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Inside EUMETSAT: meet Julia and Dominika

Inside EUMETSAT interviews Julia Figa Saldana and Dominika Czyżewska.

inside EUMETSAT - blank
inside EUMETSAT - blank

The series is back and starting again on International Women's Day with two outstanding women: Julia Figa Saldana and Dominika Czyżewska. They joined EUMETSAT just over two decades apart — Julia back in July of 1999, and Dominika in October of 2019.

Last Updated

08 March 2021

Published on

08 March 2021

Inside EUMETSAT is a series of articles for the EUMETSAT Science Blog that will be published over the next weeks and months. Each week, we’ll introduce you to two valued members of our team: one newcomer, joined in the past year, and one senior staff member who has spent years at the organisation.

In a time that’s far from ordinary, we hope to use this opportunity to introduce our readers to some of the diverse and friendly faces they might encounter in the course of a normal day at EUMETSAT. It’s our goal to appreciate and celebrate all the different and talented people who work here. We hope these articles will help you discover—or rediscover—EUMETSAT. 

Meet Julia and Dominika!

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Julia Figa Saldana
science blog - dominka
Dominika Czyżewska

What is your current role at EUMETSAT? 

Julia Figa Saldana: I am the Jason-CS/Sentinel-6 Ground Segment Manager in the Copernicus Mission Development Division (CMD). More specifically, I am responsible for the development of the ground segment for the Sentinel-6 mission, from the Earth terminals that handle the communication with the spacecraft to all the components necessary at EUMETSAT in order to support spacecraft operations and the provision of mission data to our users and partners. At the moment, this task is concluding as the first Sentinel-6 spacecraft is in orbit, so we are preparing for the handover of responsibilities to the operations and technical support divisions, who will operate, maintain and evolve this ground segment during the Sentinel-6 routine operations phase.

Dominika Czyżewska: I am a Junior Remote Sensing Scientist working in the Remote Sensing and Products Division (RSP) in the Atmospheric Chemistry team, which means that we deal with trace gases like ozone or carbon oxides. Currently, I'm involved in the development of the products from Sentinel-5 that will be made available to users: I draft some of the early-stage codes that will “translate” raw data into useful information for the users, always leaving space for optimisation during implementation. Lately I've also started preparing for the upcoming test data review.

Do you interact with each other’s teams for work?

JS: Yes, a lot! One of the ground segment components that I was specifically responsible for developing is the Payload Data Acquisition and Processing (PDAP) system. This includes software that takes the raw data coming from the satellite and transforms it into geophysical information relevant for the monitoring of our oceans and climate. The Remote Sensing and Products division provided us with the processing algorithms necessary to do this and has supported us all the way up to the satellite launch, making sure that those were implemented correctly by the software engineers. Since the launch, they are also looking into the information content in the mission products and helping us calibrate and validate both the systems in flight (the satellite and its sensing instruments) and the ground science processors. Additionally, they have a very good relationship with the science and user community and are able to help us define and improve the way we serve the altimetry community, in terms of access to data, product formats, etc...

DC: At the moment, not really. I don't interact with the Copernicus Mission Development Division (CMD). My main collaborators within EUMETSAT work in the Low Earth Orbit Division (LEO), also in the Programme Preparation and Development Department (PRD). It’s only here and there that I see people from CMD talking about the Sentinel-6.

What has been your biggest challenge during COVID and lockdown?

JS: What has been difficult for me personally is the lack of bonding with colleagues and friends. Apart from dedicated meetings on technical or management issues, which could almost always be handled remotely, I have missed the additional informal interactions that happen sometimes in the coffee queue or over a meal in the canteen and that give you a feeling for 'the temperature' of the organisation or parts of it.

The timing of the lockdown in a launch year was really unfortunate for the Sentinel-6 programme. I remember that it started a week before the planned PDAP system on-site acceptance testing. With all teams off-site, this was obviously a problem! But EUMETSAT responded very quickly by providing swift remote access to operational systems. The quick reaction really made it possible for the team to carry out this activity, as well as many of the other activities that were necessary to be ready for the launch in November.

DC: I think my biggest challenge has been the lack of social contact. I feel really lucky that I started working at EUMETSAT a year ago, before the pandemic started, so I could have a proper introduction and meet some people who I can now maintain contact with. Otherwise I would be having an even more difficult time. I personally value that EUMETSAT gives me a choice. I can choose if I feel safe enough to want to come to the office at a particular moment, or not. Also, the bottom-up initiative of “Local Emergency Support Networks” has really helped, where you can ask for example for some information that is usually available only in German, or for help with groceries if you have to stay in quarantine. It made people feel connected.

Julia, you have worked at EUMETSAT for nearly 20 years: what keeps you motivated?

JS: I think that the service that we provide for society and for science in making this wealth of satellite data available is a big incentive for me, and perhaps this is the main reason why I have spent most of my professional career at EUMETSAT. Even if there is always room for improvement, it is a pretty good place to work. I like reading on the intranet about what the other teams and groups in the organisation keep themselves busy with and this gives me a sense of community.

What has always given me a good kick is that, although the organisation is culturally more uniform than it likes to admit, there is enough variety to find people with different views all trying to work together. That challenge is a good motivating factor for me, like a puzzle that you need to work at continuously. I suppose being a woman makes this puzzle a little more challenging, as I am occasionally aware of how differently I approach problems and situations in comparison to my male colleagues, who are in the majority. This is not a problem for me, however. On the contrary, it adds to the fun and leaves me hoping that I have contributed that extra little something here and there.

Dominika, you joined EUMETSAT 15 months ago: what has your experience been so far?

DC: Fortunately, since I started before the pandemic, I was able to meet my colleagues face-to-face. So far, my experience is that the vast amount of people at EUMETSAT are really dedicated to their work and friendly at the same time, if they're not under too much pressure. I got a massive amount of support from my team, and even though everybody is usually quite busy, I can ask questions without hesitating. The international environment fosters open-minded thinking.

The mentoring programme that I am enrolled with at EUMETSAT, the Early Career Programme, helped me get to know more about the history of EUMETSAT and helped with personal development.

It took me some time to understand the norms of interactions here—especially with all the acronyms! Meanwhile, people’s diverse cultural and professional backgrounds also require some adaptation, and it took me a while to understand them, especially during bi-lateral meetings, but that’s what makes it interesting. I find the environment here to be inspiring as long as you have a little initiative.

How did your recruitment take place?

DC: My recruitment took place before the pandemic, so it was very normal. In April 2019, I sent my application, and then in May I needed to pass some psychological and calculation tests. I was invited for an interview in Darmstadt at the end of May, and at the beginning of July I got a phone call telling me I was accepted. Afterwards, I came to Darmstadt again for a medical examination, and got a first introduction to some of the team members who weren't on vacation at that time. Once all that was finished I could sign the contract and start in October.

Today is International Women’s Day, and many women still face some level of discrimination when entering scientific and technical careers: was that also true in your case?

JS: I find that question very challenging, because I don't think the issue is whether you are a woman or a man at EUMETSAT, but whether you are in the majority or in the minority in the organisation in question, as in many situations in life. As a woman engineer and manager, I am clearly in the minority at EUMETSAT, and perhaps this has been more relevant than my gender in absolute terms. An element that helps you advance your career, not only at EUMETSAT but I guess in any organisation, is the factor of 'fitting in.' Obviously, you are slightly less likely to fit in if you are part of a minority. I still witness in bemusement how certain teams in the organisation recruit colleagues 'in their likeness,' meaning in terms of nationality, language or gender... or even in terms of physical likeness (believe me, I have seen this happen!). I think an effort by the organisation to increase diversity awareness and perhaps encourage more diverse recruitment boards could potentially help.

But specifically to the point of gender, I have of course experienced the slowdown of my career during my maternity years and been exposed to comments and opinions framed around the occasional misperception of maternity leave as a 'baby vacation.' But as one accumulates experience and knowledge of an organisation, and as one's achievements start speaking for themselves, I find that things seem to get easier.

Having said that, and with some successful job applications in EUMETSAT behind me, all in front of (very) non-diverse recruitment boards, I'd like to send a positive message to women that aspire to careers at EUMETSAT: IT IS POSSIBLE!! Get your facts right, know your stuff well, don't hesitate to ask for help and understand what the organisation wants ... beyond that, there is really no secret formula.

DC: In my career, I am mostly surrounded by men. It was already the case during my studies (I studied physics), so I sort of got used to it and in general I don't have a problem with it. However, when I suddenly realise that I am the only woman in a teleconference along with about 10 men, in that very moment it feels a little bit intimidating or strange. But I tend to get over this feeling quickly. I am lucky to have a female Reporting Officer, I think it spared me some challenges, especially at the beginning of my career.

Would you like to share some of your achievements with our readers?

JS: Well, I still believe that the most important accomplishments in my life are my two children and how they have both become wonderful people.

But in the context of work, I feel rather proud of having led the Jason-CS/Sentinel-6 Overall Ground Segment team in putting together all the infrastructure necessary to operate and exploit this fantastic mission. And more personally, I do feel pride in how I have always tried to push myself outside my comfort zone to reach the next step of this journey and keep learning new skills and acquiring new experiences. I did not plan everything that happened, but I feel good when I look back.

DC: Coming from a small village, I would have never imagined that I would one day go on a measurement campaign of the clouds in the Azores islands, fly a helicopter for that, be a co-author of two scientific papers so early, and finally get a job in an international organisation like EUMETSAT immediately after my studies—it feels like an achievement, doesn’t it? And I can't wait to see what will happen to me next!