Defense technology contributes to the nation’s security & well-being
Diverse techies who work in defense take great pride in
A previous stint in the military is helpful but by no means necessary
By Sue Marquette Poremba
Raytheon’s Larry Richards appreciates the importance of his work in defense technology. “There’s a sense of pride and accomplishment in knowing that what I do is saving lives and defending the nation,” he says.
Pride in contributing to the safety and wellbeing of the country is a common theme among techies in defense technology. The industry has proved to be a good transition for folks who have served in the armed forces, but a military career is by no means a requirement.
Defense, like so many other industries, is struggling to support growth while replacing an aging workforce. “We have to compete for talent in the technology community like everybody else,” says David Pan of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency.
Defense is an industry that appreciates and cultivates diversity. Stephen M. Younger, president of National Security Technologies (NSTec LLC, Las Vegas, NV) speaks for many when he notes that “NSTec is committed to creating and maintaining a diverse workforce that will foster a varied mix of skills and perspectives in a respectful environment.”
Many jobs in defense technology require various levels of security clearance. “With the different classifications and clearances, it can be tough to network,” says Pan of the DIA. But, he adds, there are always some opportunities.
Raytheon’s Larry Richards makes sure the systems are working
As discipline manager of systems engineering, EE Larry Richards has a major responsibility at the Aurora, CO Rocky Mountain engineering division of Raytheon Co (Waltham, MA).
“From an enterprise level, my job is to make sure systems engineering is going well for all our twenty programs,” Richards explains. “I make sure the programs are staffed and people are happy with their careers here.”
Most of the programs Richards oversees are for the Department of Defense, others involve environmental systems. “On this campus, most of what we do is satellite ground stations,”
Richards clearly has no time to write code anymore, but it took a lot of hands-on technical work to qualify him for his current position. After getting his BSEE from California State Polytechnic University in 1987 Richards went to work for Hughes Aircraft (Fullerton, CA) as a technical writer. When he had the opportunity he moved into an engineering position at a Hughes facility in Denver, CO, which later became part of Raytheon. Except for a brief stint with a dot-com, he’s been with Raytheon ever since. In 1995 he completed his MSEE at the University of Colorado.
In 2007, Richards’ participation with mentoring in the Hispanic Organization for Leadership and Achievement (HOLA) group at Raytheon garnered him a HENAAC award for professional achievement. HOLA, he notes, is just one part of Raytheon’s support of diversity. “My involvement is a mechanism to help everybody,” he says.
“Managing people is more difficult than managing the technical tasks,” Richards reflects. He does miss hands-on engineering, but his current work is meaningful and takes him into many projects instead of a single assignment. The important thing, he concludes, is to be contributing to the nation’s defense.
Christina Smith: building at the Aerospace Corp
In high school, Christina Smith made an important discovery. “I figured out that scientists discover and engineers build,” she explains. She went on to a 2002 BSEE from Texas A&M because “I love math, and EE has the biggest math base of the engineering majors.” She continued with an MSEE from Ohio State University.
Smith’s job at the Aerospace Corp (Los Angeles, CA) lets her merge engineering with space. She works in two main areas: as an engineer at the concept design center (CDC), and with GPS.
The CDC, she explains, gathers experts together to work on anything from satellite components to complete satellite systems. Projects range from the first sketchy concepts to fixing a problem in a craft already in space.
The techies assigned to the center work together with the customer’s rep. A design stage that used to take months of back-and-forth can sometimes be done in a week. “I work on the digital communications part of it,” Smith notes with pride.
In the GPS part of her job, Smith works with NavWar simulations. “It’s a program designed for the government. We lay down ‘jammers,’ which are threats, and we can put in targets and set up different aircraft platforms,” she explains. Sometimes the simulations are theoretical, to see how the systems will work in the jammer environment.
“Right now we’re seeing a highly stressed environment with jammers, so we’re trying to figure out new ways to acquire a GPS signal,” she says.
It’s all fascinating work, but what Smith likes best about it is that her applications can save people’s lives. “My brother-in-law is a Marine,” she says. “I like being able to say to my sister, ‘I’ve got his back!’”
Perry Coleman: logistics support at AAI Corp
Unmanned aircraft are the primary product of Perry Coleman’s current employer, AAI Corp (Hunt Valley, MD). His post there as group integrated logistics support manager for unmanned aircraft systems is his first civilian job after a twenty-year career in the Army.
Moving into a civilian job with an engineering corporation was a little intimidating at first, Coleman admits. He had been thinking more of the IT
field when he left the military. But he interviewed with AAI, and got excited
at the opportunity to continue an association with the aviation industry that started during his military career.
Coleman has a 2000 BS in management from the University of Maryland (Heidelberg, Germany) and a 2001 MSCIS from the University of Phoenix (Sierra Vista, AZ). He’s currently working on an MBA at Loyola College (Baltimore, MD).
He soon found that he fit right into AAI. “My military background aligned with the defense industry and with this organization. In fact, this is where a lot of the products I used in the military originated.”
Coleman grew up in Washington, DC and joined the Army to expand his horizons. “I was really interested in aircraft and helicopters,” he says. “The army gave me a chance to learn about aircraft and technology.”
While in the Army he worked in aviation, but the helicopter that became his specialty was fielded in the Vietnam era, and was being phased out. “Unmanned aircraft seemed to be the new thing coming out, so I switched my focus,” Coleman says.
At AAI, Coleman and his logistics support group are aligned with the engineers and influence the equipment being designed. “We make sure the engineer thinks of the user of the equipment and how it’s going to be used and how long it will need to last,” he says. “We put together anything the serviceman will need to use to support the system.”
One of the biggest programs right now is the Shadow 200, an unmanned aircraft system used for reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition. “As a soldier, you are always thinking of ways your equipment could be made better,” Coleman says. “Now I have the chance to take ownership of the things I wanted as a soldier.
“The unmanned aircraft were originally part of the intelligence corps,” he explains, “so all the Army’s aviation rules weren’t necessarily followed. Now the systems have matured and are sharing air space with manned platforms, so our job is to make sure their support meets the same standards as for manned systems.”
Karen McCall: remote sensing at National Security Technologies
Karen McCall joined National Security Technologies, LLC (Las Vegas, NV) in 2006 as manager for aerial measuring systems (AMS) in the remote sensing lab. She works with the National Security Admin (Fort Meade, MD).
“We respond if there’s a radiological event anywhere in the U.S.,” she says. She manages the oversight of these operations, making sure equipment and personnel are up and operational.
“Within AMS we have computer-based equipment and a helicopter to acquire data,” she explains. “That system transfers data to a computer-based analysis platform that does computations to produce a final report that is transferred to a GIS platform.”
McCall’s background in CS was excellent preparation for the work. She started with a 1990 BSCS from Northwestern University (Evanston, IL), followed by a 2005 MSCIT from Regis University (Denver, CO).
“Some people look at CS as an engineering adjunct, but I looked at it from the business side and the government side,” she says. “Where else could CS make such an impact?”
Over the course of her career McCall has worked in companies ranging from a nonprofit to a casino game producer. Now she’s putting CS to excellent use in defense.
Thomas Washington is a senior engineer with Aurora Flight Sciences
Thomas Washington loves jets. So after he got his 1992 BSAE and 1994 MSAE from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology he qualified for the Air Force officer training school and became a fighter and test pilot.
It was a great eleven years. But then, considering his wife and kids, he decided he wanted more control over where he lived.
Between his BS and MS he’d done some consulting work for Aurora Flight Sciences (Manassas, VA). “The company has close ties with MIT, too,” he says. “When I left the Air Force I knew where I wanted to live and what I wanted to do career-wise, so I decided to look up the company again.”
He’s been a senior systems engineer with Aurora since 2006, working in R&D for unmanned vehicles and their applications.
“I started with aerodynamics, performance evaluation and prediction based on test data,” Washington explains. “Because of my background I got involved in developing and steering the flight test program for the series of vehicles we’re working on now.”
The primary task of a systems engineer is “keeping the systems operating,” he says with a smile. “It can cross a variety of things, from aerodynamics, which is my particular background, to mechanical engineering to control systems. It’s across the spectrum.”
One of the challenges in his job is making sure the research project is progressing, so as to keep the funding and customers coming. “It’s making the technology work in the timeline in which you want it to work,” he says. “Anytime you do anything new you’re going to run into problems you didn’t foresee, but you’ve got to push on in a timely manner.
“One thing I like is that our customers are from the military. It’s a benefit that I have some familiarity with the use and users of our technology.”
David Pan: supporting intelligence at the DIA
David Pan joined the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA, Washington, DC) in 2003. His current job is chief of the signature acquisition support branch in the directorate of measurement and signature intelligence and technical collection.
“At my level the work is mostly management and technical oversight,” he explains. “We work on providing innovative solutions using signatures to support intelligence and warfighter requirements.”
As a boy in Taiwan Pan was fascinated by the U.S. space program. After he moved to New York with his family as a teenager he got into model rocketry as a hobby. “It put me on a college track,” he says.
When he completed his BSME at the Polytechnic Institute of New York it was 1983, a recession year, and the job market wasn’t very good for engineers.
“I looked at various avenues, and I liked the opportunity the Air Force offered me,” Pan says. He received a commission and was sent to Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota to work on maintenance for the Minuteman missile systems. He went on to work on other missile systems in Europe, and eventually moved into R&D, testing for various kinds of payloads.
He completed an MA in national security from California State University-San Bernardino in 1993, and moved into intelligence. He left the military in 1994.
“Two weeks out of the Air Force, I started work in the Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles,” he says.
While largely military, the work has its domestic applications as well. Pan recalls that his office was testing sensors in 2005. “As soon as Hurricane Katrina hit we had a request to do damage assessment over affected areas in New Orleans,” he says. “Using advanced sensors, we processed the data to tell the first responders what would be important to them, like contaminants. During Katrina we picked up a number of ammonia leaks along the river.”
This is an example, he says, of how technology once used almost exclusively by the DoD or intelligence agencies is now being employed by agencies like FEMA and Homeland Security.
“When needed, we use our technology to help people and support civilian agencies,” Pan concludes.
Dan Schreiner is a geospatial intel analyst at NGA
Dan Schreiner always loved maps, but it wasn’t until he became a cartographer at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA, St. Louis, MO) that he learned his father had also worked with maps and imagery during and after World War II.
“He never told me because he did not want to influence my decision in any way at all,” Schreiner says. “Since I am deaf, he was especially careful to let me find my own path. But I ended up following his path anyway.”
Schreiner has worked at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA, St. Louis, MO) for twenty-four years, starting as a data entry clerk and working up to his current post of senior geospatial intelligence analyst. He’s finishing his work on a BA in liberal arts with an emphasis on geography from the online Excelsior College, and he serves as co-chair for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Program Council (DHHPC) at NGA.
Early in his career Schreiner joined a program that offered college coursework and training in mapmaking; he was placed as a cartographer in the Pentagon’s alert center. “I believe I was one of the first deaf people to work in the alert center,” he says.
He transferred back to the NGA in St. Louis a month before the 9/11 attacks. “I packed my bags again and was ready to go back to Washington to help,” he says. But the NGA created a program of its own to support the new Homeland Security agency, and he stayed to become part of that team.
Part of his job now is integrating geospatial information with intelligence information. He works with imagery analysts to fuse the information together to help clients with their missions.
“It could be a hard-copy map, a computer-generated map or an Adobe GeoPDF, which has geographic coordinates tied into it,” Schreiner explains. “This is one of the products that soldiers in the field are pushing for.”
Schreiner would like to be deployed to the Middle East to better support the soldiers on the front line. It would give him the chance to see how his products are working in real life. He could train field people on how best to use them, and come back with ideas on how to improve them. His being deaf would be no deterrent because the NGA now assigns a full-time interpreter to him.
As co-chair of the DHHPC, he addresses problems and makes sure folks are having their special needs met. As the workforce ages, he notes, more and more employees will probably have hearing issues and it’s best to plan for it in advance.
Schreiner is also part of a recruiting and outreach team at the NGA. “With my support system in place there’s nothing I can’t do,” he says.
James Sharman manages radio products at Harris
As a software engineering manager in the Rochester, NY RF communications division of Harris (Melbourne, FL), James Sharman is focused on developing high-grade radio products for the U.S. and other military. His particular concern is the Falcon 3 handheld.
“In the old days you would have called it a walkie-talkie,” he explains. “It is used by most, if not all, of the military branches.”
When it first came out, each part of the technology had its own separate box. “These days our products are software-defined so they can provide a lot of different capabilities. The trend now is to pull the different functionalities into a single platform.”
Sharman has worked at Harris his entire career. He met the company at a recruiting session at Cornell University (Ithaca, NY), where he completed his BSEE in 1993 and his MSEE in 1994. In 2000 he got his MBA from the University of Rochester (Rochester, NY).
Sharman started in development at Harris, and eventually moved into management. “If you asked me when I started school, I never would have said I’d be in the defense industry,” he says. “But it’s been a good fit for me, and the work is meaningful.”
Jeffrey Nartatez of Harris
After getting his BSEE from Pennsylvania State University in 1985, Jeffrey Nartatez went to work at nearby HRB Singer, a defense electronics company. After a while he was asked to travel to Florida to help deploy and test one of his projects.
“We delivered the system to Florida, and I went along with it,” he says. “My field assignment was for a year, so I brought my family with me and they loved Florida.” Nartatez decided to look at career possibilities in the state. He liked what he learned about Harris.
“They did similar work in government and military communications and secure networks, but it was a much bigger company,” Nartatez says. “When an opportunity came up for a job there, I talked to some of the people I met, submitted my resume, and they hired me.”
Today Nartatez is a systems engineering manager with a department of seventy systems engineers. “Systems engineers at Harris are engineers with multi-skill sets,” he explains. “They probably began as MEs or EEs, but they see outside their original design domain, and have the ability to design at a higher level.”
These are the people who set the stage for new business at Harris, he adds. “We’re on the front end of programs and defining a solution for our government customers.”
OPPORTUNITIES IN DEFENSE TECHNOLOGY
Check the latest openings at these diversity-minded companies.
|Company and location
(Hunt Valley, MD)
|Aerospace and defense technology
|The Aerospace Corporation
(Los Angeles, CA)
|Aurora Flight Sciences
|Defense Intelligence Agency
|Defense and intelligence
|General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc
(San Diego, CA)
|Unmanned aircraft systems and tactical
|GE Aviation Digital Systems
(Grand Rapids, MI)
|Design, development and manufacture of avionics systems
(Windsor Locks, CT)
|Aerospace systems for commercial,
regional, corporate and military aircraft; supplier for international space programs
|RF communications and defense technology
|National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency
|National Security Technologies LLC
(Las Vegas, NV)
|Naval Research Laboratory
|The Navy’s corporate lab for research and technological development
|Northrop Grumman Corp
(Los Angeles, CA)
|Defense and technology
(Cedar Rapids, IA)
|Electronic communication and aviation solutions for commercial and government apps
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