money passing hands in the global space industry. Government space operations are dwarfed by the fleets of commercial communications and Earth observation satellites. There’s also the problem that the contractor force has contracted—by about 17%–for almost a decade. This contraction hasn’t seemed to bottom out yet. If you’re a relatively new hire for a government program, how comfortable are you with the real possibility of being the first one to be cut?

How to define oneself for a job in a growing space industry? The challenge of finding work in commercial space industry is made more complex because many military space operators have experience in multiple roles: leader, system engineer, operator. How does a military space operator describe his or her talent so that a genuine civilian understands the capabilities a military space operator can bring to a civilian space organization? My suggestion is to align military space operations experiences, expertise, and talents with the categories previously mentioned.

Space mission operations, space mission support, and space infrastructure, don’t highlight the “most important” job in the space industry. They allow for a better job focus, with the option of drilling down within each category. Some cross over between categories might happen, depending on the job pursued. But perhaps initially starting with one category will help to build up a solid job-seeking story. The suggested categories are supposed to be a helpful and more meaningful way to pin down what space operators do—especially for those looking to leave the military soon.

The next post will be my attempt to define these categories.

The Military Space Operator–After the Military

Transitioning as The New Civilian

When I left the U.S. Air Force, I was a space operator. After working in the military space world for 11 years, it seemed very obvious to me and the Air Force, that I was a space operator, but not to anyone in the civilian world. I spent nearly six months applying for related positions, trying to convince others of my qualifications, before I found work. It was frustrating.

I had the training and experience in various sub-disciplines related to or directly involved in space operations. When the USAF trains someone like me in space operations, they assign a special prefix denoting the corresponding specialty: 13S or 1C6 (officer or enlisted). Add some extra letters and numbers to the end of those three letters and numbers and it SEEMS the Air Force stays pretty happy about how they keep track of their space operations force.

The Problem

However, there are some wrinkles within the Air Force which obfuscate what a space operator is. Such complications are what might have hindered my job searches. In the USAF, being a space operator might mean a person’s job is acquiring the systems for missions in space. It might mean a person installs fiber for ground networks to talk with space systems or runs computer network operations. It might mean conducting system engineering or mission assurance for particular systems. It might mean intelligence analysis. At one time it meant maintaining and launching nuclear missiles. Each of these was the Air Force’s way to appear to beef up its space cadre. Some of us benefited from the Air Force’s efforts to “spread space.”

So, while being a 13S or 1C6 still means a trained space professional sitting at a computer command console, operating a space system, making sure a missile, rocket, or a satellite and its payload responds to commands, there are some other professions within the space operations category without those prefixes that might be related but need more explanation. Don’t get me wrong: the multiplicity of jobs within the space operations career-field is great for those who are willing to learn about the different space systems. It’s particularly interesting to the many who gain the technical chops and experience in the USAF without any science, technology, engineering, or other types of technical educational backgrounds.

The problem though, is that while it’s very interesting and quite educational to work for the USAF, there’s the question “What happens after my USAF career?” The USAF isn’t doing you any favors with its broadly applied “Space Operator” category. Because, for example, being an acquisitions program manager is not the same as conducting communications satellite upkeep or running satellite warning or space intelligence missions. Hiring managers in the civilian world may become confused by all the great experience a person gained as a program manager while that person calls him/herself a space operator. There’s also the problem that a good portion of space operations occur in the classified world, and an involved person can’t really say what they were doing in that world. So how can a person define what their part in the military space world is, without getting into trouble? How can a USAF space operator make their military space job relate, in very simple terms, to the civilian space world? With the broader question being, what does it mean to work in the space industry in the United States?

Stay tuned…

I have a few ideas about this, just based on my experience in writing about this industry over the past few years. My next post will attempt to elaborate some of the terms to help make those connections in the civilian world. Hopefully it will help you in your job searches.