Q&A with Brian Ho, Apex Software Engineer

Published on
April 11, 2023
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Brian is a Software Engineer with experience developing software for safety critical applications. Prior to Apex, Brian worked on aerospace avionics– he led a successful first flight at AeroVironment and contributed to the first launch at Relativity Space.

Q: Tell us a bit about yourself! Where did you grow up? Hobbies?

Hello! My name is Brian, some people call me Brain, BHo, or B. I grew up in the San Gabriel Valley area in Southern California and received my Bachelors of Science from the University of Riverside. My main main hobbies include photography, cooking, mountain biking, traveling, gardening, fish keeping, and much more.

Q: Why aerospace?

I still remember the first few times my parents took me on vacation via air travel. Seeing airplanes at the airport left a huge imprint in my memory. Every time I heard the roar of an engine or seeing an airplane take off, I couldn't help but feel a sense of excitement and wonder. In college, I assembled a quadcopter and flew it for the time, which further solidified my desire to pursue a career in aerospace. Seeing something fly, glide, soar, and accelerate in the air just never gets old. I knew I wanted to work in aerospace, but didn't actually know what that meant at the time.

Working at my first job in aerospace showed me what it actually meant to work on software for aircraft where human life is involved. Since then, I have developed a deeper appreciation of what it means to develop software for aerospace, which involves quite a bit of upfront work. However, that upfront work translates to a more manageable software development, and can sometimes be a bit more time consuming but greatly sets the program up for success. Aerospace sometimes isn't about working on the latest and greatest, or the cutting edge. What I want most is to make an impact on the world by making what seems impossible a reality.

Since then, everytime I see an airplane fly by, I always wonder if my software is on that aircraft. I want to always be able to contribute my skills to projects that may better our lives.

Q: Let’s go a step further: why did you transition from rockets to satellites?

Looking back, my first experience with aerospace in a "professional" setting was on the collegiate Unmanned Aerial Systems team, where the aircraft flew at heights ranging from 100 feet to 400 feet. Since then, I have worked on software for a range of aircraft, from airplanes at around 30,000 feet to high-altitude platform services or high-altitude pseudo satellites at around 60,000 feet. In my last role at Relativity Space, the software I helped develop was placed on a rocket that flew to an altitude past the Karman Line, or more than 62 miles.

The opportunity to work at Apex on satellite software means that the software we develop will be used at much higher altitudes compared to my previous roles. Developing software for satellites requires high reliability, long service life, fault tolerance, and recoverability, which I am excited to work on. Updating software on a satellite is not as easy as plugging in a keyboard and mouse and sending commands, which makes this challenge a fun problem for me.

Further, Apex is lowering the barrier of entry of putting payloads into orbit. Software will play a huge part in making this happen, and this is a challenge I want to be a part of. Planning for the success of Apex means reusable software to keep the pace of software development churn to a minimum after the satellite platform is in a configuration ready state. For example, if a payload requires features that another payload doesn't, we can easily support that without rewriting the entire software stack. This sort of rapid reuse is one of the features that motivates me and I am excited for the future of Apex!

Q: What was the most stressful moment of your career?

While working in my previous role, I was in charge of updating software on the vehicle. As part of the software updating strategy, I led the development of the bootloader. The bootloader is a software that is executed first when the avionics box is turned on. This is required as some avionics boxes are mounted where physical access to the box is not easy at all.

As part of one of the software updates, we accidentally loaded a wrong configuration file to a handful of avionics boxes that essentially caused the box to become a brick. Since the vehicle was in an integration state, a lot of the avionics boxes were in impossible to reach locations. This caused the schedule to be delayed, and more importantly, kept me up at night as I thought about ways to mitigate. Imagine if you received a software update on your phone and caused your phone to not turn on anymore, that would be a very sad day.  

This event was not all bad news, since this happened during integration testing, the operations team learned how to remove engines to access boxes in record time, and from a software perspective, the software bootloader became more robust. While some of those test cases seem obvious, during the heat of integration and releases, some features that may have been tested might have slipped through. I, myself, also learned a lot more about testing more edge cases.

Q: What are you proudest of from your career?

I am proud of being part of a few firsts, from contributing software for first flight for a solar powered aircraft, and also contributing to software on first flight of a novel rocket.

Not only am I proud of past software achievements, I am proud of mentoring younger engineers and mentors and "getting people excited" about the industry. Community outreach and giving back is something I strive for. Although I don't see the results immediately, I am proud of inspiring the next generation of engineers.

Q: What’s your secret talent or fun fact?

I’ve got some serious prime rib cooking skills! If I could choose one hobby as my favorite hobby, it would definitely be photography! These are some photos of my husky, Ori.

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