New grads sought for rewarding government and defense careers
Exciting technical jobs await those who wish to serve the U.S., its people or its military. Security clearances and internships help open doors
�My work is like doing Sherlock Holmes investigations with Dr Who technology.�
� Frances Aileen Acevedo Lucca, Exelis
By Angela M. Hutchinson
Working for the U.S. government can be a rewarding experience. Jobs with the government and often with its contractors are historically considered a secure career choice.
But there is a new risk when it comes to job security: uncertainty. Government budget sequesters, along with the shutdown in fall 2013, made jobs with the government and its contractors a much riskier proposition than before.
�Uncertainty with the U.S. government budget situation has impacted nearly every company in the defense and aerospace industry, including Exelis,� says Erica Jeffries, chief inclusion and diversity officer at McLean, VA- based Exelis. �But despite the challenges, recruiting and retaining talented individuals to join our team remains a top priority and an essential part of our business strategy.�
The new grads who find jobs at defense and government contractors or agencies typically have degrees in computer science, engineering and other technical disciplines. At Exelis, for example, strong programming and software development skills are in high demand.
Each year communications and IT contractor Harris Corporation (Melbourne, FL) hires graduates with degrees in computer science, software engineering, computer engineering and other technical areas. �These new hires work in software engineering, systems integration and test, quality and information systems,� says Coleen Focacci, global inclusion senior manager for Harris.
Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. (Boulder, CO) reports that it did not lay off any employees as a result of the sequester. Ball looks for computer science grads for jobs like application developer, business process analyst, database administrator and network administrator. �Software engineering grads can also work in our engineering organization as application developers or software engineers,� says Vikki A. Schiff, vice president of human resources at Ball. �There is a demand for these grads who are skilled in the most advanced technologies.�
The biggest challenge for Ball is hiring candidates who already have a government security clearance to work on classified programs. �Government cuts have slowed the clearance process, so we need people who already have them. We cannot hire someone and then wait four months to a year to find out if their clearance is going to come through,� says Schiff. �This is a problem for the aerospace industry as a whole, so the competition for these types of employees is tough.�
Michael Chan pushes the technological envelope at Ball
Michael Chan works at Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp as an embedded software engineer in Broomfield, CO. As a general software developer, his daily responsibilities depend on the timeline of the programs he works on. He writes documentation and code, hunts down and fixes software bugs, and does optimization and testing.
Chan takes pride in solving a variety of problems. �I need both a micro and macro perspective on the system to find possible solutions. That keeps life intriguing and interesting,� he says.
Chan�s father immigrated from Hong Kong, and Chan was born and raised in Colorado. In 2013, he graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (Troy, NY) with a bachelors in computer systems engineering.
Proud of the culture and mission
�I choose Ball for its culture and environment,� he says. �Everyone at the company is incredibly intelligent, so it�s a great place to learn and grow. The culture is one of honesty and responsibility. Everyone strives to do their best and complete the goals of the company efficiently and effectively, which provides a true team atmosphere.� Chan says the other engineers share his pride in the company�s mission.
�The aspect I enjoy most about working for a defense/government contractor is the ability to push the technological envelope. Many of today�s technologies came from the space and defense industry,� he explains. �Whether it leads to protecting our soldiers or making it to Mars, inventing, building and executing that technology is a fulfilling goal.�
Cynthia Yang provides technical services to veterans and others at Booz Allen Hamilton
Cynthia Yang joined management consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton (McLean, VA) as a senior consultant in 2012, and was promoted to senior consultant the next year. She�s a staff technologist in the health group, responsible for gathering and analyzing data to provide meaningful input to clients.
One of her current projects includes implementing a SaaS/PaaS environment for Microsoft Dynamics customer relations management at the Department of Veterans Affairs. �The project provides a secured cloud-hosting infrastructure that houses the applications required to deliver CRM capabilities to the national help centers, and has 9,000-plus end users,� she says. �Our team of twenty Booz Allen employees interacts with more than two hundred clients. We use innovative technologies to help veterans get timely access to healthcare and benefits.�
Yang describes her job at Booz Allen as fast-paced and continually changing. �Each day I�m challenged to learn new things while multi-tasking to meet client needs,� she says. �I enjoy my current project with the Department of Veterans Affairs. I believe it can have a positive effect on veterans� lives.�
Born and raised in Shanghai, China, Yang immigrated to the U.S. with her parents in 2013. She attended Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA and graduated in 2012 with a bachelors in business information technology.
Inspiration and involvement make for a rewarding career
When Yang was searching for a job, she was impressed by Booz Allen�s recognition as a top employer by Computerworld and Fortune magazines. �Now I�m proud to work alongside so many smart and committed people,� she says with enthusiasm.
Yang is a member of Booz Allen�s Asian Pacific American Forum (APAF), and an active contributor to the forum�s newsletter. �My involvement with the APAF has helped me network with fellow Booz Allen employees from across the firm,� she says. �Sometimes I find that language and cultural differences can be a challenge, and my involvement with the APAF has helped with that as well.�
Yang believes that diversity brings a greater variety of solutions to problems. �A diverse collection of skills and experience allows contractors to provide a broader range of service to our clients,� she says.
�At Booz Allen, the principles and practices of diversity and inclusion are woven into every aspect of how we operate,� says Lucy Sorrentini, director of diversity and
Frances Aileen Acevedo Lucca creates, develops and maintains software at Exelis
Frances Aileen Acevedo Lucca is a new hire at Exelis Inc in Herndon, VA. She�s a software engineer in the department of civil and aerospace systems, where she creates, develops and maintains software for airport systems. �I solve problems in the source code, create code to make the program easier to use, add more utilities to the software and learn new tools that can help us understand the code better,� she says. �There�s always something new and exciting. It�s like doing Sherlock Holmes investigations with Dr Who technology.�
Acevedo Lucca enjoys resolving problems, but it can be daunting to work on a system or project created by others. �It is tough to look at lines of code written by different people and find a way to fix a problem without corrupting the rest of the code.�
Time constraints add another kind of challenge. But she takes pride in knowing her work makes a difference. �It can help fellow countrymen and women live their lives better and safer as well as help workers in the defense department have a better grasp of technology that�s used in the field,� she says.
Acevedo Lucca was born and raised in Puerto Rico. Both her parents are doctors. �Computer engineering is a fairly new profession. The universities in Puerto Rico started offering it as a major in 1980. I was one of the few females in my department.�
In 2018, Acevedo Lucca graduated from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayag�ez with her BS. �I helped form a group of women from the computer engineering department, and we were featured in the local newspaper for being some of the few women who chose this field,� she notes.
A slice of home at Exelis
Soon after she was hired, the human resources manager introduced Acevedo Lucca to a group of Puerto Rican employees. �When I met them, I found a little piece of home in the United States and in Exelis. That made the cultural transition easier,� she says. �I could speak Spanish with them, and they even helped me find produce from Puerto Rico in the area.
�I�ve had to get used to using more English than Spanish,� she says. �Sometimes I find myself thinking in Spanish, but then I make an effort to think of how the words are said in English. It has really improved my linguistic abilities. The diverse environment here gives me a chance to share ideas, experiences and skills with others.�
Exelis seeks pros for critical networks
�From deep space exploration to global commercial air travel to local emergency response and dispatch, Exelis engineers and protects critical networks that connect the world,� says Erica Jeffries, chief inclusion and diversity officer. �A broad spectrum of jobs is available to graduates and interns to serve defense and civil agencies, as well as international and commercial markets. From development and deployment to ongoing maintenance and sustainment, we are an end-to-end provider of mission-critical technologies and services. As we continuously build our pipeline of talent, recent graduates and interns are key to our talent strategy.�
Edna I. Vega coordinates activities for the deputy CIO at the U.S. State Department
Edna I. Vega works with the U.S. Department of State (DOS) in Washington, DC. �I�m an information management officer. I am one of three special assistants to the deputy chief information officer, working with the department�s information resource management operations,� she says.
As a special assistant, Vega works with six senior executives to manage a portfolio of more than 1,400 employees and a budget of $400 million, impacting every facet of DOS communications.
It�s a fast-paced environment. �I love the challenge of putting things together to advance a project, resolve an issue or complete a task that relates to a bigger project,� she says.
She works with communication devices and networks, so it can be frustrating when any part of the chain is broken. She must then take time to isolate and identify the problem. �It�s challenging because I�m not in control of every part of the system.�
Strong academic and cultural background
Vega was born and raised in Puerto Rico. She earned her bachelors degree in 1995 at the Universidad Interamericana, Fajardo, Puerto Rico and has a 1997 MBA from the University of Turabo, Caguas, Puerto Rico. She also recently completed the Advanced Management Program at the National Defense University in DC, and graduated with a chief information officer certificate in May.
Vega is a member of the Hispanic Employee Council of Foreign Affairs Agencies, one of many diverse associations at the DOS. �Diversity groups are very beneficial, especially in a large organization like this,� she observes. �The support of colleagues who share or at least understand the diverse background you bring to the table helps you network and position yourself for many opportunities.�
Language and heritage: barrier and strength
Vega admits that her background does present occasional challenges. Since Spanish is her native language and what she speaks at home, she too goes through a translation process throughout her work day. �I tend to think in Spanish, then translate into English. Sometimes, when I�m in a rush or anxiety takes over, I find myself without anything to say at moments when it is crucial for me to speak. I am fortunate to have colleagues who understand and support me,� she says.
She does feel, however, that she can be herself at the DOS, where she has worked for more than ten years. �I am given plenty of opportunities to contribute, and I know this is a place where my contributions are appreciated and valued.�
One of Vega�s priorities is to help colleagues to understand the richness of the Hispanic/Latino community and the importance of diversity in the workplace. �Wherever we are and whatever we do, we need to celebrate our diversity.�
Treshauna Wright: software engineer and ERG leader at Harris
Treshauna Wright has worked for international communications and information technology company Harris Corporation (Melbourne, FL) for six years. As a software engineer, she writes software requirements, creates design documents, writes software and unit tests, performs hardware and software integration, and creates and executes code reviews. She also helps the software integration and configuration management teams.
Wright enjoys working directly with her company�s products. �Our products are used by federal agencies and local police departments, and they help keep us all safe,� she says.
She admits her work has its challenges. �I work with a software system that�s currently used in ten different products, and the list is growing. There are many software developers supporting these products, so many people often handle the software at once. Changes made for one product may not work on other products. But our department has improved its ability to facilitate and communicate changes to all teams involved.�
Leadership growth through networks
Wright is a leader with the Harris African American employee resource group (ERG) and a member of the leadership team for the Women in Engineering ERG. �These two organizations let me network with people in the company who have similar backgrounds. I can engage with employees outside my work teams and acquire skills that will benefit me in my career,� she says.
In 2006, Wright graduated from University of Central Florida (UCF, Orlando) with a bachelors in computer engineering. She earned her masters in 2008, also in computer engineering, from North Carolina State University (Raleigh).
Harris is a UCF supporter. �I had many opportunities to meet and interact with Harris employees and learn more about the company while I was a student. I�ve known Harris is a great company ever since then,� she notes. �Also, after spending two years in North Carolina winters, I was ready to move back to the Sunshine State!�
Being heard and getting noticed
Initially, Wright says, she struggled to ensure her voice was heard among team members. �Engineering is still a male-dominated field, so sometimes I�m the only African American or female on the team. We have different communication styles and upbringing,� she says. �What would be considered as assertive for one cultural or gender group might be considered too forceful for another.�
Wright has built relationships with formal and informal mentors and colleagues who have helped her in many ways, including getting her recognized by leadership. �I volunteer several hours as part of my ERG activities. Now I am the African American resource group president. During one lunch forum, my ERG leads made a point to introduce me to our management staff members and to publicly thank me for my volunteer and leadership efforts,� she reports proudly.
�Working for a government contractor, I�ve gotten insight into the issues the government faces and what they feel is important to spend our tax dollars on. I appreciate our company�s efforts to come up with new and innovative ways to help the government,� she says. �Diversity brings different ways of thinking and different ways to solve these problems.�
Natalie Pyon provides technical assessments to the Department of Justice
Natalie Pyon is a computer scientist for the FBI�s Department of Justice (DOJ, Washington, DC). She works in Crystal City, VA.
Pyon facilitates and conducts technical assessments of major IT investments throughout the project lifecycle in support of the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996, also known as the Information Technology Management Reform Act.
�I provide data-based analysis and reporting to executive management and project leads. My work helps with effective decision making and may lead to corrective actions, better resource management, and design enhancements,� she explains. �I also identify risks to the project and the DOJ IT portfolio as it proceeds to the next phase.� Pyon coordinates with stakeholders across units, sections and branches within the DOJ.
In Pyon�s line of work, she confers with a variety of experts. �I discuss design with developers, do project planning with project managers, and call on people with expertise from functional areas that support my assessments,� she says. �I have the opportunity to see the organization from a portfolio management level and develop an understanding of the technology used in individual projects and stakeholder initiatives.�
Pyon admits it can be difficult to analyze potential risks at the project level and portfolio level and provide reports to executives at the same time. �The intent of assessments is to effectively identify areas in need of improvement or additional support from sponsoring organizations, and ensure the product is delivered on time, within budget and consistent with customer expectations.�
A strong family code
Pyon is Korean, Polish and Italian. Her father was born in South Korea and immigrated to northern Virginia when he was thirteen. He met her mother when he was stationed at Wright Patterson Air Force Base. �They passed on to me their high expectations for hard work, integrity, persistence, family and service,� she reflects. �I was raised to simply overcome challenges, even if they�re based on my heritage or gender.�
Pyon earned her bachelors degree in industrial and systems engineering in 2009 from Virginia Tech (Blacksburg). She graduated from George Washington University (Washington, DC) in 2013 with a masters in engineering management. She�s been at the Department of Justice for five years.
Satisfying to serve
Pyon was attracted to the FBI by its visibility and reputation. �Virginia Tech�s motto is �ut prosim,� which means �that I may serve.� Working here is one way for me to serve the community,� she says.
�There is value and inherent satisfaction in offering quality technical solutions that provide better, faster and more effective operational service to the U.S.,� Pyon says. �And I also enjoy interacting with people from engineering and technical backgrounds working in the intelligence community.�
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