Landing a job on the final frontier is easier than it looks
Wow great summary, Alastair! I especially appreciate the list of the various options for the types of technology one can work on in a space job.
I am also out here in the space industry (I hope our flight paths cross sometime in person!) and I’ll add that one of the things I and leaders I’ve worked with have looked for on resumes at all levels of education-- including for applicants directly out of high school-- is hands-on experience on projects. For high school and college folks, I’d suggest joining clubs and organizations like FIRST Robotics and Human Powered Vehicle. These can be a great way to demonstrate you know how to work in a team, fail a lot and keep trying, and ultimately get results for all these companies are that working on really tough problems. In my opinion, this demonstration that you can collaborate on a common goal is more important on your resume than the GPA listed. Unless you’re going to focus on academia or perform a purely research-focused job function, there aren’t a lot of roles where the habits that helped you complete homework and perform well on tests don’t translate to the things you’ll be doing on a daily basis at your job. Don’t get me wrong, the grades matter especially at first, and it’s not easy to get them! But the better litmus test in my opinion is an applicant’s work on projects or in a lab and how that person manages themselves in high pressure social situations--like hands-on competitions, for instance.
I’ll also add that if you start technical, after 5-10 years of experience, you can plot a course to nontechnical career roles in business, management, operations, and other cool positions that help these companies execute their wild ambitions. It takes a whole host of talents to make these missions work! Like you say, Alastair, some of the new space guys are fighting to define and convince folks that their business strategy is coherent and their particular risks worthwhile. Building and communicating things like that take a whole different skill set than math or programming, and it can be a really fun new challenge! Space is for everyone and needs a huge range of skills to succeed!