6 mins read 19 Apr 2022

Women of the Australian Space Community: Lynn McDonald

Women play a huge role in the Australian space sector, and each week will be sharing the story of an inspiring woman who makes our community so special.  

Lynn McDonald, has moved from the US Air Force into the Space Industry with her role at Microsoft. Credit: Supplied.

In March each year, we not only celebrate International Women’s Day but we also enjoy learning about all the contributions women have made to society during Women’s History Month. Originally started in the US in 1987, it has in recent times, in part due to social media, become more well known across the world. 

As a celebration of all the wonderful work, inspiration, and support that women across our region do in the space sector, will be speaking to a new women in the Australian space community weekly, to uncover their stories and find out who inspires them.  

Lynn McDonald - Azure Space Lead, Asia Pacific, Microsoft

What is your role at Microsoft?

I lead a team of space industry experts and world-class engineers to deliver Azure cloud computing and connectivity capabilities to meet the unique needs of the space industry. We work closely with partners throughout the industry to deliver cloud-powered innovation on and off the planet! 

I have 25 years of space expertise in Defence, the Intelligence Community, and Industry – and I’ve loved every minute of it.  I retired as a Colonel from the US Air Force in 2019 and joined Microsoft in 2020 to help initiate their efforts in the space industry. I’ve been fortunate to have experiences in satellite operations, space launch, operational test for space programs like GPS, space-based intelligence, and now Azure cloud capabilities for space missions.

How did you end up working in the space sector and what drew you to it?

I started working in the industry as a young Lieutenant in the US Air Force. My career began in the nuclear field but I went on to work in the US Intelligence Community (related to space) for a decade.  I spent the other half of my career in Air Force space missions like space-based Infrared operations, space launch, operational test of systems like GPS and Space Domain Awareness systems, and command positions.  

What drew me in?  I absolutely love operations. I sought out and spent much of my career in satellite operations and command and control.  I loved the excitement, the tangible aspect of the mission, the high “ops tempo” and the teams I worked with.

I was very fortunate to be connected to the Microsoft Azure Space team that was standing upright as I was retiring from the US Air Force. What I continue to love about the industry is the opportunity (the sky is not the limit!); the continued evolution of technology, which requires creativity and innovation; and the tremendous need for diverse talents.

What advice would you give to people looking to start their career in the Australian space industry, whether they are new graduates or those looking to move their careers over?

First, we need you! There is such a need right now for a comprehensive and diverse set of talents in the Australian space industry. We need engineers, scientists, project managers, lawyers, policy experts, business managers in finance and marketing, entrepreneurs – the need is broad and deep, that’s what I love about this industry, there is such a need for a diverse set of skills.

My advice to someone looking to start their career in the Australian space industry is to find what you’re passionate about and bring that with you as you explore options in the industry.  Then, make connections, look for opportunities to build your resume, put yourself out there, and go for it – apply for the job!

Maj. Gen. DeAnna M. Burt is the Commander, Combined Force Space Component Command, U.S. Space Command; and Deputy Commander, Space Operations Command, U.S. Space Force, Vandenberg Space Force Base, California. As Commander of U.S. Space Command’s Combined Force Space Component Command, she leads more than 17,000 joint and combined personnel with a mission to plan, integrate, conduct and assess global space operations to deliver combat relevant space capabilities to combatant commanders, coalition partners, the joint force and the nation. Credit: SpaceForce.

Which women in the history of the space industry do you look up to? What was it about their achievements that resonated with you?

There are so many women pioneers in the history of the space industry – and it’s important that we continue to raise awareness of their significant contributions.  

There are a number of women leaders currently in the industry who I look up to. It’s amazing to see women out front leading the Defence space industry in two countries I’ve been fortunate to live in: 

  • Maj Gen Deanna Burt, the Commander, Combined Force Space Component Command, US Space Command (who I was lucky to work for as a Commander); 

  • Lt Gen Nina Armagno, Director of Staff, Headquarters, US Space Force;

  • Air Vice Marshall Cath Roberts, Commander, Defence Space Command.  

They are all strong leaders who are charting the future of critical defence space missions. I also admire Pam Melroy. I was introduced to Pam through an Australian friend and was immediately impressed with her sharp insight, intellect, and her down-to-Earth approach. There are so many reasons to look up to Pam. Aren’t we lucky to have these amazing leaders we can look up to and learn from right now!

What do you think are some of the challenges that have you potentially faced, or women in general have faced in this industry, and is there anything that you think we could do better?

I think a big issue right now for women, particularly as I’ve seen in the Australian space sector, is there aren’t enough women in the sector. I saw this first-hand as a hiring manager when I came to Australia over a year ago. In building the local team, I learned a couple of things: 

  • The talent pool is small and fiercely competitive

  • In looking for diverse candidates - women and people from diverse backgrounds – I learned the talent pool quickly became very small.

This highlighted the importance of investing in the growth of the industry and the need to help build diverse talent in this growth. This also made me want to do something to help solve the issue.

I discussed my observations with a colleague at Microsoft and discovered we had a shared interest to help build diversity in the tech and space industries. We did just that - last month, in partnership with Modis and many other IT and space industry partners, we launched the Tech Start program. This program will create new pathways for women to enter the space industry. We’re excited to see the first cohort start this month! We know it’s not an easy issue to solve, but every aspect of building opportunities for women in tech and space matters.