August/September 2009

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Changing technologies


Critical diverse talent is golden at defense contractors today

From encryption to nuclear submarine design and electronic warfare systems, diverse techies are supporting the companies that work on the nation’s defense

“When you know your work will help the warfighter, that is very rewarding.”
– Ryan Nakamoto, Raytheon Co

Phillip A. Carswell, a tech lead at GDC4, supports architectures providing security.While the new administration works toward ending the war in Iraq, the increasing instability in Pakistan, ongoing battles in Afghanistan, chaos in Somalia and continuing threats of terrorism worldwide keep defense at the forefront of the nation’s concerns. The Obama administration has announced plans to increase intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support for troops in the field, preserve U.S. air supremacy and increase naval capabilities.

What does this mean to engineers and other technical professionals employed by, or interested in, finding jobs at Department of Defense (DOD) contractors? At this point few in the industry are willing to say for certain, but a note of cautious optimism is evident.

At Boeing, critical talent is always sought after
Boeing’s Salma Alli is an interior certification engineer, supporting 737 Next Generation aircraft that may become P-8A Poseidons and 737 AEW&C Wedgetails.Richard Hartnett is director of global staffing at the Boeing Co (Seattle, WA). Boeing designs and manufactures commercial and defense aircraft, electronic and defense systems, missiles, satellites, launch vehicles and advanced information and communication systems. Hartnett notes that compared with a year ago, there are certainly fewer jobs overall in the aerospace and defense industries.

Nevertheless, “Boeing is always eager to bring in key critical talent. We will continue to promote Boeing as an employer of choice, and we’re focused on attracting and retaining a skilled, diverse workforce.”

Hartnett notes that he’s seen an increase in technical jobs on the intelligence side of the business. “Intelligence is a growing business. As broadly scoped as we are, with numerous facilities across the U.S. and around the globe, we’re seeing this at Boeing as well.”

Boeing looks for engineers in a broad range of specialties, including electrical, systems, structural, mechanical and software. In the software area the company is looking for engineers with skills in communications, network, infrastructure and protocols. Important IT skills include Web development and design and computing architecture.

For much defense and military work it is important for job candidates to have, or be able to obtain, security clearances, Hartnett notes. U.S. citizenship is required for most jobs.

Boeing has a global footprint. “Our workforce is very diverse,” Harnett says. “Diversity and inclusion are critical to our business and our competitiveness. Our company workforce should represent the communities where we live and work.

“We have a formal company-wide diversity strategy that guides our internal and external policies, and we advocate diversity both when we recruit new employees and within the pipeline at Boeing.”

Boeing recruits at a wide variety of career fairs held by NSBE, SWE, SHPE and others, and at universities and colleges around the country. Employee affinity groups promote diversity and networking within the company.

General Dynamics C4 Systems expects hiring to remain steady
Rich Skelnik.General Dynamics C4 Systems (GDC4, Scottsdale, AZ) is an integrator of secure communication and information systems and technology. The company specializes in command and control, communications networking, computing and information assurance for defense, government and some commercial customers in the U.S. and abroad.

Rich Skelnik, director of talent acquisition and community relations, says the climate for diverse engineers and technical professionals is “very good, whether it’s experienced professionals or college grads. We’re proactive in that area.”

Skelnik expects the hiring situation to remain steady, and notes that there were more than 1,300 new hires last year, 80 percent of them engineers or technical professionals. The company looks for EEs as well as software, systems and communication systems engineers and project managers who have worked on government contracts. Because the company provides secure communications for the armed forces and government agencies, security clearance or the ability to acquire it is important.

Phillip A. Carswell provides secure communications at GDC4
Phillip A. Carswell.Phillip A. Carswell is a member of tech staff in the information assurance division at General Dynamics C4 Systems. “Information assurance,” he explains, “provides security for verbal and electronic communications.”

As technical lead, Carswell’s primary role is to support existing and developing architectures that provide security. “We design both hardware- and software-based encryption devices. Many of them are used to support secure data networks, phones and radios,” he explains.

Carswell grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has a 1989 BSEE from Tuskegee University (Tuskegee, AL) and a 1991 MS in EE and computer engineering from the University of California-Santa Barbara. In school he was a member of NSBE and Pi Mu Epsilon, an honors math fraternity.

At Tuskegee he did a six-month co-op with IBM in San Jose, CA, helping develop test equipment. He did his MS with a fellowship from Graduate Degrees for Minorities in Engineering and Science (GEM), sponsored by the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (Palo Alto, CA).

When he completed his MS Carswell joined Motorola Government Electronics (Scottsdale, AZ) as an ASIC design engineer. In 1996 he moved to another company as an application engineer, but returned to Motorola in 1998 as a tech lead for the integrated IS group.

“It was more interesting at Motorola. We always had new programs and there was greater flexibility in job assignments,” he explains. “Plus, the technology was more on the leading edge and there were more opportunities to invent and create new things.” In 2001 General Dynamics acquired the Motorola operation and Carswell became a member of technical staff.

“Just keeping up with the evolving technology is a challenge because things are state-of-the-art here,” he reflects. “We also have to make tradeoffs to meet the cost objectives of the program we’re working on: find the middle ground to satisfy requirements while still containing costs. The threats we’re countering are always evolving and we have to ensure that our systems are not vulnerable. It’s a lot of responsibility.”

But well worth doing. “Knowing that what we create helps people in the field do their jobs efficiently gives me great satisfaction,” Carswell says. In 1996, Carswell received the Black Engineer of the Year award in the “most promising” category. In 2006 he was named “modern day technology leader” by the Black Engineer of the Year conference.

In his spare time, Carswell enjoys camping and boating with his family. “We jump in the mobile home and go off for a few days.” He also participates in church and school activities and talks to young people about the work he does as an engineer.

Lymaris Serrano: chief systems engineer at ITT
Lymaris Serrano.Lymaris Serrano is an integrated product team lead and chief systems engineer at ITT Space System Division (Rochester, NY), which produces space-based defense systems. Her team of five engineers is currently working on small telescope programs; it’s their job to be sure the products meet the customer’s performance specs.

“We have to complete the verification and validation,” she explains. “The design is done by another team, and systems engineering provides a higher-level view to make certain all the systems are integrated successfully.”

Serrano has a 2001 BSChE with a concentration in EnvE from the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez, and last year she completed an MS in professional studies, with concentrations in systems engineering and applied statistics, at the Rochester Institute of Technology (Rochester, NY). She’s also green-belt certified in value-based Lean Six Sigma.

Serrano was a member of the SHPE chapter at school, and she’s now part of the professional SHPE chapter in Rochester. She’s been a board member of the SHPE professional chapter, and is past president and a board member of ITT Space Systems’ Hispanic and Latino Network.

After graduating from Mayagüez Serrano joined Eastman Kodak Co (Rochester, NY) in a two-year rotational program focused on image science competencies and leadership skills. In 2003 she became a systems engineer, supporting radiometric and calibration analysis for the integration and assembly segment of an electro-optical imaging payload.

In 2004 ITT acquired Kodak’s commercial and government systems division and Serrano along with it. In 2007 she was the technical volume lead on a proposal for small telescopes; after the proposal was granted, she moved to lead the systems engineering team for the program.

Serrano notes that although being female, Hispanic and young makes her a bit unusual in her position, the atmosphere at both Kodak and ITT has been welcoming. Her job is very interesting, and, since it’s done to help in the defense of the country, very rewarding.

Like many engineers, Serrano enjoys giving back to the community. Last year she was ITT’s co-champion for Math, Engineering and Science for Hispanics, a one-week high school summer program. She has also mentored in the Hispanic Youth Leadership Development Program through the American Red Cross.

Serrano and her husband have two young children.

Michael Vaughn is a supervisor for ITT Space Systems
Michael Vaughn.Michael Vaughn is a supervisor in the Image Science Center of Excellence (COE) at ITT Space Systems (Rochester, NY). There are ten engineers on his team.

“As supervisor I make certain my group has the necessary resources for the work they are doing, and that the individuals within the group are moving along their career paths. I also perform the administrative functions of the group and ensure that security practices are adhered to,” says Vaughn.

Vaughn received a 1990 BSEE and a 1999 MS in imaging science from the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT, Rochester, NY). He started his career with Kodak, beginning in 1988 as a co-op analyzing hardware power supplies, then moving into imaging science where he worked on compression algorithms.

After he graduated he worked on the government side of Kodak for seven years. “Following the compression algorithms I got involved in the image processing chain, developing sharpening algorithms,” he explains. In 1997 he moved to the commercial side, working on high-end digital cameras as an image and color scientist. He has two patents related to digital photography.

In 2003 Vaughn returned to the government side as a team lead with five to ten direct reports. In 2004 his area became part of ITT Space Systems, and he became a supervisor in the Image Science COE.

Vaughn grew up in Elmira, NY, enjoying math, science and particularly chemistry. One summer he got into RIT’s minority introduction to engineering summer program, loved it, and went on from there.

Vaughn feels that as an African American he has had to overcome a number of challenges raised by his own feelings. “I don’t recall anything overt but, for example, if I go to a meeting and no one else there looks like me, to compensate I sit up at the front of the room!”

He says one of the most rewarding parts of his job is seeing the success of people he manages and mentors.

Vaughn is also the pastor of a local church, and he tells his congregation you can only control one person: yourself. “So that’s what I do,” he says.

He and his wife have three boys and two girls; two of the children are already interested in technology. “When I go home and my family is there to greet me, there’s no better feeling,” he says.

Tomorra Wessel: helping pilots at Rockwell Collins
Tomorra Wessel.As a senior software engineer at Rockwell Collins, Inc (Cedar Rapids, IA), Tomorra Wessel loves to hear that a solution she’s worked on is helping pilots in the field. “It’s really cool to see something we developed put on an aircraft and used daily!” she says.

Rockwell Collins provides communication and aviation electronics solutions for commercial and government applications. Wessel works with flight management systems for customers. “My department develops the software that does the flight management, guidance and navigation for military aircraft,” she says.

Wessel started with Rockwell Collins after getting her BSCS in 1996. She began working on GPS technology in the government systems business unit, then moved into flight management systems. Over the years she’s been a project engineer and a functional lead.

“As a project engineer I had a small team and coordinated functional software developments, schedule and the budget, and made sure program requirements were being met.” Currently she’s functional lead for a helicopter vertical navigation project, helicopter military approaches and other software areas.

Wessel wasn’t specially looking for defense work when she joined Rockwell Collins. “Coming out of college, I was looking for a job that would challenge me and allow me to work with the latest technology. I found the answer to both in the defense industry,” she says. “In my twelve years here I’ve seen huge leaps in the technology we use and create.”

Wessel is married with two children, and like many women techies she feels her biggest challenge is achieving work/life balance. “Fortunately, my boss and the department head let me telecommute and work flextime to be at home as much as I can. It’s been wonderful to have such great leadership and support.”

Dr Margaretha W. Price integrates software apps at GDEB
Dr Margaretha Price.“It was unusual for women to pursue technical careers in Indonesia,” says Margaretha W. Price, PhD, a principal engineer with General Dynamics Electric Boat Corp (GDEB, Groton, CT). Price grew up on Java in Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-largest city. “My father went to school in the U.S. He knew that I was good in math and suggested that I go to the States to pursue a CS degree.”

So after high school Price left Indonesia for West Virginia University. She received a BSCS in 1990 and an MSCS in 1992, working as a research and teaching assistant in the school’s CS department.

She worked for MountainNet Inc (Morgantown, WV) as a software engineer after graduation. When her husband, who was in the military, was stationed in Connecticut she went on to a 1998 PhD in CS from the University of Connecticut.

In 1998 she was hired by Raytheon as a senior software engineer II for naval and maritime integrated systems, working at the company’s Portsmouth, RI site. “This was leaning toward a quality assurance role at the end,” she notes. “I was helping others develop software using the right processes.

“It was good experience, but the job I’m in now at Electric Boat is more of a challenge, and the company was very interested in the area I was researching.” She became a principal engineer with Electric Boat in 2000.

In her current position Price leads a team that integrates software applications, laying the groundwork for design, construction and maintenance of future generations of nuclear subs. “We have the freedom here to choose the tools and the technology,” she reports with pleasure.

“We’re actually defining our own method of integration because we did not find a preexisting one that was a good fit. But we’re using out-of-the-box tools, and we use established standards, of course. It’s fascinating and quite challenging.”

Price landed her present position through her PhD advisor, who had a project at Electric Boat. She is continuing her association with UConn.

“I need that connection,” she says. “It helps to be involved with people at the university level and to work with grad students who have different perspectives and familiarity with the latest tools.”

Price has two young children at home. She teaches Sunday school, and works to keep up with her reading in technical journals.

Nora C. Lin: supportability engineering at Northrop Grumman
Nora Lin.Nora C. Lin is a manager of supportability engineering at Northrop Grumman (Los Angeles, CA), a defense-related global security company with 120,000 employees in the U.S. and twenty other countries. Lin is responsible for the supportability of all electronic warfare systems in all program areas at the company’s Rolling Meadows campus (Rolling Meadows, IL).

Lin and her seventeen direct reports identify supportability requirements, perform maintainability, testability, reliability, safety and human factors analysis, and define built-in test functionality and test philosophy for programs.

“You have to work with the design teams to be sure support requirements have been built in so the product is mission-ready, safe to use, easily maintained by the end user and highly reliable,” she explains. “These issues have to be worked out in the design stage.”

Most of the systems go into helicopters or fixed-wing aircraft, Lin says. “You have to make sure the reliability is there for the warfighter.” Products for military aircraft involve environmental issues as well, since variables like altitude, temperature and vibration can have significant effects.

Supportability engineering, Lin stresses, is extremely important in ensuring reliability and ease of maintenance. “If you do things right at the beginning, you save a lot of money overall.”

Lin has a 1975 BS in physics from Chung Yuan Christian College of Science and Engineering (Taiwan, ROC) and a 1979 MS in physics from the University of Alabama in Birmingham. She worked as a project analyst for a major oil company in Tulsa, OK for two years, then moved to aircraft company McDonnell Douglas (St. Louis, MO) as a group manager and software engineer.

In 1993 she joined Northrop Grumman as a software engineering manager. Since then she’s held several jobs and done independent research as well. In 2002 she moved into supportability.

Lin says she began to work essentially for supplemental income. “In Asian culture it’s expected that men are providers and the husband’s career comes first. But when my husband lost his job in the early 1980s I realized I needed to be a real support for the family. I taught myself programming and moved to McDonnell Douglas as a software engineer, and I really loved it. It was a natural fit.

“My husband had hated his job as an EnvE. With my better income as a prop he was able to venture into real estate, and now he’s very happy. We encourage and complement each other.

“Once you have a passion about your job the day goes quickly. I love the technical challenges and problem-solving.”

Apart from work, Lin is actively engaged in the Society of Women Engineers (www.swe.org); this summer she became its new national president. “I’m very passionate about SWE and its mission of encouraging women to enter and stay in the STEM professions,” she says. She recently received the 2009 Asian American engineer of the year award, and last year she received a Women of Color in Technology career achievement award.

She and her husband take time to chair Second Wind, a church group aimed at people over fifty. She also loves cooking and entertaining, but she admits that the responsibilities of her job, her volunteer work and her new position at SWE make finding time a challenge.

Salma Alli works with regs and specs at Boeing
Salma Alli.Salma Alli is an interior certification engineer in the 737 Next Generation airplane program. Although most of her responsibilities involve commercial aircraft, she also supports DOD projects. She makes sure that interior modifications comply with applicable regulations on the 737. That aircraft becomes the P-8A Poseidon intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft, and the 737 Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) Wedgetail. “These planes come without seats, galleys or overhead bins and are known as ‘green planes,’” she says. “The installation of the special systems is done by Boeing’s Integrated Defense Systems (IDS) group, but we beef up the specs on military planes before sending them over.”

For her work on commercial planes, Alli ensures that seats, stow bins and galleys conform to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) specs as well as European standards.

She’s on a team of about twelve certification engineers, working closely with the design groups to be sure components are compliant from the beginning.

Alli has a 2006 BSME from Howard University (Washington, DC). She was hired right out of school by Boeing as a propulsion design engineer, but had prior experience working as a stress engineer on aircraft components through an internship at precision control-maker Moog, Inc (East Aurora, NY). An earlier internship at Brailsford and Dunlavey (Washington, DC), a facilities planning firm, added project management skills to her repertoire.

A high-school class in advanced physics was Alli’s first clue that engineering was the way to go. She chose ME as the most versatile discipline: “It’s pretty much the foundation of engineering,” she says. And she chose Boeing because she loves aviation.

Being a woman has not slowed her down at Boeing; in fact, several of her mentors have been women. “I actually see more women here at Boeing than I did at school,” she says with a laugh. “There were only a few women in my graduating class, and only one women’s room in the engineering building at Howard.

“Gender is not a challenge, but I do face the challenges of being an engineer and understanding my responsibilities, like knowing the intent of the FAA regulations, making sure my interpretation is correct and doing all the research and homework.

“I love stepping away from my desk and doing the compliance walk, and from my office I have a good view of the assembly line.”

After hours Alli participates in Steps Ahead, an outreach program that teaches children about being engineers. “Our part of it is an after-school math and science program for the fourth-grade students at a local elementary school.”

Alli is also learning to fly. “Boeing offers a lot of classes and many of us take flying lessons. I also have a photography class on Saturdays and I’m signing up for a culinary class.”

But of course it’s the work she loves most. “I’m doing what I always wanted to do. The opportunities here are endless.”

MSCS Ryan Puga Nakamoto is a tech lead at Raytheon’s ITP
Ryan Nakamoto.Ryan Puga Nakamoto works as a senior engineer in the Integrated Technology Program (ITP) of Raytheon Company’s Space and Airborne Systems (El Segundo, CA). He’s the technical lead for a classified product that’s deployed to multiple programs in a variety of areas, involving hardware, software and systems engineering. “I have to interface with multiple product teams,” he says. “I’ve certainly learned to be multi-disciplined.”

Nakamoto reports that Raytheon’s organization is a mix of matrix and functional management. “It’s pretty diverse, and the atmosphere is casual. I have rotated through several business units within Space and Airborne Systems, and I really like ITP. It’s exciting and challenging, and a lot of what we do involves inventing new technologies and products.”

Nakamoto grew up in East Los Angeles; his ancestry is Japanese, Brazilian, Peruvian and Native American of the Apache and Chiricahua tribes, “just to name a few,” he says. “Growing up in East Los Angeles I felt a connection to the Latino community. Not too many kids from that area go on to college.”

But Nakamoto did. He received a BSCS and a BA in economics from the University of California-Los Angeles in 2003. In college he was a member of the Society of Latino Engineers and Scientists (SOLES) and the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES). He did an internship as a Web developer at Player 1 Gaming, and worked part-time as an applications developer in finance and information management at UCLA’s external affairs department. In 2007 he completed an MS in CS and EE from Loyola Marymount University (Los Angeles, CA).

He found his job at Raytheon simply by submitting his resume online.

He’s still a member of SOLES and AISES, as well as the Raytheon American Indian Network (RAIN). He recruits for Raytheon at UCLA, and is on the executive council of Raytheon’s Young Employee Success Network (YESNet), which involves him in some tutoring at local schools.

Nakamoto likes the defense industry. “The things you get to work on are very cutting edge, and the work is challenging and rewarding.” It’s a major challenge, he says, to “manage a product that has to meet the specific needs of multiple clients and also integrate your work with other product teams. But when you complete it and it fulfills its requirements, you know it will help the warfighter, and that is very rewarding.”

Outside work Nakamoto plays competitive tennis. He also enjoys surfing and likes living near the beach.

Dena Accomazzo is an integration manager at Pratt & Whitney
Dena Accomazzo.“I love being part of a world-class organization that makes a fabulous product,” Dena Accomazzo says. “Whenever I’m on a plane and we take off I listen to the hum of the engine. I know that behind that engine are many people working on safety and performance.”

Accomazzo is the F135 earned-value integration manager with Pratt & Whitney (P&W, Hartford, CT, a United Technologies company). P&W makes jet engines for commercial and military aircraft and the space shuttle, as well as engines for power generation. Its F135 advanced fighter engine powers the F135 Lightning II aircraft.

Accomazzo works in the program management office for the F135. “I keep track of earned value throughout the system design and development program, and report to senior management so they can make informed decisions as we develop the engine,” she says. As in all government programs there are established milestones to be met, and she measures how well the program is doing in terms of meeting contractual agreements for cost and schedule performance.

The F135 program involves hundreds of employees. Accomazzo interacts with the engineering and finance organizations, analyzing and summarizing data in reports that go to the government and senior management.

She has a 1998 BS in materials engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI, Troy, NY) and a 2003 MBA from Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, PA). At RPI she was president of the student section of SWE.

When she got her BS she found a job with P&W as a failure analyst in materials and processes engineering. In 2005 she was selected for the company’s leadership development program and moved into project management, supporting senior management in military engines. She joined the F135 program office in 2007.

Accomazzo determined to be an engineer after a woman engineer from IBM spoke to her sixth-grade class. But she didn’t discover her love of engines and metallurgy until she was doing internships in college.

Her first professional experience was a co-op with General Electric’s power systems HQ in Schenectady, NY; during her second she worked as a failure analyst and materials engineer for Pratt & Whitney. “I always had a fascination with the space program, and was interested in working for a company that contributed to that type of effort,” she says.

Failure analysis, she found out, was an overwhelmingly male environment. Accomazzo was only the second woman to work in that group at Pratt & Whitney. “I had to become more assertive to be taken seriously and I had to avoid reinforcing stereotypes.

“I still have to think about what I choose to do or not to do. I have to be careful about the signals I send.”

The gender discrimination she’s avoiding “is all subconscious,” she hastens to add. “I know that everyone here has a positive intent.

“The team here is world-class. I’ve had some really great mentors, and I’m proud to be a part of this company.”

In her spare time, Accomazzo is active with the Girl Scouts of America and the New England Trail Riders Association. Both she and her husband, an ME with UTC Power, love dirt-bike racing. “He races and I’m his pit crew,” she explains. “There are nineteen big races a year and they’re held all over New England and New York State.”


Check websites for current openings.

Company and location Business area
BAE Systems (Rockville, MD)
Defense, security and aerospace solutions
The Boeing Co (Seattle, WA)
Commercial and military aircraft
Booz Allen Hamilton (McLean, VA)
Strategy and technology consulting
CNA (Alexandria, VA)
Nonprofit doing government research
DRS Technologies (Parsippany, NJ)
Defense and industrial electronics
General Dynamics C4 Systems
(Scottsdale, AZ) www.gdc4s.com
Development and integration of secure communication, information systems and technology
General Dynamics Electric Boat
(Groton, CT) www.gdeb.com
Design, manufacture and maintenance of nuclear submarines
GE Aviation (Cincinnati, OH)
Jet engines, components and integrated systems for commercial and military
ITT Corp (McLean, VA)
Space-based defense systems
KBR (Houston, TX)
Engineering, construction and services supporting the energy, hydrocarbon, government services and civil infrastructure sectors
Lockheed Martin (Bethesda, MD)
Security, IT and systems integration
Northrop Grumman (Los Angeles, CA)
Global security and defense
Pratt & Whitney (East Hartford, CT)
Aircraft engines
Raytheon Co (Waltham, MA)
Aerospace and electronics
Rockwell Collins (Cedar Rapids, IA)
Communications and aviation electronics
Science Applications International Corp
(SAIC, San Diego, CA) www.saic.com
Scientific, engineering and technology applications

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