Lacey Harrison creates her own path

Self-proclaimed ‘sci-fi nerd’ Lacey Harrison is thriving in her role as a Spacetrack Analyst at RAF Fylingdales. After joining Serco four years ago, Lacey has gained a huge amount of technical expertise and confidence in her ability, despite never having completed a formal degree. Lacey’s great work in supporting our customer was recognised with an internal Global Pulse Award in 2020.

A local who grew up in the Whitby area of Yorkshire, Lacey has a strong family connection to Fylingdales. “My cousin was a Spacetrack Analyst at Fylingdales and sent me the job saying I might like it because he knows I am a big sci-fi nerd. He used to work in banking at Leeds and I assumed he was doing something similar. His dad was also a fireman on site, so I knew people that worked there, but I didn’t have a clue that it had anything to do with space.”

“I had about a month to prepare for the interview and looked up a few things online before I went. Apparently, I really impressed them. Getting the job shocked me because at the time I was a welder and it was not the path I thought I was going to take. I’d just finished my Higher National Certificate in Civil Engineering, and although I was strong at maths, I didn’t have a degree. But the interviewers decided I had the right foundations and that they could teach me on the job.”

“I really enjoyed the 1-to-1 on-the-job teaching because I’m someone who asks a lot of questions. At Fylingdales I’m surrounded by people with brains the size of planets, but they are all willing to support you to learn. Although it’s impossible to learn everything and I’m still learning now. If you want to progress, the opportunities are endless.”

Lacey works with a team of four people on 12-hour shifts, rotating on and off on a fixed rota. The shift system means someone is always monitoring the radar 24/7. Not even coronavirus could stop that. During the last few months, with some of the team now working from home, Lacey has been pushed to learn even more because the engineers are no longer immediately on hand. “It’s made me learn a lot more, because I had to go and find the answer instead of just asking,” Lacey said.

As a woman in the Space industry, and before that as a welder, Lacey is an advocate for more gender diversity and female representation. “When I trained to be a welder, I definitely stuck out as the only woman. I always had to deal with people asking, ‘why do you want to be a welder?’ The truth is I watched a lot of American Chopper, (a TV show about manufacturing custom motorcycles). So, I thought why not, and took a night class and learned how to weld.”

“I found a job working in a small fabrication shop, and we did all sorts from making safety guards for Caterpillar factories to welding things for people on demand. It was a good job and I really enjoyed it.”

“Once I started working at Fylingdales, I realised how much sexual harassment I’d been getting from my old boss. It’s surprising what you’ll put up with to keep your job. At Fylingdales, I never felt like a female, just like the next person they hired. It’s been amazing.”

“I remember going into the building and looking at the kit for the first time. It wasn’t like the bridge of the Star Trek Enterprise! You’d think it would look a bit more sophisticated, but the technology that goes into the space station is really old because it’s tried and true and you know it works.”

As for opportunities for others, Lacey is optimistic. “The industry is growing, and there are only going to be more opportunities for signal operating, radio tracking and launching satellites. Though I do think there will be more and more people in this role who have studied astrophysics (or have a degree). I personally think the most important thing is having an interest and letting that shine through in your interview.”

And for any other sci-fi people out there, Lacey’s recommendation for the best show ever is the new Battlestar Galactica.