Diversity/Careers in Engineering & Information Technology



February/March 2012

Diversity/Careers February/March 2012 Issue

Hispanics in government
Healthcare IT
Robotics careers
Disabled veterans
NACME symposium

MBEs & their clients
News & Views
Regional roundup
Supplier diversity

Diversity in action
News & Views

U.S. Coast Guard Civilian Chesapeake Energy
Intel Telephonics

Diversity In Action

BNSF Railway: info technology staffing for 2012 and beyond

The railroad's strategic roadmap for information technology is "undergoing a big change," says the company's assistant VP of technology services

BNSF Railway is focused on building its next-generation technology workforce. Crafting an information technology hiring strategy for this year and beyond is a primary focus. "Our strategy is fueled by the benefits a diverse workgroup brings to the company and the industry," says Lettie Haynes, assistant VP of technology services.

Efforts include hiring more new graduates, a technical training program to retool current staff and a concentrated effort to attract and retain a highly talented and diverse work group.

In the next few years the technology department at BNSF will be reaching a "critical bubble" with eligible retirements, says Haynes. But beyond that, the railway's strategic roadmap for information technology is undergoing "a big change," she says.

"We're embarking on significant, transformational initiatives within our core systems. The redesign work on these systems will take from one to as long as ten years to deploy. With that in mind, we're focusing our efforts this year on what we call the 'technology services war for talent.'

"Our target for 2012 is to recruit about twenty-five new graduates and fifteen interns with a plan to transition the interns into new hires. We need to build a pipeline of talent that will be around long-term. It takes time to develop the business and technical domain knowledge they need to support the complex, critical systems of rail transportation services."

Many people don't realize that, like the airline industry, railroads have their own high-tech operations centers. BNSF's command center in Fort Worth, TX runs all the trains across the network, 24/7, 365 days a year. "The railroad is never closed," Haynes says with a laugh.

About 1,100 people work in BNSF's Technology Services department at several corporate office locations. There's also a large telecommunications presence across the company's rail network.

The railroad employs a wide range of IT skill sets. "If you think about IT in terms of what is traditionally the systems development life cycle, we cover everything from new application development to ongoing support and maintenance. We work across a broad set of business applications using an extensive suite of technologies and platforms," Haynes says.

Telecom operations ensure connectivity across the entire BNSF rail network. "Since we operate across 32,000 miles of track, some in remote locations, we need a skilled team of engineers, technicians and specialists to ensure secure, reliable systems for our rail services," Haynes explains.

BNSF looks for tech pros with a wide range of skill sets. For application development, the hot skills are mobile, Web, and business analytics. The company's technical wish list includes Java, .Net, SharePoint, C and C++, SAP Business Objects and many more. Within infrastructure, security, database admin, engineering and architecture skills are all in demand.

Most applicants need degrees in engineering, information systems, computer science, business or math.

In IT, "We are evolving just like everyone else," Haynes explains. "We're moving from legacy systems built in-house to more purchased products, and of course the modernization of existing core rail systems. As we move forward, we plan to expand our use of agile development methodologies and leverage our collaboration tools. We're finding new ways to retool our current workforce by enhancing our onboarding, technical training and certification programs. Our objective is clear: we plan to build the next generation technology workforce for BNSF Railway."

Diversity is important at BNSF. The company has employee affinity groups representing various nationalities and women. They rally around community activities and provide ongoing mentoring and staff-development opportunities. There are also a number of diversity councils throughout the railroad's operating areas.

Diversity awareness is a large part of the corporate HR program, Haynes adds. All leaders go to an annual training class that "focuses on 'people leadership,' where many aspects of leadership and diversity are discussed openly," she explains.

BNSF supports flextime and job sharing. Corporate HQ also provides an employee center featuring a workout area, showers and a cafeteria that serves healthy food. Daycare services are also available on the campus.

Community outreach plays a large role at BNSF. One such effort is the annual Technology Awareness Day held at the Fort Worth campus. The company invites about 350 students for a Saturday event also attended by other technology-focused corporations including IBM, Lockheed Martin, Oracle's Sun Microsystems and many others.

At the event, seminars are offered on financial aid and scholarships. Volunteers set up a display showing students what BNSF is all about, including train simulators and "all types of technology that draws the students' interest," Haynes says.

"Each year, we host a key speaker, provide lunch and give the students the opportunity to participate in a technology competition like graphical design or Website development. The sponsors donate some incredible prizes for the winning students."

Haynes herself is an active sponsor of Technology Awareness Day. "I truly enjoy the opportunity to visit with the students and encourage them to consider IT or engineering. We talk about the classes they should be taking in high school to be ready for computer technology and engineering careers."

Haynes is also active with a BNSF-sponsored outreach program known as "Stay On Track: Stay In School." Its goal is to encourage students at selected Fort Worth area schools to get their diplomas. "The dropout rates in these communities were rising, and BNSF got involved to have a positive impact in the communities we serve," Haynes explains.

"We bring the kids in to see our network operations center. We tell them that the railroad has worthwhile jobs even for students who don't have college degrees, but they must finish high school."

Haynes also wants to deliver a message to technical pros at all experience levels: "We value diversity at BNSF, and we're hiring now!"



Headquarters: Fort Worth, TX
Employees: 40,000-plus
Revenues: $16.9 billion in 2010
Business: Operates one of the largest rail networks in North America

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