Aerospace & defense: still strong,
The military, aircraft, missile and space sectors are holding their own, and companies in these industries are looking to keep their techie pipelines full
“It is important for us to create an internal environment that encourages professional growth.” – Rich Hartnett, Boeing
By Monique Rizer
Sales are up but employment is slightly down according to the 2009 year-end review of the Aerospace Industry Association (AIA). AIA reports that total aerospace sales in 2009 will be a little over $214 billion, a record for the sixth straight year, although employment dipped by 4 percent from 2008 to the third quarter of 2009.
The AIA is confident of the industry’s ability to weather the economic downturn, pointing to new aircraft and continued growth in demand for military aircraft, missiles and space-sector equipment. And most companies we spoke to were definitely looking to bring in more diverse techies.
One example: at Harris (Melbourne, FL), the communications and IT giant, “The recruitment of niche skill sets requiring high-level clearances continues to be a primary focus for our organization,” says Amy Chocolaad, sourcing supervisor.
Boeing wants diversity and depth of engineers
“We have a large backlog of products for many different customers. That gives us opportunity for the future,” says Rich Hartnett, director of staffing at the Boeing Company (Chicago, IL). “With two new airplanes, the 747-8 and the 787, we are looking at major production activities. We also have a number of key defense programs, particularly in cyber intell and support of homeland security.”
Boeing does business 24/7 in seventy countries and has employees in all fifty U.S. states, Hartnett says. “We clearly are looking for a workforce that represents the diversity of the communities and customers where we do business.”
The company actively hires new grads, bringing in some 1,000 interns a year. But experienced pros are also essential.
“Our program lifecycles can last ten to fifteen years and we need engineers and technical folks with the ability to develop and sustain programs that long,” Hartnett explains. “You can’t bring in a new grad to replace an engineer who’s been with us twenty-five or thirty years. It’s important for us to create an internal environment that encourages professional growth.”
In fact, keeping a full pipeline of engineers remains a goal and a challenge for aerospace, defense and many related industries.
At Boeing, Stephanie LaBoo is an award-winning ChE
Stephanie LaBoo is a chemical process manager at the Auburn, WA fabrication division of Boeing. She recently received a Black Engineer of the Year (BEYA) modern-day technology award, and is one of nine Boeing techies honored at this year’s BEYA convention.
LaBoo holds a 1996 BSChE from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (Troy, NY). She interned with Boeing in 1995 and went to work there when she graduated.
Her first job involved making chemical processes more environmentally friendly. After a year she moved to a group designing interior lighting for Boeing planes.
“That was an education. It put my work into a business context,” LaBoo says. “I saw how orders come in and commodities come together to create the interiors. There’s no wasted space on a plane; every designer is fighting for an inch here or there.”
After two years LaBoo returned to ChE work in the chemical process and risk management reliability group, which provides chemical processing for all manufactured parts at Boeing.
“The parts go through a chemical tank line and are treated for things like wear and corrosion protection and paint adhesion,” LaBoo explains. “This is one of the last operations before the parts are assembled onto the plane.”
Some 150,000 parts go through the tank line each year. It’s LaBoo’s job to make sure the chemical tank operators are well trained and know the hazards of the chemicals they work with, and that equipment changes or repairs are chemically compatible.
LaBoo is active with NSBE. “For several years now, Boeing has been in the top five on NSBE’s ranking of the top fifty employers for African Americans,” she says with pride.
Aerojet’s Bee Vue does systems analysis
Bee Vue is a systems engineer at Aerojet (Sacramento, CA), working on the Orion main engine team. Orion is a NASA-commissioned spacecraft. “I do a lot of systems analysis on how phases of a mission impact certain components,” Vue says. “We use that as we design the mission phase.”
Vue has a 2008 BSAE from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, MA) and a 2009 MS in space engineering from the University of Michigan.
He attended both schools on scholarships from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Before settling down at Aerojet, Vue did summer research with the University of Minnesota’s aerospace department and interned at 3M (St. Paul, MN). He also interned at GE (Fairfield, CT), where he worked on turbo fans for aircraft engines at the Lynn, MA facility; Aurora Flight Sciences (Manassas, VA), where he did engine analysis; and the NASA Ames Research Center (Mountain View, CA), where he researched air traffic management.
“I tried to keep busy,” he says with a smile. “I was fortunate to get exposure in research and in different fields.”
Vue’s Hmong parents fled Laos twenty years ago; he was born in a Thai refugee camp before the family moved to Minnesota.
As a Boy Scout, Vue was chosen to represent the U.S. at a jamboree in Thailand. He was the first in his family to graduate from college and the first person of Hmong descent to attend MIT.
Being part of a project in space “has always been my dream,” he says. “A lot of people who want that never make it. I guess I got here faster than I expected.”
Specialized skills at Aerojet
“There aren’t many rocket manufacturers in the country,” notes Lana Sanchez, college recruiting specialist at Aerojet. While the company hires new grads as well as experienced pros, the skills needed are very specific.
“Hiring at the experienced level poses some challenges as there is not a large base of candidates to draw from,” Sanchez says. “We provide mentoring and on-the-job training to get new hires up to speed with our specialized engineering focus.”
Aerojet is currently looking for a range of experienced engineers, including structural and thermal engineering analysts and folks in materials, project, quality and explosives engineering. Since Aerojet is “supporting development and production programs in the defense and space exploration arenas, our hiring outlook is strong,” Sanchez says.
Cultural diversity is also strong at Aerojet, Sanchez reports. “The commitment to valuing diversity is deeply rooted in our culture and has grown and gathered strength for decades.
We are a team of people who respect, trust, value and appreciate each other, and together
we create a great work environment. Our people and our products push the boundaries of possibility!”
Carl Alleyne is GeoEye’s VP of engineering
In 2008 Carl Alleyne became VP of engineering at GeoEye (Dulles, VA), a provider of satellite and aerial-based geospatial information and services to government and commercial customers. “Our satellites collect pictures of
Earth from space,” Alleyne explains. “Some customers can access our imagery from a desktop computer through Web mapping services.” GeoEye offers imagery collection, geospatial production and information services; the super high-res GeoEye-1 earth-imaging satellite, which was commissioned in 2009,
is part of its fleet. Alleyne and his team are preparing for the launch of GeoEye-2, scheduled in late 2012.
Alleyne has held many interesting positions during his twenty-nine-year engineering career.
He graduated from Delaware State University with a BS in math, and completed an MS in engineering with an emphasis on CS from Loyola College (Baltimore, MD) in 1999. He started as an actuary scientist with an insurance company, then joined the Defense Mapping Agency, now the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, as a mathematician.
In 1985 he went to work for Westinghouse Corp, now part of Northrop Grumman, in Baltimore, MD. He spent twenty-plus years there, moving steadily upward from software engineer to director of software engineering, engineering manager for the company’s Joint Strike Fighter electrical-optical program and then VP in Northrop Grumman’s Woodland Hills, CA location
In 2007 he moved to Raytheon as deputy VP of engineering for the intelligence and information systems sector in Falls Church, VA. He joined GeoEye the next year.
“I came through the ranks as a technician and a manager through discipline, teamwork and good business ethics,” he asserts. “Coaching football for twelve years helped me develop my leadership skills. But some of it was being in the right place at the right time,” he admits with
The future is bright for people with the skills to work on space-based technology, Alleyne believes. But he’s concerned about the lack of interest from young people, who shun the math and science education they need to compete for those jobs.
“Satellite imaging and geospatial technologies are a growth industry, and I am pleased to be a pioneer here,” he says.
At SPAWAR Systems Center Pacific the workforce mirrors the population
The Space and Naval Warfare (SPAWAR) Systems Center Pacific (SSCPAC) is part of a Navy acquisition command that supports procurement, R&D, and fielding and sustaining IT systems to support Navy ships, Navy commands and other military organizations.
The unit’s technical staff includes EEs, computer engineers and scientists, MEs and IT specialists that support the design of hardware systems. Celia Metz, director of corporate operations, explains that “We focus on computer systems that work on command and control to help ships execute navigation and tracking of targets and war-fighting activities, as well as computer systems that help people disseminate and understand information at both classified and unclassified levels.
“We are the only DoD dedicated center of excellence for the type of work we do.”
The group is eager to bring in diverse new hires for some of the hundred entry-level engineering and science jobs it plans to fill this year. “We want our workforce to be a good mirror of the general population and are looking to increase our diversity,” Metz says.
To reach the next generation, SPAWAR recruits through Facebook, Twitter and blogs. “We’re looking for people who want meaningful work and a work/life balance, not necessarily just salary,” Metz says.
Ayax Ramirez is a branch head for advanced technology at SPAWA
Ayax Ramirez is a senior physicist and manager of the advanced technology branch at SPAWAR Systems Center San Diego (SSC-SD). His team does optical fibers, laser communications and integrated photonics research.
While pursuing his 1987 BS and 1989 MS in physics at San Diego State University (San Diego, CA) he worked for SSC-SD as a student researcher.
“I really fell in love with the place and the research they were doing,” he says.
He applied for a fulltime job, but there was a hiring freeze and he could not get on board right away, so he went to work for SAIC (McLean, VA). As part of a DoD contract, he worked on ways to destroy chemical weapons, as well as the physics and engineering involved in handling the chemicals.
In 1997 he was brought into SSCPAC, and in 1999 he added teaching duties at Southwestern College (Chula Vista, CA), where he’s still an adjunct professor. He also launched and manages an internship program with Southwestern College, which has a large Hispanic population, in cooperation with SSC-SD.
One of his SSCPAC team’s recent projects involves transmitting RF signals through fiber
by having the signals modulate a laser. “It lets you replace RF cables on a submarine, for example, and get all your optical signals through fiber below deck. It reduces weight and gives you an increase in bandwidth,” he explains. “We’ve done that successfully with systems about to be implemented in the fleet. It’s a very interesting project.”
Ramirez has won professional and community service awards, including an Hispanic Engineer national achievement award in 2006 and a meritorious service award from the National Organization for Mexican American Rights in 2008. He holds sixteen issued and pending patents and has published many papers. He also participates in several Office of Naval Research mentoring and internship programs, and when San Diego City Schools’ “shadow day” comes around he lets a troop of local students follow him around to see what his job involves. He also serves as a judge at the Greater San Diego Science and Engineering Fair for junior high and high school students.
And just recently he took up the conga drums. Now he plays them in a local band called the Baja Compas. “I had to learn to play an instrument,” he says with a smile.
Emory Dickerson: lead test engineer at General Dynamics C4 Systems
Emory Dickerson holds a 1980 BSEE from Tennessee State University (Nashville, TN). His first job was with the Phoenix, AZ office of Honeywell (Morristown, NJ), where he worked as a software engineer, programming in Assembly language. In 1984 he moved to General Dynamics C4 Systems (Scottsdale, AZ).
“General Dynamics offered the same type of work as Honeywell, but I thought the projects were more interesting,” he says. One, for example, was aimed at fooling an enemy as to where a military operation was actually taking place. “You would use radios
to make it seem that combat units were talking back and forth, but it was all prerecorded messages. The object was to draw the enemy to the decoy area,” he explains. “My job was
to program the radios and microprocessors to start messaging at a certain time.”
On another project he traveled to Iwo Jima to work with the Japanese air force.
By 1996 he had transitioned from software to leading a group of test engineers. In 2003 he began working on a mobile communications infrastructure for the Marine Corps and in 2005 moved into the lead software integration role on the project. “I was wearing two hats for a while,” he says. In 2009 he went back to lead test engineer.
Dickerson’s rotations through project roles is a common career development approach at General Dynamics. “You’ll see diversity not only in our company, but within our project teams, too,” says Bernadette Phillips-Garcia, senior manager for global mobility and diversity for C4 Systems. “We always try
to make sure that everyone is fully participating in assignments and work responsibilities. We give everyone a chance to learn and grow and we find
that is also a successful approach to diversity.”
General Dynamics is looking for engineers, says senior recruiter Karen Culkins. There are more than 400 open job postings for new grads, experienced engineers, field service engineers and veterans. Most opportunities are in systems, software, and electrical and mechanical design and development.
Eddie Post is tech support manager at Rockwell Collins
Eddie Post is a manager of technical support at Rockwell Collins (Cedar Rapids, IA). He has a 2003 BSCS with an emphasis in business management from Iowa Wesleyan College and is working toward an MBA at the University of Iowa. His mother is Korean.
Post worked fulltime at Motorola in Mount Pleasant, IA while earning his BSCS. “It took seven years,” he says. He began on Motorola’s production line, but after he got his degree he became a programmer, writing software for optical inspection systems.
In 2005 he moved to Rockwell Collins as a production manager in the Coralville, IA facility, which makes GPS products for the Army. He led a team of thirty repair operators and test technicians. “This was a transition for me, going from a technical person to leading technical people,” he says. After three years he was promoted to manager of tech support.
“I started where everything was already in production; now I’m at the beginning of the lifecycle where things are still being designed and getting ready for production,” he says. His projects include the ARC-210, an airborne radio, and the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS).
“I enjoy working in the defense side of the business.” he says. “Everything we make is for the armed forces. Knowing we’re supplying the quality products they need in the field makes you feel good.”
Engineers at all levels at Rockwell Collins
“We’re winning more contracts this year and our hiring is expanding,” says Sue Nelson, Rockwell Collins director of diversity. She says the business expects to increase its hiring of engineers this year. Most in demand are electrical, systems and software engineers, plus some MEs.
Hiring is picking up in the company’s Portland, OR; Sterling, VA; Melbourne,
FL, Cedar Rapids, IA and Richardson, TX sites. “We hire at all levels of engineering,” she notes.
The company is associated with groups like SWE, the American Association of People with Disabilities, NSBE and HENAAC. “We are trying to create an open and welcoming environment where everyone feels comfortable: a place where you want to build your career,” Nelson says.
Jacqueline Toussaint-Barker of the Air Force Research Lab
Jacqueline Toussaint-Barker is chief of the electronics exploration branch of the sensors directorate at the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL, Wright-Patterson AFB, OH). She has a 1988 BS in physics from Xavier University of Louisiana and a BSEE from the University of New Orleans.
“Xavier didn’t have an engineering program,” she explains, “but they had partnerships with other schools.” She began at Xavier for the physics degree and appreciated the opportunity to complete an EE at a partner school.
After learning about AFRL from a professor she got together with AFRL recruiters at a NSBE conference and was brought into the lab as a “bench level science engineer” in the fire control branch. After five years she moved to a radar branch where she worked on in-house signal processing and algorithm development.
In 1997 she moved to the integrated systems branch and became a lead. She worked with partners outside AFRL, the Pentagon among them, and became a branch chief in 2007.
“My primary role is managing the people, budget and work environment,” she says. “We do
a lot of innovative work in terms of electronics, advanced materials for RF and optical apps. We’re looking for specialized folks in those areas.”
The sensors directorate’s mission is to “lead the discovery, development and integration
of affordable sensor and countermeasure technologies for the warfighter.” Teams in the directorate work on technologies like unmanned surveillance aircraft, helmet-mounted night vision cuing systems for airmen, and flying sensors that look like huge sci-fi insects.
AFRL seeks advanced-degree researchers
“We’re looking for people who want to go to grad school,” branch chief Toussaint-Barker continues. “If you come in with an MS and you’re good, within three years I’m going to ship you off to get your PhD.”
Work at AFRL may include chemistry, EE, physics, CS, materials science, AE, behavioral science and bioenvironmental engineering. It employs scientists, health physicists and more, reports Polly Sweet, director of personnel.
“Like most federal agencies, AFRL is faced with balancing an aging workforce while competing for great new talent,” she adds. “We offer the opportunity for hands-on and cutting-edge research that impacts national and international programs, the opportunity for continuing education, work/life balance, employment stability, service to country and community and more.”
Joe Sciabica, AFRL’s executive director, notes that the lab “strives to create and sustain a diverse workforce and values people with a range of human experiences.
“From a technological perspective, diversity is one of the largest drivers for innovation,” he believes. “People bring their unique perspectives to the table and that adds value and maximizes the potential of all our employees.”
FAA needs engineers to build the NextGen air traffic control system
“The next-generation air traffic control system is a national imperative,” declares Sandra Sanchez, director of organizational culture and diversity
at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA, Washington, DC). “The NextGen will fundamentally change the way we manage our air traffic with new technologies, surveillance, navigation and communications. That’s going to take all kinds of engineers.”
FAA will, she says, need aeronautical engineers, CEs, IEs, EEs, MEs and safety, software and human factors engineers as well as research scientists and chief scientists.
“We’re looking for everything from interns to PhD-level chief scientists,” Sanchez explains.
“It’s a real opportunity for people who have a passion for the mission.”
The FAA also focuses on diversity. “We believe diversity is very important in all its forms,” Sanchez says. “It gives you new ways of thinking of things and looking at problems. We need all those skills as we tackle the design of the next air traffic control system.”
EE Juan Martinez: NextGen at the FAA
Juan Martinez was hired through an FAA recruitment effort geared toward people with disabilities. He’s used a wheelchair since a spinal cord injury caused by a diving accident when he was twelve.
Martinez earned a BSEE from the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez in 2004. The following year he completed a “fundamentals of engineering” license and started his job search.
In 2007 he went to work as a patent examiner with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (Alexandria, VA). “I always wanted to work in the States and live independently,” he says.
He found his FAA job at a Dept of Transportation career fair aimed at people with disabilities.
“I spoke with FAA’s EEO rep and she got me an interview with the person who is now my manager,” he says. “Apparently he liked my ideas because I got a follow-up interview later that day.”
Martinez works at the FAA’s office of systems engineering and safety. “We look at proposed NextGen initiatives and programs, help organizations define their needs and evaluate potential alternatives,” he explains. “We guide them in how to integrate NextGen with the other national airspace systems efforts.”
A recent initiative, for example, is designed to help air crews detect differences in precipitation. “The current system has trouble identifying between drizzle and freezing drizzle, for example. We’re upgrading to a much finer-grade sensor,” Martinez explains.
“I love this job,” he says. “It’s rewarding to see these types of initiatives, and the people I work with are excellent.”
Melissa Garcia Vasquez: Six Sigma at Textron’s Overwatch division
Melissa Garcia Vasquez is a Six Sigma Black Belt at Overwatch, a division of Textron Systems (Wilmington, MA). She has seventeen years of engineering experience following her 1992 BA in math from the University of Texas-Austin.
In 1993 she joined the Austin, TX division of Lockheed Martin (Bethesda, MD) as a programmer. “I wasn’t sure what to do with my math degree,” she recalls, “but what they had was perfect. They were looking for a programmer with strong math skills and computers came naturally to me.”
When the Austin division closed Vasquez moved to a job as a software applications engineer with Lockheed in the Northeast. In 1998 she and her ChE husband returned to Austin where she joined Overwatch, moving through jobs as technical lead, project lead, supervisor and manager of software engineers.
In 2007 Overwatch became an operating unit of Textron Systems, and in 2009 Vasquez was selected to help build its Six Sigma leadership training and business process improvement program. Six Sigma is now Vasquez’ fulltime job: working on projects and mentoring and training new program participants. “We bring in employees and managers, teach them how to proactively solve problems rather than just putting out fires, and then send them back to their regular jobs equipped with Six Sigma expertise,” she explains.
Right now she’s working on three assignments. She’s helping executive and management teams improve goal deployment in the company, working with the IT department on better service delivery, and helping the training department develop better ways to track the company’s skill sets. Though Vasquez misses hands-on engineering work, she likes training others to improve themselves and the company. “To see people develop and move to the next level is really rewarding,” she says happily.
Vasquez has always been a mentor and diversity leader. In Austin she was president of Lockheed’s Hispanic Network, and now she helps with the diversity initiative at Overwatch. The Texas Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserves honored her for supporting one of her engineers during his deployment to Iraq. “He was a software lead when he left, so I wanted to make sure he had really good opportunities when he returned,” she says.
“We work with a lot of military services and commands and we hire a lot of veterans. I try to put myself in their position: they are out there fighting for us and I think we should do whatever we can for them in return.”
Martha Addison: starting her career at Northrop Grumman
“Flight captivated me from an early age,” says Martha Addison, a structural design engineer at Northrop Grumman in El Segundo, CA.
Addison completed her BS in aeronautical engineering at the University of Alabama last year, where she was named SWE’s 2009 outstanding collegiate member, and joined Northrop Grumman. In college she interned with Spirit Air Systems doing structural design for a Gulfstream airplane, and co-opped for several semesters with Southern Research Institute (Birmingham, AL). Her work there was mechanics and materials testing: “I broke test samples all day and then explained to the military why and how they failed,” she says with a smile.
She’s currently supporting the F-35 program, a new Joint Strike Fighter jet. “I design structural components for the center fuselage,” she says. “It’s exciting to see the production line and know that my work is supporting our nation’s efforts.”
DIVERSITY-MINDED AEROSPACE & DEFENSE COMPANIES
See websites for latest openings.
|Company and location
|Aerojet (Sacramento, CA)
|Defense propulsion systems
|The Aerospace Corp (El Segundo, CA)
|Assuring mission success for national security
|ARINC (Annapolis, MD)
|Communications, integration, and engineering
|BAE Systems (Rockville, MD)
|Global defense, security and aerospace
|The Boeing Co (Chicago, IL)
|Aerospace products and services
|DRS (Parsippany, NJ)
|Defense electronic systems
|Federal Aviation Administration
(Washington, DC) www.faa.gov
|Regulation of civil aviation
|General Dynamics C4 Systems
(Scottsdale, AZ) www.gdc4s.com
|Integrator of secure communication and
information systems and technology
|General Dynamics Electric Boat
(Groton, CT) www.gdeb.com/employment
|Nuclear submarine design, construction, maintenance, modernization and lifecycle support
|GeoEye (Dulles, VA)
|Harris (Melbourne, FL)
|Communications and IT products and services
|L-3 Interstate Electronics Corp
(Anaheim, CA) www.L-3com.com/careers
|Test instrumentation systems, military GPS solutions and C4ISR information systems.
|Northrop Grumman (Los Angeles, CA)
|Aerospace, defense systems and products
|Overwatch (Textron, Austin, TX)
|Pratt & Whitney (East Hartford, CT)
|Aircraft engines, industrial gas turbines, space propulsion systems
|Rockwell Collins (Cedar Rapids, IA)
|Communication and aviation electronics
|Siemens PLM Software (Plano, TX)
|Product lifecycle management (PLM) software and services
|SPAWAR Systems Center Pacific
(San Diego, CA) enterprise.spawar.navy.mil
|Navy research and development
|USAF Research Lab (Wright-Patterson AFB)
|Research and development for air, space and cyberspace
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