Online From Jupiter 97
Alan J. Cherino
Data Management Team
My name is Alan J. Cherino and I work on the Data Management Team for the Galileo Project. One of the primary duties of the Data Management Team is to store data received from the Galileo spacecraft into computers called the Project Data Base. Additional processing of data is sometimes performed on this data by the Data Management Team and then sent to spacecraft engineers and scientists.
Since I do many things on the Data Management Team, I use two different job titles: 1) Cognizant Project Data Base Engineer and 2) Test and Training Engineer. My primary responsibility is to test the computer software that Project engineers use to get data from the Project Data Base computers. I use the software just like engineers would use it to get data and try to find as many things wrong with the software that I can. With my results, computer programmers can fix the errors, called "bugs." The better the software works, the better engineers can do their job of analyzing data from the Galileo spacecraft. When I'm not testing software, I help and train engineers and computer operators to use the Project Data Base software to get data.
The Data Management Team has been moving their data processing software from one huge IBM computer, called a mainframe, to faster, smaller computers called SUN workstation computers. With this new computer system, engineers can now use their PC's from their desk to get spacecraft data. Engineers no longer need to have a computer operator perform data requests to the IBM computer. I have tested the new software that works on these workstations and helped to create new ways for the Data Management Team to use these new computers to process data. When I'm not testing software, I train engineers and operators to use the software or help them with their work on PC's. I also install software on PC's and hook up new PC equipment for the Data Management Team engineers operators to use.
As you can see, I do many different jobs on the Galileo Data Management Team. I have not always worked on the Galileo Project, however. Prior to Galileo, I worked for a test team that tested computers that are used to process data received from all the different spacecraft that JPL operates. I also worked as a data analyst on the Magellan Project -- a spacecraft mission that mapped the surface of the planet Venus. I also tested computers that supported the Mars Observer spacecraft before it's launch and during it's cruise to Mars. All in all, I have been testing computer software for JPL for the past eight years.
I did not prepare for this job like I really wanted to be a test engineer. When I was in college, I switched career paths many times. After studying electrical engineering and business management for a few years, I finally ended up studying Business Computer Systems and eventually getting my college degree in Business Computer Systems. In Business Computer Systems, I studied how IBM mainframe computers worked and I took a lot of classes in computer programming. I never took a college class in testing software. (There weren't any to take!)
During my last three years of college, I went to work for IBM and JPL. One semester I went to work, the next semester I went school. When I graduated, I had computer and testing experience from both of these companies. With my college degree and computer experience, I had offers to work with IBM and the McDonnell-Douglas Helicopter Company, but I chose to come back to JPL and work with the space program.
When I was growing up in New Mexico, I did not really have any role models or anyone to look up to that worked in the space program. I did, however, have this fascination (and I still do) for the world of Star Trek. My interest and excitement about this TV series, I believe, led me in the direction to work with the space program. I know that we don't have the same technology and world that the Star Trek shows portray, but I did know that whatever space program we have today, I would be a part of that program. And it has been fun working on spacecraft missions throughout the solar system. In regard to any of the planet's pictures or scientist's discoveries, I know that I contributed to that effort of producing that information -- even if all I did was get that data from the Project Data Base and send it to the scientist! At JPL, when we help each other with our work we call that "team work", and that's what I see when I watch Star Trek. All the explosions, phaser fire, and starships are just extra features for me to see!
What I really like about my job is that I get the opportunity to learn how to use different types of computers, work with many different types of software, and I get to help others do the same. It makes my job fun and always changing so that I don't get bored doing the same thing day-after-day. I must admit, though, that there are times when the job can get really boring. Testing software is not always fun. It can get very boring when you can't find nothing wrong with it. The tester always has more fun when she breaks the code or finds bugs! Of course, you may end up having the programmer not like you too much because you found something wrong with their "perfect" program. And, there is a lot of writing that must be done, too. Test plans, test procedures, test results, and preparing for presentations (like speeches) must all be documented for others to see to what is being performed. There's also meetings, and collecting information on what new functions will be put into the software. The whole process of programming. testing, fixing bugs, and training users can take anywhere from two months to almost a year depending on the size and complexity of the computer system.
Whew! Enough about computers and testing... When I'm not at work, I
like to exercise. My favorite exercise is running. I used to be a long-distance
runner, but now I just stay under 10-12 miles a week which is usually
about three 3-mile runs a week. I never ran a marathon, but I did run
across the Grand Canyon in Arizona from Rim-to-Rim to once! That was terrific!
There is no other sight prettier than seeing the sunrise while you're
down in the Grand Canyon. The sun shining off the red clay dust is just
magnificent! I also go to the gym and weight train. Most of my weight
training is to built strength and endurance for running and for relaxing
my muscles after a long day at the office!