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Changing technologies

Skilled techies are needed for defense & homeland security

Devising better ways to protect our country is a job to make anyone proud

Technical smarts, multitasking, organizational and communication skills are career-boosters. So is extra effort

Resume Drop Box
Reena Sooch.

Reena Sooch Byrne is a Boeing spacecraft manager, responsible for integrating components and monitoring budget, costing and the scheduling of critical tests.

Jeff Bandy.

At Lockheed Martin, Jeff Bandy's projects "provide vital info to the war fighter."

It's not unusual to find that engineers who work on contracts for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) or the military are passionate about what they do. From improving communications for first responders to securing the U.S. borders, they are focused on the job and proud of the end result.

"It's easy to get passionate and become engaged in these missions," says Wendy Martin of Harris Corp.

"We work on projects that save lives," agrees Jeff Bandy of Lockheed Martin.

Skills in demand
Defense and homeland security contractors have plenty of openings for these skilled and passionate techies. But the nature of the work to be done tends to tighten the market, points out Gregory McElroy, director of staffing at Northrop Grumman's IT sector. U.S. citizenship is required for essentially all of Northrop Grumman's defense and intelligence positions, and most candidates must have or be able to obtain the appropriate security clearances.

In fact, the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA, Arlington, VA, www.ndia.org) is concerned that the supply of qualified workers is not keeping up with the demand for skilled techies. NDIA is an advocate for technology, government responsiveness, and the exchange of information between industry and the government on national security issues. Figuring out ways to strengthen the security workforce is one of the group's top issues for 2006.

Contractors need tech talent
At Northrop Grumman, "We work with leading-edge programs, crafting state-of-the-art technologies and out-of-the-box solutions that attract talented professionals at all levels," McElroy says.

The company currently has several hundred open positions for engineers, including systems and software, process improvement and network engineers. More jobs are available for project managers, systems architects, analysts, developers and the like. McElroy expects to fill at least a thousand engineering-related positions this year.

At Lockheed Martin, scientists and engineers represent half the workforce. Spokesperson Tom Greer says the company anticipates hiring more than 4,000 entry-level techies this year. More than 85 percent will have technical degrees.

Ball Aerospace & Technologies currently has forty postings for engineers on its website. ITT has 180 engineering positions open across the U.S. and overseas, most of them for contracts with the military and DHS. Engineering backgrounds in demand include aerospace, systems, RF, software and electronics.

"Engineering is a great career that is always evolving," says Amber Drennen of ARINC.

Jeff Bandy is an engineering manager at Lockheed Martin
Jeff Bandy.

Jeff Bandy.

Jeff Bandy is an operations systems engineering manager for the integrated systems and solutions business area at Lockheed Martin (Gaithersburg, MD). He's stationed in Chantilly, VA, working on a systems integration program for secure communications for users across the U.S.

Bandy is responsible for budget, staffing and tech performance of a sixty-five person engineering team that does integration and engineering for real-time space-based communication systems. "We work on projects that provide vital classified information to the war fighter and to homeland security," he says.

One of the programs he helped plan involves a new communications satellite supporting the Department of Defense (DOD) Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellite program. "It will greatly improve the dissemination of information about enemy locations, vehicles and weapons to commanders in the field," he says.

Bandy received a BSME from Lafayette College (Easton, PA) in 1985. While there, he helped establish a chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers and served as its president. He got his first job, as a project engineer at Procter & Gamble in Greenville, NC, through a campus job fair sponsored by his chapter.

Two years later he moved to Philip Morris in Chester, VA as a staff project engineer. While there, he established a network of quality taskforces to address critical improvement opportunities. In 1991 he went back to school for a masters of project management at Keller Graduate School of Management (Chicago, IL).

In 1993 he joined General Electric Aerospace (now Lockheed Martin) in Springfield, VA as a systems analyst on a classified project. "I wanted to work on something that had a national impact," he says.

Bandy has twice received Lockheed Martin's management and data systems president's award, in 1999 and 2003, for his work in technical communications.

"Nothing feels better than a project that works like it's supposed to," he says.

Wendy Martin manages ASIC at Harris Corp
Wendy Martin.

Wendy Martin.

Wendy Martin is a senior engineering manager in the government communications systems division of Harris Corp (Melbourne, FL). She heads up a digital engineering department of about a hundred people, all focused on application specific integrated circuits (ASIC) and aerospace processing technology. The work primarily supports Department of Defense programs for aerospace, military aircraft and space structures. "We are pursuing a DHS initiative to secure our borders," she says.

Martin is involved in proposal reviews and budget, and she works with program managers to staff and transition resources and schedule training.

She's been with Harris since she received her BSEE from the University of Kentucky in 1988. "I chose Harris because I wanted to design digital circuits," she notes.

Martin likes Harris because techies there are encouraged to speak their minds and pursue their interests. "I've been given continual opportunities to grow and become the best I can be," she says. "It's my job to help my team understand and support the company's vision and expectation."

In 2003 Martin became involved in supporting diversity initiatives. She is the Harris point of contact with SWE and helps the HR folks promote diversity awareness and develop affinity groups.

Harris is a great place for working moms, Martin thinks. When she started a family she was able to set up a flexible schedule with reduced hours and still make a move into leadership. She's currently back at forty hours, and relies on Harris' 9-80 work schedule, nine-hour days with every second Friday off, to balance work and family.

Amber Drennen: engineering manager at ARINC
Amber Drennen.

Amber Drennen.

Amber Drennen was fresh out of college when she joined the Oklahoma City, OK engineering services division of ARINC (Annapolis, MD), a company which specializes in transportation communications and systems engineering. The engineering services division works specifically with aircraft systems and materials engineering.

Drennen joined as an engineering associate in 2000. Today she's an engineering manager with a staff of seven technical analysts, ChEs and MEs, some of them retired from the military. "The retired military personnel add tremendous value because of their hands-on experience with the types of projects we're working on," she says.

Drennen wanted to be an astronaut and earned a BS in aerospace engineering at the University of Oklahoma. She's currently working on an MBA there.

A college study she did on fatigue crack growth in aircraft skins caught the attention of ARINC recruiters. She was offered an internship that led to a permanent position. "They also liked that I was a female, a hard worker and at the top of my class," she notes with a smile.

Most of the projects Drennen manages involve updating aircraft originally designed in the 1950s and 1960s. Her work is part of a government mission to update and maintain these legacy aircraft. "Fitting new technology into old designs can be quite challenging," she says. "But it saves a great deal of time and money."

Now that Drennen has a family she's given up her dream of being an astronaut, but she hopes to help ARINC land projects for the space industry. The company's Oklahoma facility has an area that can accommodate large aircraft parts, and a hangar that can house a 737 is under construction. "This should help us win projects," she says.

Drennen was a member of SWE in college. Engineering, she says, "is a fun industry and always intriguing."

Amy Rasmussen develops business for Ball Aerospace & Technologies
Amy Rasmussen.

Amy Rasmussen.

Amy Rasmussen, who is an aeronautical and astronautical engineer, is a senior business development manager for Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp, a wholly owned subsidiary of Ball Corp (Broomfield, CO). She focuses on spacecraft and instruments for remote sensing, as well as advanced technologies used for surveillance and reconnaissance by the military and DHS.

Rasmussen works with the business development managers in her group to analyze customer requirements and the technical capabilities needed to fill them. "For example, I help determine whether we're more likely to win by teaming with another contractor or by going in as the prime contractor," she says.

Rasmussen's interest in aerospace engineering began with a telescope she got when she was twelve. At first she thought she'd like to be an astronomer, but her engineer grandfather guided her toward engineering and she set her sights on aerospace.

She received a BS in aeronautical and astronautical engineering from Purdue University (West Lafayette, IN) in 1996 and an MS in systems architecting and engineering at the University of Southern California in May 1999. She is about to complete an MBA at the University of Colorado.

As an undergrad she participated in a co-op program with McDonnell Douglas, now part of Boeing. "Through this hands-on engineering experience, I started to realize that a typical engineering job wouldn't fit my personality long term," she says.

An internship at TRW (now Northrop Grumman Space Technology) in Redondo Beach, CA introduced her to the business side of engineering. She liked it, and joined TRW after graduation. She worked for the advanced systems engineering program, strategic planning and ventures group, getting involved with both business and technical information to help support management decisions.

In 2000 Rasmussen moved to Peregrine Semiconductor Corp (San Diego, CA). She went on to Aerospace Corp (Los Angeles, CA) in 2001, still working in competitive intelligence and business development. "I continued to be most interested in the aerospace applications," she notes.

Her former manager at TRW brought Rasmussen to Ball in 2003. Her first task was to set up competitive intelligence functions for the company's business units.

She attributes her success to strategic thinking combined with an engineer's mindset. "It's like having the ability to go a mile wide, but switch to a mile deep at a moment's notice," she says.

Dr Claudia Randolph: battlefield and homeland defense at ITT-AES
Claudia Randolph.

Claudia Randolph.

Dr Claudia Randolph is VP and director at ITT Industries-Advanced Engineering & Sciences (ITT-AES, Alexandria, VA). She's responsible for biological, chemical and radiological sensor and sampling system development for both battlefield and homeland defense.

Randolph manages a staff of more than 200 people in locations across the country. They include techies with backgrounds in chemical, biological or optical engineering, chemists, and production engineers who figure the best ways to build the systems. Right now, for example, they are building spectrometers to help the military to detect chemical weapons in the battlefield, and also working on a next-generation version for homeland security first responders.

Randolph earned her 1981 BS in chemistry at Abilene Christian University (Abilene, TX). She went on to a 1985 PhD in chemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Getting a PhD was the natural thing to do in her family. "We all have PhDs except my mother who has a masters," she says. "I'm the only one who is not a professor."

After she got her PhD, Randolph had a post-doc fellowship at the Naval Research Laboratory (Washington, DC). It was "key to understanding some of the complexities in what I do now," she says.

In 1988 Randolph joined Kaman Sciences (now ITT). "I liked the people I met at the interview and the work I would be doing, and another attraction was that Kaman was only a mile from my house and I had an infant son," she explains.

Randolph was responsible for developing a new area for Kaman: verifying that nuclear and chemical weapons are not being produced. "It was a very practical and useful application of the kind of science I had been learning," she says.

In her current job in new product development, she directs teams of scientists and engineers who are solving complex problems. It's her job to get the right team together to shorten the time to market, she says.

"The engineering field is a good place to be," Randolph concludes. "You continually get to ask both 'Why?' and 'How?'"

Rockwell Collins' Patrick Spears works on DOD's Milstar
Patrick Spears.

Patrick Spears.

Patrick Spears is a software engineer in advanced communications technology and satcom engineering at Rockwell Collins Government Systems (Cedar Rapids, IA). His team is developing secure, interoperable communication system software for the U.S. armed forces via advanced satellite and communications terminal technologies. "My work ensures that military units are able to communicate securely without interruption," he says.

Spears is involved with every phase of the software development cycle, from determining customer requirements to post-production support. He collaborates with systems engineers to be sure the interfaces and apps he's working on will integrate into the terminal hardware. "I like interfacing with different disciplines and bringing the product to completion," he says.

Spears received his BSCS from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in 2003. He's currently working on an MSCS at DePaul University (Chicago, IL).

He was introduced to Rockwell Collins as a co-op during his junior year. Before that he'd been in a NASA-sponsored program that involved research closely related to what Rockwell Collins does.

Besides his formal work, Spears is helping to build a stronger relationship between his college and his employer. As a liaison, he tells the school how to better prepare students to work at a company like Rockwell Collins. He also shows the company ways to help new grads transition into the workplace.

Spears sees software engineering as a new field in comparison with most engineering disciplines, and an area that's revolutionizing our quality of life. "When change is embraced, great things can happen," he says. "I feel like a pioneer."

Heather Weier manages programs at Northrop Grumman IT
Heather Weier.

Heather Weier.

Heather Weier is a program manager for Air Force projects at the Northrop Grumman Information Technology automatic identification technology (AIT) center in Williamsburg, VA. She heads up a database group that develops solutions using barcodes, smart cards, button memory, passive and active RFID tags and more. "Our systems help folks work faster and more efficiently, with less paperwork and more technology, so they can respond to the war fighter faster," she says.

Ten years ago Weier was lead developer of the standard asset tracking system (SATS) she manages today. This system tracks the flow of "assets," which range from airplane parts to nuts and bolts to clothing and lights, into and out of eighty-five warehouses for the Air Force, Air National Guard and Air Reserve. She received a Department of Defense electronic commerce pioneer award for the work. "It was supposed to be an interim solution, but it's still being used and expanded on today," she says with pride.

She was on the team that developed procedures which let the AIT facility achieve Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) level 5 certification in 2002. Many government contracts require CMMI certification, and Northrop Grumman IT is one of the first companies to reach this highest level.

Weier earned her 1991 BS in math with a minor in CS at Christopher Newport College (Newport News, VA). For a few years she managed a restaurant, helping to update its point of sale system and running its database for inventory, purchasing and receiving. "I was making good money and I liked management, but I didn't like the hours," she says with a smile.

So in 1995 Weier joined Syscon (now Northrop Grumman IT) as a junior programmer. She told the interviewers she didn't know databases, "but they figured I had enough experience to do the job and they could train me on the software.

"Everything runs more smoothly when the work environment is positive and people are being listened to and helped when they need it," she says.

Reena Sooch Byrne is a PM at Boeing Satellite
Reena S. Byrne.

Reena S. Byrne.

At the El Segundo, CA satellite development center of Boeing (Chicago, IL), Reena Sooch Byrne is what most companies consider a project manager. By Boeing's definition she's a spacecraft manager, responsible for integrating components that go into a craft and monitoring budget, costing and scheduling, including the scheduling of critical tests.

Testing is, of course, indispensable to a successful satellite launch. All phases are tested extensively: mechanical and electrical integration, mechanical and thermal environments, end-to-end compatibility, even launch sites.

To get all this work done, Byrne organizes and coordinates teams of MEs, EEs and software engineers with communications backgrounds. "My job is to help these folks see the big picture by understanding each other's perspective, so they can come up with a solution," she says. "One of our programs is part of an overall plan to help all departments and branches of the military communicate with each other."

She feels that as a woman and a minority she is especially sensitive to the differences people bring to the table.

Byrne received her BS in aerospace engineering from the University of Michigan in 1997 and her MS in aerospace engineering with an emphasis on control systems from the University of California-Los Angeles in 2001. She was always fascinated with space exploration and wished she could be an astronaut. "I got my private pilot's license after college so I could have first-hand experience applying some of the theories I learned," she says.

In college, Byrne co-opped at NASA's Johnson Space Center (Houston, TX), exploring software development, aerodynamics and mechanical design. When she got back to school, she brought an experiment with her that established a link between the aerospace department and NASA.

Since then several other students have co-opped at NASA and brought back experiments. "But I was the first to do it," she says proudly.

After college Byrne decided to broaden her horizons, and took a job in product engineering at TRW's Redondo Beach, CA space and electronics group. But she soon moved on to Boeing because she wanted to get back into satellites.

She began working on engineering test procedures. "There's nothing like the feeling you get when you hear the countdown for a satellite launch," she says. "It is the culmination of four or five years of hard work."

Byrne is currently pursuing certification in project management through Boeing's "learning together" program. "If you put your heart and soul into your work and have confidence in your abilities, you will succeed," she says.

Jennifer Van Norwick manages a group at Smiths Aerospace

Jennifer Van Norwick.

Jennifer Van Norwick.

Jennifer Van Norwick is a group manager in the flight management systems business area at Smiths Aerospace (Grand Rapids, MI). She leads a staff of sixteen infrastructure and hardware systems engineers currently working to modernize the cockpit of the C130 aircraft. "We are reducing the pilot's workload by changing a multitude of small round dials to six flat-panel displays," she says.

Van Norwick is new to management and finds it very different from hands-on engineering. But she's still doing some of that, too. Her group gets daily technical direction from the project managers, and it's her job to help, train, mentor, and make sure appropriate engineering procedures are being followed. "My focus is on making sure the team is functioning," she explains.

Van Norwick went to Michigan Technological University. She concentrated on EE for two years and then switched to a computer engineering option. A co-op at IBM in Rochester, MN provided hands-on experience in the computer industry.

After receiving her BSEE in 1997 she joined Rockwell Collins as a hardware design engineer. She loved the opportunity to work with commercial avionics display equipment. "The on-board computer has to function in varying temperatures and levels of humidity, not to mention the threat of being struck by lightning," she notes with awe.

In 1999 Van Norwick joined Smiths Aerospace. Smiths' mentorship program was extremely helpful during her transition from hardware to systems engineering. "My mentor was never too busy for me and never discouraged my questions," she says.

"If you have ambitions, share them with your mentors and managers," she says. "The more they know about where you want to go, the more they can help you get there."

Antonio Steptoe works with radio systems at General Dynamics C4
Antonio Steptoe.

Antonio Steptoe.

Antonio Steptoe is a senior software engineer with General Dynamics C4 Systems (Scottsdale, AZ). His group develops secure RF communications equipment and software and systems for the military.

Right now, Steptoe is a task lead on a project to integrate and revamp existing equipment for the military and the intelligence community. "I participate in onsite and offsite demos of these emerging technologies to win new business," he says.

Steptoe says the software-defined technology he works on is groundbreaking: more robust than previous versions and adaptable to any hardware. Existing communications networks can be bridged and the software modified and upgraded as needed. "With this technology, intel agencies can communicate with each other seamlessly regardless of the equipment," he explains.

Steptoe received his BSEE from the University of Maryland in 1993. A college internship had taken him to Arizona the year before, and he liked the area so well that he found a job as a junior software engineer at Motorola Integrated Information Systems (now General Dynamics) in Scottsdale, AZ when he graduated.

After a few years there he moved to a dot-com, and then another, but came home to General Dynamics in 2000. His communication skills and reputation for meeting deadlines led to his involvement with the product demos. "I've been told more than once that I don't seem like an engineer," he says with a laugh.

To Steptoe, the engineering field is probably 50 percent knowledge and 50 percent using your head. "Forget your ego," he says. "Humble yourself and ask a lot of questions."


Susan I. Clark is a freelance writer in Hewitt, NJ.

Check the latest openings at these diversity-minded companies.

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