This blog is the first in a series of Keplerian Highlights, showcasing the work, career journeys, and advice from a variety of Keplerians! This first blog highlights Kepler’s Director of Engineering, Diane Burchett.
Since joining Kepler in August 2020, Diane has proven to be an invaluable member of the Kepler team. As the Director of Engineering, Diane manages a team of 43 people, including 5 engineering managers.
As the Director of Engineering, what does a usual day look like for you?
No day is ever the same, which is actually one of the things I love about the job — but it usually involves planning and lots of meet-ups. I spend a lot of my time meeting with the team, understanding their challenges, and helping to remove any roadblocks that anybody might have. We’re always striving to be really agile, documenting any issues that may have come up with designs and how we learn from that and make things go smoother next time. The day is most often spent talking about our projects, what the teams are working on, and making sure that we keep the momentum going day after day.
What has been your path to this role? What experiences and interests led you to Kepler?
My Dad was an engineer and I always loved math and science so I think that’s how I ended up in engineering; lots of support and encouragement at an early age. Solving problems or puzzles is still a passion of mine today. My background is in materials engineering, I’m interested in how materials behave in different environments and space sure is a challenging environment. I worked for many years as a Materials Engineer in the Space industry and was fortunate enough to have excellent mentors and supporters along the way that allowed me to pursue a management path. I enjoy managing diverse, cross-functional teams because I really like working on far-reaching problems and truly believe that driven, coordinated teams can do so much more together. I saw this role at Kepler and thought, what an awesome time to be getting into the new space. A younger Canadian company that’s working in the new space regime in a very agile, fast-paced, and exciting environment. I couldn’t pass on the opportunity to apply and was so honoured – and still am, that I’m here. It’s just been a fantastic year so far. I feel like I landed my dream job and I hope I never wake up.
How has the rapid growth of the space industry in recent years affected your work?
Just looking at what’s going on recently in the news with manned spaceflight, space tourism is becoming closer than ever. It’s no longer just government agencies that are able to work in this space, private and small commercial companies are here and doing it toe-to-toe with the larger companies. Normally with launching geostationary satellite services, you’re sending something out for 25 – 30 years. LEO satellites are only up there for two to five years. In that time, you can send up new technologies and try things out. Kepler has adopted a lot of Agile approaches, not only in software, but also in hardware builds. We’re able to take advantage of changes in technologies that we would never be able to do if we were waiting 25 years to replace a satellite. We can move our services forward faster. It’s such an exciting time to be in the industry.
Are there any specific goals that motivate you and your work?
I want to be involved in work that makes a difference in our world. I’ve had the privilege of working in the space industry for most of my career and truly believe it is a necessary part of enabling the human race and enriching our lives. Working at Kepler is another stage of my career where I can help grow individuals and teams to continue expanding our knowledge while contributing to the Kepler mission to build the internet in space. With every project, we’re always trying to do more, go farther, go faster – all working towards that mission.
What is your favourite thing about working for Kepler?
My favourite thing about working for Kepler is the people and how motivated they are. No matter if there’s a roadblock or if someone says they need something, I can guarantee you within a short time that roadblock is gone. If one of us is stuck, we’re all stuck. It’s all about how fast people are moving to help each other and bringing each other along. It really is a family affair, here at Kepler.
You’ve mentioned how mission-driven everybody at Kepler is. Is that the Kepler value that resonates most with you?
The five Kepler values all resonate because they mesh together so well. I’ve mentioned mission-driven, because it is something that I’ve just seen a lot of in my time at Kepler. Work Together is another value that resonates with me because we’re all working together towards the same goal, which is the mission of putting the Internet in space. I see the values embodied in the people here every day. These values aren’t just something that you read on the office wall or see on the web page — they are at the core of our company. They are what gets us to the finish line. We all share those same core values, even though we have diverse backgrounds. We all come together around those five values.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to work in this field or your team?
Show passion and tell me why you want to be here. It’s not just about the work that we do, but why we’re doing it. That’s where the engagement, the excitement, and the great ideas come from. Having a passion not just for the work that you do, but for what it’s doing for humankind. What we’re doing with building connectivity is making the world a better place, beyond the Earth’s surface. Resumes, education, and the right background get you a seat at the interview table, but you need to show me why you want to do this work.
What are some skills and attributes that you most value in your team?
One of the things that I really value is resiliency and a sense of humour because things are going to go wrong — that’s a given. What’s important is how you deal with it. You need to be able to deal with ambiguity, have a sense of humour about it, be empathetic, and work well as a team. We have a very diverse skill set and what comes with that is diverse personalities. Everybody needs to be respectful of one another, work together, and do it in a fun environment. I look for team members who are open and honest about their failures as well as their successes, show me they don’t shy away from a challenge, and are willing to stretch and learn from all experiences. Those aren’t technical skill sets, but they’re incredibly important.
What are you most looking forward to in the future of Kepler? Are there any specific projects or future general company endeavours that you’re really looking forward to working on?
The one thing that brought me to Kepler was definitely the mission to build the internet in space. Now that we’ve had a successful Series B round and continue to have investors that are in line with our mission, we can now really focus on that. That’s what I’m excited about — it’s an incredible time to be at Kepler. We have 15 satellites up in orbit now, we’re going into Gen 2, and we’re able to continue work towards our mission. There are just so many new and exciting things happening at Kepler right now, and it’s a great time to be on board.
Any final comments?
Creativity is a fundamental part of engineering, as we need to develop new ideas and improve upon old ones. Engineering solutions should be approached with all the enthusiasm, wonder and curiosity of a 2 year old… always asking “why”.