Sinead O’Sullivan works on aerospace engineering, technology, business and policy. She also has a business using her own technology that monitors real-time interference in democratic elections.
Why did you first become interested in engineering?
I’ve always loved physics and maths, and loved playing team sports. When I was 15, I was given the opportunity to travel to NASA’s Johnson Space Center as part of a space camp. There, I met astronauts who were engineers, spoke different languages, played cool sports and were musicians in bands. It was the first time I really learned what engineers do. I learned that I could do all the things I enjoyed most, at the same time, through engineering.
How did you get to where you are now?
Within engineering, I have always been focused on space. I did my Bachelor of Aerospace Engineering at Queen’s University Belfast.
After studying, I worked in a research laboratory in the US, where I managed two separate human spaceflight mission design projects for NASA (one to Mars and one to an asteroid). I also worked on underwater and autonomous robotics for the US Navy.
What is your favourite thing about being an engineer?
Engineering is a team-focused industry, and by far my favourite thing about engineering is the people. The engineers that I’ve been lucky enough to work with have all been incredibly passionate about the space industry. The space industry is also one of the most inclusive communities I’ve come across yet –one of the coolest teams I worked on included a robotics programmer who was blind, and we created new ways of working together to create an amazing outcome.
What does a typical day at work involve for you?
There is no typical day, which is why I love my job! On the research side, I read a lot. I often look to other fields for inspiration to tie together my ideas, so I spend time reading or attending more artistic lectures to widen my thinking.
In terms of my business, I spend a lot of time with my co-founder and with customers to develop a product that has a positive, long-term impact.
What first gave you the idea for your technology?
I have an interest in how democracy is changing in an increasingly digital world.
We decided to create a set of tools that could monitor real-time interference in democratic elections. A few months later and we were actively monitoring the US mid-term elections as well as having monitored the UK local elections in May 2018.
How would you encourage other young engineers to develop their own technologies?
There are a million and one ways to develop new technologies. However, I would suggest starting with a real-life problem that you have experience with – if it is meaningful to you, you will be able to create a more meaningful solution that others will want to adopt.