Career Advice
November 2, 2015

NASA is Hiring If You Know A 60-Year-Old Programming Language

NASA is Hiring If You Know A 60-Year-Old Programming Language

You should always be looking to add new skills during your career, that’s a given. But what about old skills? And I mean really old skills. Like a 60-year-old programming language. Because that’s what could get you a job at NASA.

The last original engineer on the Voyager project, Larry Zottarelli, is retiring and a replacement needs to be found. He’s 80, so he deserves the rest. The catch is that Voyager 1 and 2 are carrying NASA’s very first on-board computers. The programming languages most people are familiar with today are nowhere to be seen. Instead, Cobol, FORTRAN and Algol are the order of the day.

These are the assembly languages that were used in the early days of computing. State-of-the-art at the time Voyager 1 and 2 were launched in 1977, the languages have since fallen by the wayside.

Suzanne Dodd, program manager for Voyager, isn’t expecting 20-something coders to hunt down a FORTRAN guide and add it to their repertoire, though. She thinks it’s more likely that she’ll find someone in their 50s with a basis in assembly languages."

Although some people can program an assembly language and understand the intricacy of the spacecraft, most younger people can't or really don't want to,​" said Dodd.

The Voyager craft still have enough power to keep running for another ten years but one of the tasks facing whoever gets the job will be to try and increase that lifespan by examining power usage and shutting down unnecessary systems.

The moral of this story is that you never know what skill(s) may land you your next job. So you should not only add to what you know but also make sure you don’t forget things learned earlier in your career. This is a pretty extreme example but, on a very feasible level, if you switch from a PR role to a marketing one, or from frontend to backend development, you never know when those old skills might come in handy.

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