Tech grads launch careers in government and defense
"The knowledge that what you are working on is helping your country gives you a renewed sense of purpose" – Gregory Allen, Jr, Exelis
Hiring managers seek diverse talent through a variety of recruiting practices, the web and social media
By Angela M. Hutchinson
Recent engineering and IT college grads are launching tech careers at government agencies and defense contractors. They believe these jobs offer better job security and career advancement opportunities. And many enjoy the satisfaction of making the world a better place.
"You know that the federal agency works for the good of the public," says Karen Perez, general engineer for the NextGen support team at the Federal Aviation Administration. "It feels good to know that my contribution is going to make a difference for the everyday flying public."
Government organizations like the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) conduct annual assessments of their hiring needs. Pamela Swann, AFRL's deputy director of personnel, says, "We assess current competencies available within our workforce as a baseline and project losses due to retirements, resignations, transfers and other planned and unplanned attrition."
According to Pamela Hardy, senior manager of people services at Booz Allen Hamilton, "We attract top talent through key programs, like our cyber internship program, aimed at creating our future leader pipeline." Diversity is important at Booz Allen, as at all government contractors. "We also have a broad network of relationships with universities and diverse organizations that serve as strategic partnerships to identify diverse professionals," Hardy notes.
The diverse early-career tech professionals profiled here are furthering their careers and helping their country at the same time.
Gregory Allen, Jr: systems engineer at ITT Exelis Electronic Systems
Gregory Allen, Jr is an associate member of technical services for ITT Exelis Electronic Systems (Clifton, NJ). He joined the company straight out of college.
As a systems engineer for integration and testing, he ensures that the defense system he works with functions properly in its final installation. This involves design work, testing at the facility and field testing. He's also responsible for analysis, troubleshooting, problem solving, report writing and test development.
Allen grew up in New Jersey, but his grandparents on his mother's side are from the Philippines. "Growing up in a large Catholic family taught me the values of integrity, responsibility and respect," he says. "I learned how to work hard at home around the house and to work diligently on my school work."
Allen's dad and grandfather were both electrical engineers. Following in their footsteps, he earned his BSEE at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art (New York, NY) in 2010.
The projects ITT Exelis undertakes involve protection of the U.S. armed forces, and Allen enjoys the environment. "The knowledge that what you are working on is helping your country gives you a renewed sense of purpose," he states proudly. "Working for a defense contractor, we are constantly reminded of American values because of who our final customer is."
While Allen has not faced any barriers as a Filipino, before Exelis he was occasionally stereotyped for being Catholic. "Those experiences, though unpleasant at times, helped me become a stronger and more confident person," he says. "At Exelis, I have been blessed to not encounter any barriers in relation to my culture, ethnicity or creed."
Allen believes that a team of people with diverse backgrounds and life experiences dramatically increases the range of perspective and knowledge for creating solutions. "Diversity provides many options and routes to achieve success," he says.
Kalif Chase: logistics analyst at NAVSEA
Kalif Chase is a logistics analyst at Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA, Washington, DC). He deals with day-to-day logistics issues for an integrated submarine imaging system. He leads a team made up of contractors, vendors and subject matter experts who are responsible for the multi-billion dollar design and acquisition of the imaging system on Navy submarines. His responsibilities include oversight and management of research, manpower development, personnel, training requirements and maintenance planning. He also deals with system development and design, integration construction, testing and fleet introduction.
He earned his BS in architectural engineering at North Carolina A&T State University (Greensboro, NC) in 2009. As an undergrad he participated in a summer intern program for a local construction company. "In my steel-toed boots and hard hat, I worked on site, tracking the day-to-day progress on the construction project," he says.
Moving on to fulltime work at NAVSEA, Chase received a certificate of achievement for completing the naval acquisition intern program. "The two-and-a-half-year program is designed for interns to experience two to six-month rotations with various program offices and field activities," he says.
Chase finds the NAVSEA technical workforce very diverse and supportive. "Even though I am one of the youngest people in the office, I am surrounded by helpful coworkers who share a common goal," he says. "We all want to provide reliable systems to our sailors so they can carry out their missions effectively and safely."
Alexandra Camacho: electronics engineer with the U.S. Air Force
Alexandra Camacho is a civilian working for the U.S. Air Force (Washington, DC). She's an electronics engineer at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, TX, where she's responsible for the implementation and administration of network security hardware and software. On the job, she configures intrusion detection systems, tests applications, captures network packets used for testing, researches malware and applications, and networks virtual machines for testing.
Camacho grew up in Bogotá, Colombia. She earned her 2009 BSEE and her 2012 masters in computer engineering at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA). She's now pursuing her PhD in electrical engineering, also at UTSA.
"Getting into this field has been a blessing," she says. "I feel lucky that there is so much support for minorities pursuing careers in technical areas, especially when it comes to scholarships."
Working for the government is rewarding, she notes. "I have not only been given the opportunity to work on very interesting and challenging projects but also to increase my knowledge with training and certifications."
Camacho believes a diverse workforce is "proof that the organization values and respects individuals, and provides equal opportunity to all regardless of gender or ethnic background, which in turn makes for a better work environment."
Karen Perez: general engineer at the FAA
Karen Perez is a general engineer at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA, Washington, DC). She works on the NextGen support team at the Air Traffic Organization's Office of Safety.
NextGen, or the Next Generation Air Transportation System, is the FAA's long-term vision for transforming the National Airspace System (NAS) using twenty-first century technologies like satellite navigation and automation. The goal is to ensure it meets future safety, security, capacity, efficiency and environmental needs.
Perez's job is to review safety analyses and documentation for NextGen portfolios and other initiatives to ensure that high-risk hazards and mitigations have been identified before a major investment is made. "We do this so that new technology does not negatively impact existing technologies in the NAS, or the overall safety of the NAS," she explains.
She also helps develop and review concepts, requirements and business case documentation necessary to request and receive federal funding for the Safety Analysis System program implementation.
Perez's family is from the Dominican Republic, but she and her two siblings were born and raised in the Bronx, NY by her single working mother. At school in the Bronx, African Americans and Hispanics were in the majority, and she senses that she and her classmates were not always expected to succeed.
"There's a popular quote that I absolutely love," she says. "'Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.' These words are so personal to me because my grades in college didn't always reflect how much I learned or studied or how much effort I dedicated to my work."
Perez graduated from University of Miami in Coral Gables, FL in 2011 with a dual bachelors in aerospace and mechanical engineering. She's worked at the FAA less than a year, but the impact has been tremendous. "The FAA is a great place to grow professionally," she says. "And a variety of cultures in the workplace allows for different strengths and talents to be applied and new ideas to be easily exchanged and explored."
Felicia Guerrero Green: ME at General Dynamics C4 Systems
Felicia Guerrero Green is a mechanical engineer at General Dynamics C4 Systems (Scottsdale, AZ). She does mechanical engineering for a battle management system. Her work involves designing, analyzing and testing the mechanical soundness of electronics.
"I have been able to work through all phases of a program, from the proposal phase to seeing the end products through the manufacturing phase," she says.
Typically, she sets up thermal and structural analyses to optimize designs for ruggedizing commercial products for military field use. Then she prepares the product for a qualifying test to ensure the rugged design meets the customer's requirements.
"I especially like testing because I am able to compare my analyses to actual data," she says. "I like to see how well I was able to estimate what would happen in real life. It's also fun to push designs to their limit."
She's grateful that she's had supervisors and coworkers with confidence in her abilities. "I'm treated as a mechanical engineer and not as a minority woman," she says. "I can focus on learning from my peers and mentors, and engineering real-life problems."
Green is pleased that she can help support U.S. troops. "Every day they're fighting for our freedom," she says. "I am able to help them out by providing the best products to help them be the best."
Alex Reyes: software engineer at Booz Allen Hamilton
Alex Reyes joined Booz Allen Hamilton (Washington, DC) straight out of college. He's a senior consultant software engineer who designs and develops web applications. "I collaborate with fellow developers to resolve issues regarding the tools and services we provide," he notes. "On my current task, I develop mostly in C# with Microsoft Visual Studio."
Reyes grew up in Puerto Rico and came to the mainland for his schooling. He earned his BS in computer engineering with a minor in business management at Purdue University (West Lafayette, IN) in 2011. As a student he sought out minority organizations for networking and development opportunities. "I joined the Society for Hispanic Professional Engineers and the National Organization of Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals," he says.
Internships at Cisco Systems (San Jose, CA) and Delphi (Troy, MI) gave Reyes experience in the private sector. Developing software applications is pretty much the same in his current job, he says, but "in government contracting, there is a heightened concern for information security. Many government contracts require security clearances and demand stricter guidelines because we're working with sensitive data."
Opportunities for career advancement attracted Reyes to Booz Allen Hamilton. "Given the range of services Booz Allen provides, it's easy to find projects that I am interested in and that benefit from my expertise," he notes.
Reyes enjoys connecting with fellow workers through company forums. "I've taken part in networking, volunteering and recruiting events organized by the Latin American forum (LAF) and the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender employees and friends forum (GLOBE)," he says. "The forums often collaborate to organize events so you end up meeting and building great relationships with people from different backgrounds."
Participating also helps fill the void that Reyes feels because he's so far away from home. In particular, he misses the food and music of his Puerto Rican culture. "The LAF helps bring home a little closer," he says with a smile.
Claude Harton: RF engineer at Ball Aerospace
Claude Harton is an RF engineer I at Ball Aerospace (Boulder, CO). He designs and manages the construction of various projects at the company's tactical systems business unit. His background is in electromagnetic and digital signal processing.
"My original training is only a part, but a very important part, of what I need to do my job effectively," he says. In only two short years, Harton has learned about electronics, material engineering and mechanical engineering, and he's had some exposure to systems engineering.
Harton grew up in Baton Rouge, LA and has a Creole heritage. When he went to Ohio State University (Columbus, OH) for his 2009 BSEE, he discovered that the African American experience is quite different outside Louisiana.
"From Mardi Gras to Zydeco to gumbo, African American history is preserved and that becomes your foundation for how you relate to one another," he says. "Once you leave Louisiana, you understand how much you love and yearn for that experience. I take it upon myself to share that with those not from Louisiana."
Harton is passionate about his work as an engineer and he's proud of his contributions. "I know that what I do has a direct impact on the American soldier in the battle theater," he says. "Fresh minds can bring new ideas to a company and also drive current employees to think of new ideas to improve the company."
Kerianne L. Hobbs: aerospace engineer at AFRL
Kerianne L. Hobbs is an aerospace engineer at the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL, Wright-Patterson AFB, OH). She works on individual simulation projects and studies that use aerospace simulators to support development and flight tests of technology and advanced concept assessments.
Acting as program manager on government contracts, Hobbs reviews the technical work completed under contract and briefs leadership and other organizations on the programs. She also investigates new analysis and simulation software tools and practices that could improve development of new technologies.
"I spend time in our lab delving into computer models of conceptual aircraft to prepare for a research study in our simulators, and I write or modify software to run a diagnostic on our motion simulator. I might work on a technical paper for a conference, or conduct facility tours and brief high-level Department of Defense or international audiences on one of the programs I'm working on," she says.
Hobbs went to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (Prescott, AZ) for her 2011 BS in aerospace engineering with an astronautics concentration. She was encouraged by her parents to pursue a career in science and engineering.
"The work ethic they taught me, and their moral support, helped me through a challenging technical degree," she says. "They continue to help build my confidence today."
Working for the government exposes Hobbs to many new technologies and helps her see where technology is going. "To find the best solution to an engineering problem, the government will often have two or more companies compete against one another in the initial development stages of a program, and at some point the government will select the winning design," she explains. "Throughout this process, none of the companies will know what the others are working on, but a government engineer will have knowledge of both programs and eventually play a huge role in deciding which company wins the final contract."
Hobbs' personal appearance has led some colleagues to doubt her abilities. "I'm over six feet tall with long blonde hair and an affinity for brightly colored clothing," she notes. In fact, she was known as "Rocket Scientist Barbie" in college. "Rather than be offended, I embraced the nickname. I ordered a pair of hot pink pumps to wear with my cap and gown at graduation," she says with a smile.
"Innovation happens when a variety of ideas are explored and built upon until an optimal solution is reached," Hobbs states. "I worked in another government aerospace simulation facility as an engineering intern, and that has helped me bring a unique perspective to my current simulation engineering position."
Manik Yeremyan: general engineer at Missile Defense Agency
Manik Yeremyan is a general engineer at the Missile Defense Agency (MDA, Redstone Arsenal, AL). She was hired into MDA's two-year rotational career development program, which is designed to expose young graduates to various functions within the agency. Yeremyan has held positions in flight testing analysis, performance assessment of the Ballistic Missile Defense System and systems engineering.
She works with many talented engineers to solve challenging systems engineering problems. "On any given day, I may be analyzing data, interfacing with external agencies and companies, or briefing members of MDA leadership," she says.
Yeremyan is from the city of Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. "When I was fairly young, my family and I immigrated to the United States and settled in Los Angeles."
She got her BS in aerospace engineering at the University of California-Los Angeles in 2009. "As an engineer, working for the government means ensuring that critical national programs are carried out according to the necessary specifications," she says. "Private industry, on the other hand, is responsible for the technical products necessary to successfully operate government systems."
Yeremyan does not dwell on the challenges of being a woman in a predominately male workplace. "I view the obstacles I've faced only as small road bumps on my path forward," she says. "What's had a far larger impact is working alongside exceptional engineers and great leaders."
She admires the diverse thoughts and ideas of the leaders who have influenced her. "Diversity in the workforce is essential and adds a critical element to the technical industry," she notes. "To solve complex problems one might encounter in engineering, creative out-of-the-box thinking is needed."
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