'I knew I'd spend the rest of my career in Bremen, I've never considered returning'

John Richardson works as a space satellite software developer in Bremen

John Richardson and his partner in front of the Park Hotel and Lake in the Burgerpark, Bremen, Germany

John Richardson and his partner in front of the Park Hotel and Lake in the Burgerpark, Bremen, Germany

 

Working Abroad Q&A: Each week, Irish Times Abroad meets an Irish person working in an interesting job overseas. This week, John Richardson from Dublin tells us about working as a satellite software developer and tester in Bremen.

When and why did you leave Ireland?

I left in 2006 to study for a Master’s in Space Sciences at at the International Space University in Strasbourg. I did not know before leaving how immense the impact my decision would have on my life and career. What followed was a fascinating year of study, culture and life in a beautiful city where I met many people influential in the space community. I spent the summer of 2007 in Luxembourg working and writing my thesis at SES Astra, Europe’s first private satellite operator. Shortly after graduation I was offered a position as a programmer at DLR, the German Space Agency in Bremen, where I started in early 2008.

Did you study in Ireland?

I studied computer science at Trinity College Dublin. After graduation I didn’t fall far from the apple tree and worked for six years in the IT department as a programmer and system administrator. During this time, I completed my first Master’s. It was my first IT job and I was lucky to have so much support and an abundance of resources to hand. I developed a lot of skills there that would prove useful in my future career.

This is a really exciting time in the space industry

You worked for the German space agency. Are you still there?

No, I left after five years at the end of my contract in 2013. I took a year off to study German full-time, do some travelling around Europe and to work on some personal projects. I worked in the automotive industry as a programmer for a couple of years to try something different, but I missed working in the space sector and, when the opportunity arose, I took a job with OHB, which is the largest private satellite company in Germany.

Is space really the final frontier?

Haha. It probably is! All I know is that this is a really exciting time in the space industry with the successful landing of Chang’E-4 on the far side of the Moon, the New Horizons flyby of Ultima Thule and the start of the Apollo 50 celebrations, all in the first week of 2019. It’s the beginning of what is becoming a very interesting year with a variety of events set to commence in the coming weeks.

What can the Irish bring to space research and participation? It seems an interesting area for an Irishperson to be involved in...

That’s a good question. I don’t know many Irish who work in the industry, but there is a great demand for IT and science and engineering people to work in space in Europe which is not being met by Irish professionals, and this surprises me given Ireland’s reputation in the field.

Tell us about your current job?

My part in OHB is to develop and test software that controls the satellite in flight. I carry out validation and verification of mission requirements by simulating actual telecommands sent to the satellite, and relating these to the received telemetry from the satellite. These tests can be quite challenging and complex to carry out, but are essential to ensuring the successful control of the satellite.

John Richardson (centre) finishes the Bremen 10km last year
John Richardson (centre) finishes the Bremen 10km last year
The space sector here is growing constantly so the future is bright

What is it like living there?

There is too much to describe in such a short space, but it’s a place that’s grown on me over 11 years. I’m still discovering new places to eat and drink and I enjoy the parks and river for running and cycling. I can’t say that I’ve ever been bored living here.

Most people here rent, which is substantially cheaper than in Ireland. A sizeable apartment for one person or a couple is not hard to find for a reasonable price. Bremen is cycling friendly with dedicated lanes throughout the city and surrounding countryside. Entertainment is cheap and the city is buzzing every night of the week. Fitness plays an important part of daily life and sports clubs and studios are abundant.

There are some Irish in Bremen working as teachers, engineers and as students. I see some of them occasionally at the Irish pub for rugby matches and other events, which can get quite rowdy. They all have very positive experiences of living here. Our reputation precedes us and so it’s easy to make new friends and enjoy ourselves as the atmosphere is not dissimilar to that of Ireland.

Do you think studying and then working abroad has offered you greater opportunities?

Oh, most definitely. A good qualification is essential to earn the income you need to experience a good life abroad. My qualifications have helped me immensely in attaining the work I’m good at in the industry I love.

What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a career abroad?

Drop everything and go. It’s never too late to experience another country and you’ll regret it if you don’t try it. The experience of living abroad, speaking several languages and having the opportunities to travel and meet new people are immeasurable.

What do you think your future holds?

The space sector here is growing constantly so the future is bright. I knew when I first set foot in Bremen that I would spend the rest of my career here and I’ve never considered returning to Ireland.

Is there anything you miss about living and working in Ireland?

I miss little things like going to the theatre and banter with friends over a pint. And the West. Every time I go there I end up bumping into Germans and they ask me the same thing: “Why did you ever leave?”.

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