Transportation technology is moving ahead
The industry has a lot of exciting innovations coming up
Highways and autos, aircraft and airports, trains, trucks and busses: these ten pros are working in interesting jobs in many areas of transportation
By Sonya Stinson
The development of intelligent transportation systems is big in transportation technology. It currently accounts for some 180,000 jobs in North America, according to a recent market study by the Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITSA, Washington, DC). That number is expected to increase significantly over the next decade.
Scott Belcher, ITSA's CEO, notes that "These are green jobs" and adds that the demand for engineers and IT specialists in transportation technology is outpacing the supply. "I would tell my own children that's where they ought to be looking for work."
Tech innovation at work
Belcher cites three categories of technological innovation that are already changing the way people move about: smart traffic lights that, for example, change faster when fewer cars are crossing and more slowly when an emergency vehicle needs to pass through; information systems for drivers and users of mass transit; and websites and phone apps for ride and car sharing.
You also have to count Facebook, Twitter and texting in the mix. "Social media is starting to transform transportation," Belcher says. "People are getting better information and sharing the information they have."
Looking ahead, Belcher points to three more "big transformative things" in transportation technology.
The first is "connected vehicles" that talk to each other and to the roadside. "The U.S. Department of Transportation believes this technology can eliminate up to 81 percent of non-impaired crashes," he says, a huge safety improvement on the order of seat belts, airbags and antilock brakes.
Another advance: state transportation departments and transit organizations are sharing more data with website developers and smartphone app developers. "You're getting a lot of useful data to people who really need it to decide where we are going and how to get there," Belcher says.
The third area of transformation will be merging databases of transport information: schedules and conditions of highway and local transit systems, for example.
"You're going to be able to use computers to intelligently manipulate the data to make the transportation system operate better and more efficiently," Belcher says.
Some of the transportation technology pros profiled here are working on still more transformative innovations. Look for them on Belcher's future watch list.
At AECOM, John Gray works with intelligent systems
Associate VP and intelligent transportation systems (ITS) transportation practice leader John Gray is responsible for marketing, business development and project management for ITS at AECOM (Los Angeles, CA), a technical and management support services company. Gray is currently the ITS team lead for a managed-lanes project in Los Angeles. The team works with a toll system integrator and a construction contractor.
"The ITS components consist of dynamic message signs (DMS) that give travel and toll rate information, CCTV cameras to verify the message displayed, DMS sensors in the pavement that can tell how fast traffic is moving, and of course the electronic toll-collection points," Gray explains.
Gray graduated from North Carolina A&T; State University in 1990 with a BS in industrial and systems engineering. He went to work for the Ohio Department of Transportation as a transportation safety engineer.
"I went through the engineer-in-training program, then got into the construction side of things," Gray says. "Several positions later I fell into ITS.
"We were in the process of doing our first construction project for ITS, and I was asked if I wanted to be the project manager," Gray says. "That threw me into the fire of these types of projects. I saw the technology involved and wanted to learn more."
He enrolled in federal highway training classes, did his own research and took graduate-level courses at Ohio State and Northwestern Universities.
Gray says the work has become a passion for him because rapid population growth is making the need for better traffic management more and more urgent.
"We can't keep building our way out of the capacity constraints we have," Gray says. "We have to learn mitigation strategies. ITS is a relevant mitigation strategy for managing the capacity on our network."
Grace Hansen leads network and voice architecture at Chrysler
Grace Hansen started her Chrysler career as a Lotus Notes developer in 1999. Today she leads the data and voice network architecture department at Chrysler Group (Auburn Hills, MI), where part of her job is supporting the unseen computer mechanisms that keep Chrysler engineering and assembly systems running.
"I define the architectures for how all Chrysler locations will communicate with each other over the network," says Hansen, "and I also support the infrastructure that enables communication from your car to systems it needs to talk to at Chrysler. We provide 24/7 support that includes everything from desk and mobile phones to instant messaging with people in any part of the world."
Hansen was always interested in computers but she went for a 1990 BS in elementary education with a minor in math at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. She taught school for five years, but in that fateful fifth year some computers were donated to the school, and she was asked to install them and set up a network and Web server.
Complex work. "When I'd done that, I realized that I really needed to follow up the passion I had for computers and technology," she says. "In the fall I started working at EDS."
In 2006 Hansen completed an MBA from Oakland University (Rochester, MI). She says her MBA studies helped her understand how technology can be used to benefit business, and the importance of being able to communicate those benefits.
"Having a widget on the desk does not do much good unless you can translate the value it adds to the business and communicate that in an effective way," Hansen says.
Paula Doane is a design engineer at Lycoming Engines
Design engineer Paula Doane works in the configuration management department at aircraft engine manufacturer Lycoming Engines (Williamsport, PA). She manages a staff of fourteen employees. Because she's hearing impaired, she sometimes has a sign language interpreter at her side.
"As a manager and supervisor I have to have direct communication with individual employees, lead teams, and participate actively in meetings, so I use interpreters on a regular basis," says Doane.
But the greater on-the-job challenge, she thinks, is encouraging techies involved in her projects to "break out of old patterns of thinking, and help new contractors adjust to work processes they aren't accustomed to."
At the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT, Rochester, NY) Doane earned an associate degree in industrial drafting technology in 1991, a BS in ME technology in 1999 and an MS from the school's Center for Multidisciplinary Studies, focusing on engineering, business and instruction, in 2004.
After she completed the drafting degree she spent eight years as a drafter at Getinge (Rochester, NY), a medical technology company, while also attending night school and working as a part-time instructor at the National Technical Institute of the Deaf (NTID), one of RIT's eight colleges.
With her BS in hand Doane moved to a position as a production designer at New Process Gear (Syracuse, NY), a company making automobile transmissions. When that job ended with a layoff she spent two years as a project engineer at Mitten Manufacturing, Inc (Syracuse, NY), a maker of lube-oil and gas systems for power generators.
Another layoff returned her to NTID as a fulltime instructor, and she began taking courses for an MS. But after five years of teaching she was ready to return to industry, and moved to the job at Lycoming.
Doane's mother always told her she could do anything, and she works to inspire that sense of confidence in other deaf people pursuing technical careers. "When I was teaching at NTID I always encouraged my students to look at me as an example, to see that they could be anything they wanted to be," she says.
Bernadette Vero: project controls and tech services at Metro-North
As director of project controls and tech services for MTA Metro-North Railroad (MNR, New York, NY), Bernadette Vero keeps track of about a billion dollars in capital expenditures every five years. That's part of a $23.8 billion New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) capital investment program for repairing and replacing trains, busses and subway cars, implementing new signal technology and launching a new smartcard fare collection system.
Metro-North is run and managed by the MTA, and provides commuter rail services to the New York and Connecticut suburbs north of New York City.
With a staff of about a dozen, Vero is in charge of providing estimates, scheduling and reports to support project managers involved in the capital program. She's been with Metro North since 1989 and moved into this job in 2007.
Vero began with a 1986 BSME from Manhattan College (Riverdale, NY). She worked for three years as a consultant to Metro-North, frequently finding herself the only woman on project construction sites. But she never encountered gender barriers on the job, she says: "If you know your work, people will respect you."
She took graduate courses at night and completed an MSCE at Manhattan College in 1989. Always fascinated with building construction, she chose CE to learn more about the theory behind it. "My work on construction sites taught me all about the practical side," she says with a smile.
Before moving into the capital programs division at MNR, Vero worked in capital procurement. One of her projects involved the selection process for the MTA's first design-build contract, part of the billion-dollar East Access project. As part of the project she developed new contract terms and conditions for a storage yard and servicing facility in the Bronx, NY.
Vero reflects that her educational foundation, extending beyond engineering, was important preparation for her role as a project leader.
"It's great to have all the technical knowledge, but it's also important to take humanities and management courses," Vero says. "While I was working on my engineering degrees I took liberal arts, economics and project management courses. It broadens your knowledge and helps you be well rounded."
After twenty-two years with Metro-North and MTA Vero is still eager to "keep all doors open" for what comes next. "I've been very fortunate. I've gotten promotions and I like the company very much. I look forward to more roles in leadership, wherever that takes me," she concludes.
Britta Gross works on infrastructure to support the Chevy Volt
In her work as director of global energy systems and infrastructure commercialization for General Motors Corp (GM, Detroit, MI), Britta Gross collaborates with energy companies, utility companies and government officials to plan fueling stations and the infrastructure required for vehicles that don't run on gasoline. That, for example, might be charging stations for electric vehicles like the plug-in Chevrolet Volt.
"We have a number of vehicle models today that can either be fueled with gasoline or with a gas/ethanol mix," says Gross. "If we end up with, for example, very high oil prices and a situation where oil supply and demand are getting out of balance, consumers with these flex-fuel vehicles have another solution."
Based in Orlando, FL and working primarily from a home office, Gross has been in her current post since 2004. She joined GM's advanced vehicle technology team in 2002, working on the development of hydrogen fueling stations, following a seven-year stint with the company's Opel subsidiary in Russelsheim, Germany.
Gross earned a BSEE from Louisiana State University in 1983. After graduation she went to Los Angeles, CA to work for Hughes Aerospace Corp; GM took over the company in 1985.
The Opel assignment focused on incorporating aerospace processes into vehicle design. Gross was good for the job because she's fluent in German; her mother is from Germany and the family often spent summers there.
Gross returned from Germany eager to be more involved in GM's advanced technology programs. Her current work on the Chevy Volt project fulfills her own interest in "striking new paths" and it's also a test of her team's ability to navigate uncharted territory.
"What makes it difficult is that there's no template for how you do this," Gross says. "In this country we never successfully transitioned meaningful numbers of consumers to alternative fuel vehicles. We tried battery vehicles a decade ago; we tried compressed natural gas and diesel, and we're well aware of the struggles we have being solely dependent on gasoline.
"This new push for plug-in, flex-fuel and alternative-fuel vehicles is certainly complicated and challenging, but it gives us the freedom to try something new and maybe solve some real problems!"
Carla Bailo is an SVP at Nissan Americas
As SVP for R&D; at Nissan Americas (Farmington Hills, MI), Carla Bailo oversees all the auto manufacturer's North and South American engineering centers. She started the job in April 2011.
Along with the Detroit-area site where Bailo is based, there are centers in Phoenix, AZ, Sacramento, CA, the Washington, DC area, Toluca, Mexico, and Curitiba, Brazil. Bailo oversees technical staff in all of them.
"We're involved in upstream research on the various new technologies Nissan is developing," says Bailo. "Secondly, we develop those products: do the design release, the vehicle development, the target-setting and more for all the vehicles sold in the Americas."
Nissan was recently selected to provide New York City's "Taxi of Tomorrow." The Nissan NV200 taxi will be the exclusive taxi in New York City starting in late 2013.
"Now my team is actively engaged in looking at all the various elements the city of New York wants to include in that taxi," Bailo says.
Before joining Nissan in 1989 Bailo worked at GM Truck and Bus. She has a 1983 BSME from General Motors Institute (now Kettering University, Flint, MI) and spent five years at GM while working on her 1986 MSME at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor as a GM Fellow.
Bailo's career at Nissan began with an engineering assignment focused mainly on vehicle development and target performances. In 2001 she started a new group in vehicle program management and corporate planning.
"As I moved through the ranks as an engineer I also moved more to the management and planning side," says Bailo. She notes that having those new responsibilities marked a major turning point in her career. "It was much different from just worrying about a car and its performance," she says.
After leading one of Nissan's cross-functional teams, where members from various divisions collaborate to come up with innovative ideas, Bailo was tapped to become a program director at the company's HQ in Japan. Five years later she was asked to head up the OEM business unit.
Bailo says Nissan is moving more vehicle production and development from Japan to North America, creating a new management challenge for her. "One of my big tasks in managing this huge amount of work that's shifting over to the Americas region is to determine where we need to focus our core competencies," she says. "Out of the three areas, the U.S., Mexico and Brazil, where do I need to put the resources?"
Steve Smith: at Amtrak, it's a station one day, a tower the next
As a senior engineer and architect with Amtrak (Philadelphia, PA), Steve Smith might be designing a train station one day and examining a switch tower the next. Assigned to the stations group and structures department, Smith is lead designer for Amtrak's Midwest stations.
He graduated from Philadelphia's Temple University in 2000 with a BS in architecture. When he eventually landed at Amtrak it was the fulfillment of a childhood dream.
"I've always been a railroad buff," Smith says. "I knew I wanted to be involved in a railroad and that I wanted to build things, either bridges or train stations."
During college he spent four years as an architect in the facilities department at Temple University, working on campus and at the university's off-campus hospital. Then, "I saw a job posting for Amtrak and I applied," he says.
Designing a transportation facility requires a different planning approach from designing a commercial building, Smith points out. The architects have to be concerned with more than how workers and customers move in and out of the building. They also have to consider security, and how the building fits into its setting. Another issue to contend with is working on a building site where business can never shut down for construction.
"The railroad can't stop running, so you have to phase projects in," Smith says. "That's always a challenging part of designing and getting things constructed here. Also, a lot of the structures we own are approaching a hundred years old: a lot of them have to be renovated or upgraded."
Whatever the challenges, Smith says he loves working on the railroad. "It's not even like a job to me," he says. "It's like a hobby."
Navistar's Dr Lenora Hardee considers comfort and performance
At the truck and bus subsidiaries of Navistar International (Warrenville, IL), chief technical engineer Lenora Hardee, PhD recently had to collect the physical measurements of real flesh-and-blood truck and bus drivers to create "digital truck drivers" for evaluating vehicle designs.
"My group is responsible for ensuring that International's trucks and busses meet customer expectations for driver comfort and performance," says Hardee, who is part of the ergonomics and driver accommodation group.
After earning a BS in industrial organizational psychology from Clemson University (Clemson, SC) in 1980, Hardee started grad studies at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, planning to work on a degree in applied behavioral science.
"I wanted to be able to apply it in industry," she says, "but I soon realized that the degree I was working on would not be very useful in that respect. I switched to the ergonomics department to learn about and understand human capabilities and limitations and how to apply that knowledge to systems and their users."
Hardee got a PhD in ergonomics from Virginia Tech in 1985. She went to work at General Motors' Detroit, MI research labs, using simulators to study driver performance. Some years later, when she was a GM manager, a member of her former workgroup recommended her to a Navistar exec looking for someone to start an ergonomics group.
Hardee and her group have provided input for the design of Navistar's trucks and busses since 1998, starting with the TranStar and ProStar trucks, part of the high-performance vehicle lineup the company began rolling out in 2000.
"We were trying to optimize the layout of the interior, make the controls easy to reach and use and provide good visibility," Hardee says.
The success of those projects is one reason she finds her career at Navistar so gratifying. "Most rewarding is being able to provide input that will make a driver's day-to-day existence in a truck better," she says.
Kimberly Jackson: managing travel apps at American Airlines
As senior manager in application development at American Airlines (Fort Worth, TX), part of Kimberly Jackson's job is developing travel apps for use by the company's more than 70,000 employees.
"One of our goals is to enable employees and our customers to be more mobile and to streamline the process of traveling," Jackson says.
In the fall of 2010 Jackson's department created the first ever enterprise travel iPhone app. It lets American Airlines employees check in remotely for flights. The team was able to get the job done with a two-month turnaround, and presented the app as a surprise to all the people in the IT department.
Jackson started out at Texas Tech University, then transferred to the University of Texas-El Paso for her 1994 BS in computer IS. After graduation she moved to Dallas, TX to work in telecom and briefly as a consultant.
She began at American in 2002 as a consultant, helping the company switch to systems development lifecycle (SDLC), a new software development methodology. "They called me the SDLC evangelist," Jackson says. "I had to do road shows for everyone in IT including the VPs, the managing directors and their staffs, and teach them about SDLC and what it would mean to them."
Brought in as a senior project manager in the application architecture organization, Jackson has advanced both upward and laterally to posts like application development team lead, applications support manager and operations manager. She's working on an MBA at the University of Texas-Dallas.
She would love to take on more responsibility and move up to managing director. She enjoys coaching and mentoring the people she currently supervises and others in the organization.
"When I hand this job off to my successor I want to do it right!" Jackson says. "I want the transition to be as clean and streamlined as possible so that they can put their own stamp on it and move forward."
Lauren Sampson is an airport team lead at Raytheon
Getting a lift in a bucket truck to clean an airport security camera may not sound like a typical job for an engineer. But Lauren Sampson considers it one of the "fun" aspects of her work as a senior systems engineer with Raytheon Network Centric Systems (Marlborough, MA), part of Raytheon Company (Waltham, MA).
"We have cameras as part of the security program and I get to go up and clean them," says Sampson.
As site lead for New Jersey's Teterboro and Newark Liberty International airports, Sampson manages and facilitates the work of Raytheon employees assigned to the electronics company's security projects at the two facilities. She commutes to the job sites weekly from her home in Massachusetts.
"It's my job to be sure they have proper support from airport staff so they can get to the equipment and do the jobs they have to do," says Sampson.
Intrigued by information from Raytheon recruiters at a campus job fair, Sampson began working at the company in 2008 after she completed her MS in math at Clarkson University (Potsdam, NY). She also has a 2007 BS in math from St. Lawrence University (Canton, NY).
"When they hired me as a systems engineer I had no real idea what I was supposed to do," Sampson admits. "But they taught me everything I needed to know."
Sampson says the constant travel in her current assignment is wearing, but she also enjoys being on the move.
"It's rewarding because I'm getting the opportunity to do things I wouldn't do if I were sitting at a desk. Between the two airports there's a constantly changing environment, so there's never any opportunity to get bored!" she concludes.
DIVERSITY-MINDED TRANSPORTATION TECHNOLOGY EMPLOYERS
Check websites for current openings.
|Company and location
|AECOM (Los Angeles, CA)
|Technical and management support
|American Airlines (Fort Worth, TX)
|Amtrak (Washington, DC)
|The Boeing Co (Chicago, IL)
|Commercial jetliners and defense, space and security systems
|Chrysler Group (Auburn Hills, MI)
|General Motors Corp (Detroit, MI)
|Lockheed Martin Corp (Bethesda, MD)
|R&D; of advanced technology systems, products and services
|Lycoming Engines (Williamsport, PA)
|Aircraft engine manufacturing
|Metro North Railroad (New York, NY)
|Local rail transportation
|Navistar, Inc (Warrenville, IL)
|Commercial vehicle and diesel engine manufacturing
|Nissan North America (Nashville, TN)
|Raytheon Co (Waltham, MA)
|Military and commercial electronics
|Union Pacific Railroad (Omaha, NE)
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