cockpit illustration

1090 Global

The Weekly Five: Interview with Andy Hoag, Aireon’s Director of Service Test and Software Engineering


Welcome to Aireon’s blog series, “The Weekly Five” in which we will ask five quick questions to our team members to educate and share how Aireon has been continuing 24/7 operations during the pandemic and what we’re learning along the way. For the third post, we’ve sat down with Aireon’s Director of Service Test and Software Engineering, Andy Hoag.

1) What has your experience been working remotely on the Aireon system during the Pandemic?
The Aireon team adapted to the new remote environment quickly and efficiently. Without panic, Aireon’s network engineers and security engineers found ways to implement means of connecting the team to the required assets from home. Multiple environments are used in the development and test of the Aireon system – each with their own unique requirements and it all was up and running in record time.
My experience has been very positive. Technology has enabled the team to continue to work remotely and we are maintaining our schedules for delivery. It took some time for everyone to get used to the new routine during the first week, I probably had over 50 hours of phone calls in the first few days. The team quickly embraced our video conferencing tools. Microsoft Teams really brought us all together.
The only important work resource I do not have at home is a good espresso machine, I miss the machine at the Aireon headquarters. I am regularly in the office so the jump to working from home was an abrupt change to my routine. I must admit, it is nice to take a break from the drive into the office. The commute from bed to my desk is much shorter than going to the office!

2) Have any changes affected your day-to-day processes to maintain the system?
Surprisingly the day-to-day has not changed much. The extended team is already distributed – virtual meetings and discussions are common. There are some critical tasks that must be performed in-person. For example, the safety and operations team have maintained a presence in Aireon’s 24/7 Network Operations Center (NOC) locations.
The engineering team has made multiple planned trips into some of our locations to work on critical infrastructure. Coordination for these trips includes various notifications, checklists, and ensuring physical distance is maintained. There are some test environments which include radio frequency (RF) lab equipment and our extended team has also found novel ways of including these as part of remote test events.

3) Can you tell me about the most recent upgrades that have been made or are coming to the system in the future?
Aireon is constantly evaluating new changes to the system, but the team is very precise when it comes to any modification. Safety is critical in the design and build out a software-intensive system used for air traffic control. I will highlight one unique recent upgrade – a change to the hosted payload. Aireon’s space-based payloads can be remotely reconfigured and modified. Yes, a payload on a satellite orbiting 780 km above the earth can have configuration, software, and firmware changes! We recently made such a change to optimize performance in the way data is packetized and delivered to the ground. The Iridium network provides a robust platform for it all to happen and this includes a team of skilled engineers and operators who have some of the coolest jobs in the world.

4) What has been the biggest challenge/positive aspect to working remotely on the system?
I think the biggest challenge has been remotely onboarding new members of the team. Using the cameras on our workstations is certainly helpful but it does not replace an in-person meeting. I look forward to meeting all the new team members in person someday. The Aireon team continues to grow, check out our careers page.

The most positive aspect is seeing ways the team has virtually addressed our informal meetings. I never realized how many conversations I was having in the hallway or kitchen at the office. For example, the software team still finds ways to debate using tabs or spaces for whitespace and indentation– this is a serious topic that has been debated for many years! Click here for reference…. 

5) Is there anything you’d like to add?
I have enjoyed hearing about the technology upgrades that team members have made at home. I have seen everything from multiple 4K monitors to enterprise-grade network equipment at home. What’s next?