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Diversity/Careers in Engineering & Information Technology



April/May 2010

Diversity/Careers April/May 2010 Issue

Women of color
Insurance IT
Aerospace & defense
Civil engineers
Fisher of CECOM
Black Engineer of the Year
MinneWIC conference

Veteran-owned suppliers
News & Views
NMBC gala
WBENC: ready to connect
Regional roundup
Supplier diversity

Diversity in action
News & Views

Ford Boston Scientific
National Radio Astronomy Observatory Rockwell Collins
Bonneville Power

At the top

At CECOM, Joseph Fisher heads up a communications directorate

“The part I like most is finding solutions to problems so the warfighters can perform their mission.” – Joseph Fisher

Joseph Fisher.Joseph Fisher is director of the communications directorate for the Software Engineering Center (SEC)
of the CECOM life cycle management command at Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD.

CECOM is the Army’s Communications Electronics Command. Fisher leads CECOM’s efforts in providing state-of-the-art satellite and tactical communications software engineering products and services throughout the U.S. Army and the Department of Defense. He’s responsible for some sixty-eight communications systems in various stages of their lifecycles, a budget
of $120 million-plus and more than 150 government personnel and 260 industry employees.

His job takes him to the far reaches of the globe. Sometimes he’s at a center where he can view a satellite feed in outer space, sometimes it’s in-person visits. “I’ve been in situations where one day I’m here and the next day I’m in Saudi Arabia,” Fisher says.

Battlefield communication
The satellite systems are designed to let deployed warfighters communicate on the battlefield. Fisher’s team provides the software engineering services that enable uninterrupted and secure voice, video and data transmission. Automated planning and control of the communication network systems is the team’s responsibility, as is the support of thirty-plus satellite systems. The team also handles software engineering support to developmental systems: the Joint Tactical Radio System, Wideband Global SATCOM, and Warfighter Information Network Tactical.

Another major segment of Fisher’s directorate is software sustainment for the current force. This includes new software releases across strategic and tactical communications systems worldwide.

Busy days plus
Fisher’s day varies depending on pressing issues at hand. “Some days I’m working with senior leadership on scheduled software releases for thousands of user requirements. Over the year we provide releases to correct deficiencies and information assurance updates. We mitigate vulnerabilities to make sure cyber-intruder attacks won’t compromise the warfighter mission,” he says.

He might be meeting with program managers, or working on the operating budget. “I could be meeting with VIPs to demonstrate the technologies or assigning personnel to provide support in southwest Asia. And I answer an astounding amount of email,” he notes with a smile.

Travel, meeting deadlines and keeping up with the needs of users are all part of a day’s work. “I most enjoy software-related issues with battlefield systems. I have a strong appreciation of software support to the warfighters. The part I like the most is finding solutions to problems so the warfighters can perform their mission,” Fisher says.

Empowering his staff
Thirteen senior staff members help Fisher run the operation, but he notes that he has “an open door policy” if other staffers have issues.

“I hope they’d say I’m an effective leader who empowers them to do their work,” he reflects.
“I don’t hang over them, but I give them guidance to work and solve the problem. I give them knowledge and dedication, just as I do to the warfighter.

“Leadership requires listening, understanding and respecting each team member’s viewpoint,” Fisher believes. He notes that his team’s achievements are reflected in awards they’ve received, including the CECOM Team of the Year and Top 100 Federal Employees.

Starting out
Fisher grew up in Brooklyn, NY. When he was a teenager, his brother-in-law, an engineering technician, sparked his interest in electrical engineering. Fisher was at Brooklyn Technical High School and already knew he was strong in math.

He got his BSEE from the City College of New York (New York, NY) in 1983 and an MS in electronics engineering from Monmouth University (West Monmouth, NJ) in 1989.

After he completed the BSEE Fisher went to work as a civilian government employee for the U.S. Naval Air Engineering Center (Lakehurst, NJ). He was in an R&D lab, investigating requirements and developing the architecture for an advanced catapult control system simulator.

In 1985 he moved up to project leader on several tactical communications systems for
CECOM. He managed multiple battlefield communications programs, tactical systems and mobile subscriber equipment that provides voice, video and data for deployed warfighters on the ground.

“I had those programs and other communications programs,” he explains, “and I was responsible for planning, developing and testing software releases and overseeing a team
of contractors. I had to meet with all the stakeholders to make sure functional requirements that needed to be corrected were actually corrected on time and performing properly.”

Moving up
Fisher progressed through increasingly important ranks from that point on. He explains that each job essentially had the same “skeleton” of duties, with added responsibilities layered
on top.

From 1994 to 2005 Fisher was chief of the tactical communications branch. His branch led efforts to provide tactical communications software engineering products and services throughout the Army and the Department of Defense, and supported more than thirty communication systems in various stages of the system lifecycle. The branch included
forty-plus government personnel and more than seventy-five contractors.

In 2005 he became acting division chief for the communications division of the battle-space systems support directorate of the SEC. He was responsible for program management of the division’s mission: software engineering lifecycle support for some sixty-five communication systems throughout the Army and the DOD. That job included system software engineering
for tactical and strategic communications systems.

In early 2009 Fisher became deputy director of the communications directorate; by November he was its director.“Each job was just another step higher,” he reflects.


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