Government and defense contractors: critical work in critical times
With sequestration in play, experts are cautious about the future, but many contractors are hiring and plan to continue doing so
Programs like GDEB’s U.S. Navy sub that “will serve until the 2080s and face challenges we can’t even imagine today” mean an ongoing need for engineers
By Adriene Marshall
For government and defense contractors, the demand for engineers and information technology professionals remains relatively high.
However, it’s not clear how the government budget cuts that began on March 1 as a result of the sequester will impact future hiring practices. Some companies have indicated they are proceeding with caution. But some business reports, including one at businessinsider.com, indicate that defense stocks have soared since the sequester, particularly for the largest companies.
The bright side
“As far as the numbers are concerned, some organizations are willing to share the information and some are not,” says Don J. Nelson, Jr, director of corporate relations for the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE). “In March, at our career fair that took place during the NSBE annual convention in Indianapolis, there was no shortage of activity from the defense contractors.”
According to Nelson, several aerospace and defense organizations had thirty or more openings for candidates with computer science or IT backgrounds, as well as for chemical, electrical, manufacturing, materials, metallurgical and mechanical engineers.
Tech changes are likely to spur additional hiring, he thinks. “The unprecedented growth of cloud computing and other global emerging technologies will increase demand for qualified professionals, particularly in the IT area.”
A darker view
Dan Stohr, director of communications for the Aerospace Industries Association, has a less optimistic outlook.
“Sequestration is cutting away at the business of many of the companies that form the defense industrial base,” he says. “Because of the way the law is written, the impacts are not happening all at once; they’re rolling out contract by contract. Unless Congress acts soon, these impacts will be felt for the next decade.”
Stohr sees the immediate negative impacts in terms of hiring and investment in research and development, plants and equipment. “Some companies are not able to fill positions that are open, and others are not hiring for new positions.” The long-term impacts of sequestration on defense contractors will be felt widely, particularly from 2014 through 2021, Stohr contends.
“Technical professionals in the government and defense industry are highly skilled, the best and the brightest. They are exactly the kind of people who are going to be in demand as layoffs begin to occur,” says Stohr. “They will find jobs elsewhere in industries that are more stable. Getting them back is going to be next to impossible once they’ve left. The resulting brain drain could seriously harm the capabilities of the aerospace and defense industrial base.”
Here you’ll find stories of tech professionals who are making important contributions in the government and defense fields. Whether their futures lie in this industry or another remains to be seen, but these pros will undoubtedly continue to grow and lead.
Dr Alice F. Squires manages systems engineering at Aurora Flight Sciences
Dr Alice F. Squires has been manager of systems engineering at Aurora Flight Sciences (Manassas, VA) since 2012. She leads the integration of the systems engineering practice across research, development and manufacturing sites. Aurora makes unmanned aerial systems for a global market.
“On a typical day, I balance business development in pursuit of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and other government-focused programs with technical reviews on aircraft subsystems, and also perform managerial functions,” Squires says. “Projects may be in the system concept development phase, or ready for delivery or deployment. My team provides systems engineering expertise and process guidance. We define the concept of operations, system and subsystem requirements; we perform failure mode effects, system safety hazard and criticality analyses; and we support subsystem design and test readiness.”
Originally from California, Squires has spent most of her life in Virginia. In 1984, she earned her BS in electrical engineering from the University of Maryland-College Park, then worked for IBM.
“I started my career in digital design as an electrical engineer and spent many years designing very high-speed integrated circuits (VHSICs). I saw the transition to the VHSIC hardware description language that turned detailed hardware design into programming,” Squires explains. “After about ten years progressing from an assistant to advisory scientist/engineer and moving from designing and coding to technical planning at IBM, I returned to school to get my MBA from George Mason University (Fairfax, VA) so I could balance my technical skills with business acumen.”
After she finished her MBA in 1996, Squires worked at Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics and smaller engineering firms, and spent time in academia as a systems engineering professor at Stevens Institute of Technology (Hoboken, NJ) and Worcester Polytechnic Institute (Massachusetts). In 2011, she completed her doctorate in systems engineering at Stevens.
Reflecting on her thirty-year career, Squires says, “When I worked in the private sector, the processes were not always well defined, which allowed for a certain degree of creative freedom but did not guarantee success. However, I have found a blend of creativity and rigor at Aurora. We focus extensively on government programs that range from research to development to production; we cover the entire gamut. I feel as though I’m making a difference.”
Aurora hiring “cautiously”
“Aurora employs engineers of all types, including aerospace, avionics, stress, structures, mechanical, manufacturing, software and electrical engineers,” says Joe Granata, Aurora’s general manager. “In addition, we employ assembly and composite technicians. Aurora is being cautious in adding staff to ensure we will have an ongoing need as we try to adjust to government agencies that are reassessing their requirements to comply with sequestration.”
Cameron Dryden oversees creation of innovative new products at Northrop Grumman
Cameron Dryden is business area manager for systems and services in the Adaptive Optics Associates (AOA) business unit at Northrop Grumman Corp (Falls Church, VA). He’s been with the company since 1984.
“I oversee the development and manufacturing for several industrial products, as well as related services such as installations, field service and equipment repairs,” Dryden says. “Most of our products combine optics, electronics, mechanics and software.”
Companies worldwide approach AOA to solve problems requiring advanced engineering knowledge in multiple disciplines, he explains. “We’ve designed innovative video displays with a skinny aspect ratio, an ‘engine’ that rapidly positions a 150-pound device accurately to 1/1000th of a millimeter, a document scanner that withstands temperature extremes of a truck cab, and a machine that reads characters printed on twenty-four-gauge wire. Few companies would ever attempt such a wide variety of projects.”
Curbside collection fills a “love of electronics”
Dryden was born in New York City and raised in Washington, DC. “My love of electronics started with a crystal radio kit I assembled in junior high school. I couldn’t afford real ham radio equipment, but I used to bring home discarded electronics equipment from people’s trash and I pored over the ham radio handbook,” he recalls. “By the time I went to college, I had seven televisions, three stereos, and several radios and speakers in my room.”
At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT; Cambridge), Dryden majored in electrical engineering, specializing in integrated circuit design. At MIT, Dryden worked summer jobs doing electronics repair, then moved on to MIT Lincoln Laboratory, where he designed circuitry for camera chips and wrote image processing software. He graduated in 1984, then went to work for AOA, now a Northrop Grumman company. “Over the years I’ve earned ten patents and been chief engineer for teams that have designed circuit boards, custom chips, and some groundbreaking machine vision systems.”
Dryden received the NSBE Distinguished Engineer of the Year award at the 2013 conference in Indianapolis, along with fellow Northrop Grumman employee Jamesha Parks. “All the attention makes me feel a bit like a rock star,” Dryden says. “I hope I put my fifteen minutes of fame to good use!”
Strong demand at Northrop Grumman
Northrop Grumman continues to hire candidates even in the face of the sequester, according to Sandra Evers-Manly, vice president of global corporate responsibility and president of the Northrop Grumman Foundation.
“With our customers’ tightening budgets and continued uncertainty regarding funding, this is a challenging environment,” she notes. Even so, she explains, Northrup Grumman has a strong demand in technical areas like cyber, C4ISR, health IT, unmanned systems, logistics and modernization, and also in production and manufacturing. “Job openings range from industrial and electrical engineers and cybersecurity professionals just graduating college, to pros experienced in software engineering, database architecture and aerospace engineering,” she says. She notes that “diversity and inclusion is so important at our company that it’s measured and tied to leadership performance.”
Farala Alvarez is a promising engineer in GDEB’s rotation program
Farala Alvarez of General Dynamics Electric Boat (GDEB, Groton, CT) was a supplier quality engineer when she began working at the company in 2009, and now is a senior engineer in Electric Boat’s rotational program. The rotation program is designed to expose promising early-career employees to a cross-section of the company.
“In supplier quality, I learned about adherence to the strict requirements the government imposes for the safety of people working on the submarines, the men and women who go out to sea and protect our country,” Alvarez says.
“In my current rotation, I capture lessons learned during the ship construction process in order to improve the next cycle. A good portion of my job involves going down to the boat every day and working with the operations and ship management people. I learn about their roles in ship construction, and find out what improvements they would like to see next year. Our goal is to help them do their jobs more efficiently.”
In addition, Alvarez holds leadership positions in two company affinity groups. She is communications director for the Women in Defense New England Shoreline chapter and public relations director of the Black Engineering Council. “I love being part of anything that brings people together and fosters a diverse environment within Electric Boat. These groups help us improve recruitment, retention and career development, and positively impact the community,” Alvarez says. She is also a member of the Electric Boat Management Association.
Flight school at fourteen launches a passion
Alvarez immigrated with her family from the Dominican Republic to Seattle, WA when she was eight years old. She showed an early aptitude and an eagerness to learn, and attended flight school when she was only fourteen. “At that point, I knew I wanted to become a pilot or an aerospace engineer,” she says. She briefly considered the U.S. Air Force Academy, but opted instead to attend Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (Daytona Beach, FL).
Among the highlights of Alvarez’s active college career was her participation in the Baja SAE competition. In the competition, students team up to design, build, test, promote and race an all-terrain vehicle. She was a member of the first female team at Embry Riddle and eventually became a co-captain. “Our team was very passionate. We got dirty fixing the drive chains, welding tubes together, and using all sorts of power tools to get our vehicle ready,” Alvarez recalls.
“After the competition, Polaris Industries, Inc, who was a sponsor of the competition that year, invited me to do a summer internship with them. I loved taking what I had learned in the classroom and using it in real life.”
In 2008, Alvarez received her BS in aerospace engineering with a minor in mathematics. She’s studying for her MS in engineering and operations management at the University of New Haven (CT), and expects to graduate in 2014.
GDEB: Hiring for next-gen Navy sub creation
“We employ thousands of engineers in a broad range of specialties: naval architecture, electrical, mechanical, civil, structural, nuclear, aerospace, computer science, ocean/marine and computer engineering,” says Robert H. Nardone, vice president of human resources and administration. “As we ramp up to design the U.S. Navy’s next-generation submarine here, we expect to hire between 200 and 300 engineers per year for the next several years. This is a ship that will serve until the 2080s and face challenges we can’t even imagine today, which calls for innovation and imagination. A diverse workforce will be key to providing us the range of technical viewpoints we’re going to need to succeed in this program.”
Nini Hwee engineers Navy power systems at L-3
Nini Hwee is an associate manufacturing engineer at the Power Paragon, Inc business unit of L-3 Communications (New York, NY). She works in Anaheim, CA.
“I facilitate the manufacturing of power systems for the U.S. Navy and improve manufacturing processes to increase throughput and productivity,” Hwee explains. “This involves multitasking as we address issues on the manufacturing floor. I also participate in change control board meetings to validate products and manage production concerns.”
Hwee, who has seven siblings, was born in Burma (Myanmar) but grew up in Los Angeles, CA, and became a U.S. citizen at a young age. “My parents are the biggest inspiration in my life. They taught me the value of hard work,” she says. “My dad was an assembler and my mom still works as a seamstress. Watching them work so hard to give their children a better life pushed me to strive to be the best I could.”
When Hwee was in the fourth grade, she joined the California MESA (mathematics, engineering and science achievement) program, which helps steer economically disadvantaged students toward math and science careers. “We competed as a team or as individuals against students in other schools within our district,” Hwee remembers. “It was a great experience that involved activities like math challenges and bridge-building contests. That experience helped shape my career and led me to my passion in the manufacturing side of engineering.”
Hwee attended the University of California-San Diego’s Sixth College, where she earned a BSME in 2007. During college, she interned in the engineering department of a government contractor and studied abroad in Thailand for four months. She was involved in student government and intramural volleyball and softball. After graduation, she worked at several companies, in jobs ranging from design to research and development. After exploring different facets of engineering, Hwee was hired at L-3 Power Paragon as a manufacturing engineer.
Joys and challenges of the field
“The thing I like about manufacturing engineering is that I get to work out on the floor and don’t have to constantly look at my computer screen. I work with multiple departments and all levels of personnel. I’m involved in every aspect of the manufacturing process,” she says.
“Compared with work in the private sector, government work requires more security measures, both for the work itself and for the safety of the personnel aboard ship,” Hwee observes. “The work I do directly affects the U.S. Navy’s ability to protect our country. That’s a big responsibility. I know that the better I am at my job, the better the company functions as a whole to produce a quality product that we can be proud of.”
Diversity and hiring at L-3
“Diversity and inclusion fuels a constant, open environment of innovation and creativity at L-3, which leads to better products and service delivery,” says LaTonia Pouncey, manager of corporate diversity and inclusion. “Collaboration among our talented workforce and leaders allows our company to thrive and our employees to excel.”
L-3 hires aeronautical, software, manufacturing, mechanical, electrical and systems engineers, as well as cybersecurity specialists. This spring,
L-3 had more than 500 engineering and IT job opportunities posted on its career website, Pouncey reports.
“Some of our facilities with the most engineering and IT career opportunities posted include L-3 Mission Integration in Greenville, Texas; L-3 Link Simulation and Training in Arlington, Texas; L-3 Stratis in Reston, Virginia; and L-3 Power Paragon in Anaheim, California where Nini Hwee works,” according to Pouncey.
L-3 continues to perform well in the challenging economic climate of the defense industry, she says.
Laura Gilpin does QC research on raw materials at Nammo Talley
Laura Gilpin, chemical technician for Nammo Talley, Inc (Mesa, AZ), works in the company’s research department.
“We do quality control testing on raw materials to make sure they meet specifications,” says Gilpin, who has been with Nammo Talley since 2009. “It’s interesting work. I use a lot of analytical instrumentation that allows me to use my research background to find solutions.”
Work inspired by a military family
Gilpin explains that her family has deep ties to the military. “My grandfather was in World War II, my father served in the Navy in Vietnam, my brother served in the Navy from 1994 to 1999, and my husband was in the Marines when I met him,” she says. “The hard work that we put in at Nammo Talley to improve the quality of our products means that the weapons in the soldiers’ hands are safer and more reliable. That’s important to me.”
Originally from Cincinnati, OH, Gilpin received her bachelors in geology from the University of Cincinnati in 2002. Gilpin is also a member of Phi Beta Kappa. “I started as a physics major but when I took an elective course in environmental volcanology, I found that I really enjoyed it. Geology incorporates all the physical sciences.”
During her college experience, Gilpin attended a month-long volcanology field camp at the University of Hawaii at Hilo and also did an internship with the geophysical laboratory of the Carnegie Institution in Washington, DC doing planetary experimental geochemistry. “My father was an industrial chemist, and that’s something I’ve been strong at,” Gilpin says. The following year, she interned with the Lunar and Planetary Institute of the NASA Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center (Houston, TX). She was assigned to the astromaterials research and exploration science division.
Gilpin continued her studies in earth sciences at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, and worked as a co-op at the Johnson Space Center. But by the time she earned her masters in 2004, she realized that she was no longer interested in performing pure research. Four years ago she joined Nammo Talley.
“During the years I’ve been at Nammo Talley, there have been a lot of changes. We’re now developing a more global culture, particularly under our new leadership,” says Gilpin.
The big picture at Nammo Talley is diverse
“We recognize that a diverse workforce is a robust workforce that can respond to a variety of challenges with agility,” says Scott Selle, president of Nammo Talley since May 2011. “Everybody needs someone they can relate to, look up to, and lean on for support in the challenging environment that we’re all working in,” he says. “That’s one of the main reasons we are so serious about diversity.”
About half the employees at Nammo Talley work directly on technical assignments, according to Selle. “We hire technical college students to serve in internships but we also value technical backgrounds for our most senior management positions,” he says. Selle himself has a BS and professional experience in material science engineering.
Composite solutions, energetic solutions and shoulder-launched weapons are the three main product lines at Nammo Talley, Selle explains. “Overall, we are cautious about workforce expansion, especially in light of the current budget environment. However, we’re experiencing strong growth in our composite solutions product line both for defense and commercial markets. As a result, hiring is underway for materials science engineers, composite layout technicians, and quality assurance and technical support staff.
“We would like to see those government budget plans forecasted further into the future because right now it’s hard for us to understand what the impact will be on our product down the road.”
DIVERSITY-MINDED DEFENSE AND GOVERNMENT CONTRACTORS
Check website for current listings.
|Company and location
|Aurora Flight Sciences (Manassas, VA)
|Precision aerospace component production for tactical systems
|Battelle (Columbus, OH)
|Research and development in national defense,
energy, health and environment
|CACI International (Arlington, VA)
|Information solutions and services for intelligence, defense and federal civilian clients
|Exelis (McLean, VA)
|Aerospace, defense and technical solutions for global military, government and commercial customers
|General Dynamics Electric Boat (Groton, CT)
|Designs and builds nuclear submarines for the U.S. Navy
|L-3 Communications (New York, NY)
|C3ISR systems, platform and logistics solutions,
national security solutions and electronic systems for military and commercial platforms
|Nammo Talley (Mesa, AZ)
|Design, development and production of
|Northrop Grumman (Falls Church, VA)
|Products and solutions in unmanned systems,
cyber, C4ISR, logistics and modernization
|TASC (Chantilly, VA)
|Systems engineering, integration and decision
support for intelligence, defense and civilian
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