Hiring at government agencies and their contractors is more active than it has been in years. New grads in areas like communications technology, security and geographic information systems find that there's a demand for their talents. And many agencies and companies are aggressively seeking engineers who have diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds, along with diverse talents, experiences or approaches.
The U.S. Air Force is seeking women and minority engineers as part of an "aggressive minority outreach program," says Lt Col Angelo Haygood, deputy chief of Air Force recruiting operations. Engineering graduates under thirty-five are encouraged to apply for the AF officer training program, which lets them train as officers without being a part of ROTC and without the rigors of boot camp. Qualified applicants who complete a rigorous eighty-day training session become second lieutenants. Those twenty-eight or younger can also apply for pilot training.
Lt Col Haygood says the Air Force looks for strong candidates who have been members of clubs and teams. "We like to see community work, with a local food bank or church, for example," he says. "We like an individual who is involved in more than just academics."
He also points out that since the engineers will serve as officers, they need to be able to lead and motivate others. "As an officer you will be in charge of people. If you don't know how to work with people, you're going to have trouble," he says.
Fred Smith pursues government contracts for Harris Corp
Many college graduates already have considerable experience before settling into their first full-time jobs. One good example is Fred Smith, business development manager for the government communications systems division of Harris Corp (Melbourne, FL), a government contractor that specializes in communications technology. "I help win government contracts," he explains, in the area of shipboard satellite communications for the U.S. Navy.
Smith actually began his relationship with Harris while he was still a teenager. Before he started college he participated in a minority engineering program sponsored by the University of Florida-Gainesville that allowed him to meet faculty members. One of those people was associate dean of the school of engineering, Dr Jonathon Earle. Once Smith enrolled at the university, Earle guided him through his course work and helped him develop softer skills such as public speaking.
After his freshman year Smith took an internship at Harris helping with PC deployment, building computers and distributing them to employees. A year later he did another internship at Harris, this time at corporate headquarters in network management. "I had told them I was interested in doing something in networks," he says. Through the rest of his college years, he kept in touch with Harris and recruiter Cindy Kane. He even represented the company at college fairs.
Smith was also interested in business admin, his minor in college. When he graduated summa cum laude in 2004, he interviewed for his business development job at Harris.
In the year and half that he has been at Harris, his responsibilities have broadened. Now he travels to San Diego and Washington, DC to meet with the Naval officers who make decisions about communications technology. "I identify opportunities that fit into our core competency and make sure the solutions meet our clients' needs," he says.
Smith attributes his success at Harris to his connection with Kane, and to an encounter with the company CEO at a university event. His ease in speaking with the CEO may have made a favorable impression, he speculates, since his work involves communicating with people of high rank, like Navy admirals.
Smith's technical training is also serving him well, even though he studied software engineering and today is selling hardware. "Understanding systems is where the synergy lies," he says. "You have to know how things interact."
Since he graduated Smith says he has learned the importance of organization and punctuality, as well as being responsible not only for himself but also for a team. He urges anyone still in college to seek out student leadership programs that can help with skills like public speaking that build confidence. "Getting involved with higher level faculty can also give you leverage with new companies," he says.
Smith is now preparing to pursue an MBA, which will be funded by Harris.
GIS tech Stacy Pritchard works on graphics for sewers and drainageStacy Pritchard is taking a very different path. She is a GIS technician for the Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) in Louisville, KY.
Pritchard earned a bachelors in geography from the University of Louisville (Louisville, KY) in 2002. It was in her geographic information systems class that she discovered her true interest. "I really enjoyed that class," she says. "As soon as I took it, the teacher recommended a part-time job for me."
As a junior she worked as a GIS analyst at Spatial Data Integrations (SDI, Louisville, KY), which develops customized GIS applications and services for small municipalities and rural utilities. There she scanned nautical maps and then redrew them as they were transferred to digital technology.
That same year SDI contracted Pritchard out to MSD in Louisville to do mapping for sewers and drainage. After graduation she returned to doing nautical work for SDI, and two years later she became a GIS technician for MSD Louisville, which is responsible for sewer systems in all of Jefferson County. "MSD is a bigger organization with more opportunity for advancement," Pritchard says. "The job fits my personality, and I see a future here."
She works with blueprints for sewers lines and draws them into the computer. She is currently working on a large county sewer project and its follow-up maintenance.
Pritchard was in school nine years, working full time and sometimes holding two jobs to put herself through. She has no regrets about sticking it out. "Stay focused on your interests. Don't just go for the money," she advises.
She notes that she has learned a lot on the job. "In college you think you know an area, but you don't. Some of the stuff I learned in school just didn't make sense to me until I went to work."
The FCC's Shameeka Hunt does technical writingShameeka Hunt is an EE at the spectrum policy branch, office of engineering and technology, of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC, Washington, DC). She meets with industry representatives, talks about current technology trends, and helps formulate or revise spectrum rules adopted by the FCC. She started there in 2002, just after she got her BSEE from Virginia Polytechnic Institute (Blacksburg, VA).
She gained some experience before graduation through internships at BAE Systems in Washington, DC, where both her parents work (although not in engineering). She interned there all four years of her education, in the summers and during Christmas breaks. At BAE Systems she worked with the engineering group supporting the U.S. Navy, helping prepare presentations, attending meetings and offering general support.
In college she focused on telecommunications, which interested her in part because of its impact on her own life. "It's relevant to what I use as a consumer," she says. "It's always evolving and changing. To me that's very exciting."
That interest led to her interview with the FCC, during which she learned how the commission encourages engineers to continue their education and try new things. In her interview Hunt told the FCC that one of her priorities was an MSEE. She says that by being honest and straightforward about herself and her career goals, she found a job she knew she would enjoy.
"There's nothing worse than having someone hire you and then think it was a big mistake," she remarks. "And you don't want to end up in a place that doesn't fit your personality or ethics."
The FCC was a fit, and also offered her a challenge as soon as she arrived in 2002. One of her primary responsibilities has been technical writing, specifically for spectrum rules. "In college I wasn't interested in writing, nor did I think I was any good at it," she says. "Now my main job is to write, and to do it so a lay person can understand. What I once considered a weakness has become a strength."
Jaimie Lynne Wilson applies her computer engineering knowledge
Jaimie Lynne Wilson is a management analyst at BearingPoint (McLean, VA), a global management and technology consulting firm. She's one of the first two graduates of the new computer engineering program initiated at Howard University (Washington, DC) in 2002. "I started with electrical engineering," she says, "but when the computer engineering program was launched, I liked the opportunities it offered and the diversity of course work."
At Howard, Wilson was a member of SWE as well as NSBE, for which she served as chapter president from 2003 to 2004. She also worked in the NSBE national office.
In 2005 Wilson took a research internship at the Institute for Defense Analysis (Alexandria, VA), supporting the information systems office that creates business applications. She was there for the summer before her senior year and then worked with the institute through the fall. Back at school she met with a company recruiter at a BearingPoint career fair, and in January 2006 she accepted a position with BearingPoint. She will begin working there after earning her BS in computer engineering in May.
Before taking the position at BearingPoint, however, she looked into the company. "I was interested in a place that could offer me a long-term, full-time career," says Wilson. "I fell in love with the work ethic here. BearingPoint encourages employee growth, offers online courses, funds other course work and supports community volunteerism. I liked that."
Currently Wilson is part of a team working on a financial management system for a large federal government agency. She has daily contact with the agency's clients as she does a variety of business management and technical jobs. Her team is involved in both the operations and maintenance of the system.
Wilson feels that the early leadership experience she got through associations and internships helped her get her job. By the time any engineering student walks into a job interview, she says, he or she should have had sufficient project experience and extracurricular activities to show "that you're a mature individual who has the ability to solve problems in a respectful and functional manner.
"All students should take advantage of professional organizations," she declares. "If there is no organization available, get one going on your campus."
DTRA's Garett Renon oversees explosives testingGarett Renon is a general engineer at the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA, Albuquerque, NM). He earned his BSME from the University of New Mexico (Albuquerque, NM) in 2005.
Renon says he chose ME over electrical, computer or civil engineering because he "wanted to work with something that had moving parts." He was introduced to DTRA through an internship in his senior year. DTRA is a relatively new agency that develops technologies to reduce, eliminate and counter threats to America and its allies from weapons of mass destruction. Renon's work involves special weapons technologies.
In college he participated in a two-year project to build a race car entry for the Formula SAE student competition. In his DTRA interview he talked about what he learned from that project, especially about team work. He's convinced that helped him land the job.
After graduation Renon, whose father is Mexican, came on board at DTRA as a general engineer in the test division of DTRA's R&D; organization, where he'd done his internship. He's now responsible for testing explosives. "I act as technical coordinator for testing out in the field, and also oversee contractors' work."
Renon arrives on the scene during test site construction, then remains throughout explosives testing and helps with the followup data analysis. About half his time is spent at field sites in New Mexico, Nevada and Florida. During the tests, "I get to see some pretty amazing stuff," he says. He has worked on long-term and short-term test projects, including tests of ways to protect civilians in case of an explosion like a truck bomb.
Much of Renon's job draws on communication and team work skills that aren't often taught in school. "There can be a lot of disagreements," he says. "Being able to reach compromises is essential."
Louis Buell safeguards information for government clientsLouis Buell is an information security engineer for the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL, Laurel, MD), a nonprofit research agency. Buell works for the information operations systems group of the applied information sciences department. The group is responsible for providing information assurance to the U.S. Department of Defense and other government clients that are adding security to their computer networks. Buell has worked on projects like building a wireless intrusion detection system to identify computer break-ins, and assessing security vulnerability in VoIP networks. He also conducts research, talks to vendors, does testing, writes code in C++, Java and Matlab, and regularly drafts reports. On a moment's notice he can be asked to make a presentation.
Buell earned a BS in math and EE in 1999 from Morehouse College and Georgia Institute of Technology, both in Atlanta. As a student he did internships at Motorola, NASA and TRW and assisted with research at Georgia Tech.
Buell may have come to college with more maturity than many of his peers. His father died when he was in the ninth grade, and as the oldest child he had to help support his mother and sister. While other students may have been calling home for money, Buell was preparing for a career that would help him take care of himself and his family.
He learned one important lesson as an intern at Motorola. "Engineers were being laid off as budgets were being tightened. I noticed that the people who stayed were from MIT and they had advanced degrees." He applied to MIT, and started as a grad student there in the fall of 2000.
During his time at MIT he developed an interest in bioengineering. He was a research assistant in the MIT Touch Lab, a project investigating the sense of touch. His thesis, entitled "Spatial pressure distribution on the finger pad during tactile sensing of cylindrical shapes," has helped raise awareness of how humans perceive touch and the mechanisms used in touch, he says. He earned his MSEE in 2003.
From MIT Buell went straight to his current position at Johns Hopkins APL. He already had a relationship with the lab; he had met a recruiter as an undergrad, and kept in contact throughout his masters program. He had various choices for jobs, but "It seemed like projects at APL helped people. They improved humanity," he says. "I felt I could make a difference."
Buell thinks he gained much of his self-confidence and ability to solve problems independently in graduate school, and he strongly recommends pursuing higher degrees. His internships were another source of valuable experience, he says, and he assures any student or engineer that "It's okay to not know exactly what you want to do. I'm still not sure myself. I'm enjoying exploring different areas and options."