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Software Engineering

If the computer is the automobile of the business world, then software fuels the engine. Although computer systems hold a prominent position in every industry, it's software that enables us to use the computer to its full potential and not just as a pricey solitaire machine.

By the editors of gecc

If the computer is the automobile of the business world, then software fuels the engine. Although computer systems hold a prominent position in every industry, it's software that enables us to use the computer to its full potential and not just as a pricey solitaire machine.

As you'll see below, the reach of a career in software engineering is broad. The software engineers on the next pages are employed in the telecommunications, defense and entertainment industries, and while the outcome of their efforts may be vastly different, the drive and dedication to pursue the career of their choosing threads them together.

Name: Amy Moser

Title: Senior Software Engineer
Company: Lockheed Martin Tactical Defense Systems, Goodyear, Ariz.
Education: B.S. in Computer Information Science, The Ohio State University

Job Description:

  • Requirements analysis, design, implementation, integration and testing
  • Configuration management and system building
  • Interface with co-workers on clarifying requirements, group design, reviewing other engineers' data and support
  • Presentations to management and customers

Current Project: "I'm working on the development of a ground station segment for a full intelligence information-gathering system (integration of aircraft, radar sensors, ground control station and airborne control equipment). I integrate new and existing software codes with newly purchased off-the-shelf software for the ground station. Our new code is being developed using object-oriented methodologies all the way through the development cycle. I also spend time working out interfaces with our subcontractors and with others working on the remaining parts of the system."

How She Knew This Was the Field for Her: "I always liked the logic of math and science, but I was never totally sure that computer science was what I wanted to go into until I tried it. I minored in music, so it was a debate for me to go into music or computer science. My choice has worked out for me."

Most Interesting Project: "The reactivation of the US Air Force SR-71 aircraft. We've designed the radar on this plane from its beginning decades ago and with the reactivation in 1995 there were some modernization and enhancements that had to be done. One of the updates was a product called 'Clip-in,' a small radar process that enhances image quality. I worked with parallel processing and did development on a platform I had never worked with previously. I was able to fly on a US Customs plane that had working radar, so I could see a system in action. I was also able to see the SR-71 up close, watch it fly, and even be on the runway with it. There were a lot of new and fun things involved in that project."

Advice for Those Who Want to Enter the Field: "In general, things move very fast in this industry. It's not possible to keep up with it all. It's important that you choose the area that you want to focus on, not necessarily a limited area, but you should know what your interests are so you can work on getting involved with projects that will help you develop those skills and interests. Usually, if you make an effort, you have a good chance of getting on the types of projects you'd like.

"For example, I wanted to get into object-oriented software development. I did that by making an effort to get on a project that was using the object-oriented methodology. I had to go out of my way to do that, but that's what I wanted to do. I looked ahead and identified the skills I wanted to develop."

Technical Skills Needed for the Job: "I use the C and C++ languages. Knowledge of the tools you're using on the job is important. That includes language, operating system and CASE tools for us. The author of C++ wrote in one of his books, 'A language defines how you think,' so I think it's really important to know your language and your tools well. This knowledge will help you solve your problems."

Non-Technical Skills Needed for the Job: "Communication skills. Not only do you have to give presentations, but present specialized technical data, using technical diagrams to non-technical people. Attention to detail and creative problem solving are also important."

Memorable Accomplishment: "The first project I was able to see through from start to finish was a great experience. It was a very flexible product. I got a sense of accomplishment when I saw people use it and be happy with it. It's rewarding for me to know that underneath what the user sees is a flexible system that I helped to design."

Advice from Her First Boss: "When your boss requests information, you should give several options, prioritized according to your engineering recommendations. Include the pros and cons of each option so he or she will understand why you are making these recommendations. That helps those at a higher level make informed decisions. They might not choose your first choice because there may be other non-technical issues driving the decision."

What She Wishes Someone Would've Told Her Before She Entered the Work World: "That I was going to gain another 'freshman five pounds.'"

Job Search Advice: "Research companies that you want to work for and find out if your interests match up with what the company does."

Name: Sonia Griglock

Title: Software Engineer
Company: Bellcore, Morristown, N.J.
Education: B.S. in Computer Science, New Jersey Institute of Technology; M.S. in Computer Science, New York University

Job Description:

  • Development of the graphical user-interface application
  • Identifying and providing solutions
  • Design and support of the product
  • Trouble-shooting and problem-solving during the testing process

Current Project: "I'm doing graphical interface for a product called Aloco-Address Location. I enjoy the development platform and the environment that I'm using. The system that I develop is PC-based and it's written in C++. I have also taken on a leadership role that has allowed me to participate in decision-making with other non-development team members."

Advice for Those Who Want to Enter the Field: "This field is very competitive and Bellcore and other companies look for individuals with strong technical and analytical skills. I recommend participating in a challenging internship program. These real world assignments can give you the opportunity to exercise your skills and give you the experience and confidence you need when looking for a job."

How She Knew This Was the Field for Her: "My first experience with computers was in my junior year in high school. I took a programming language class. Then I knew I wanted to pursue a degree in computer science. After participating in summer internships at Bellcore, I knew this was the field for me."

Technical Skills Needed for the Job: "Strong design, programming and trouble-shooting skills."

Non-Technical Skills Needed for the Job: "Software engineering calls for creativity, optimism and active participation in a team. Communication and people skills are a must in order to voice and sell your ideas or even trigger a new idea or solution to a problem. Being able to shift gears and work on more than one problem at a time is a skill that's beneficial, too."

What She Wishes Someone Would've Told Her Before She Entered the Work World: "There are many things that can only be learned in the corporate environment. You have to learn how to interact with a wide variety of people from different backgrounds and lifestyles. You also have to learn to utilize the experiences of others and not be afraid to pick their brains. When I first started working as a summer intern I was very shy and I thought I had to solve all the problems by myself. But I realized that my co-workers were there to help me."

Name: Mike King

Title: Software Engineer
Company: Walt Disney Feature Animation, Burbank, Calif.
Education: B.S. in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, University of California, Berkeley; M.S. in Computer Engineering, University of California, Santa Barbara

Job Description: "I am a software engineer with the Core/3D group. Our charter is to write software applications, tools and libraries that can be used across all the productions at the studio. Because the group is relatively small, we all have to be good generalists, although each person usually has a specialty. We are also called upon to solve problems that include UNIX system level programming, data translation, interprocess communication and scripting."

How He Knew This Was the Field for Him: "Two words: Star Wars. I saw that movie when I was seven years old and decided I was going to be a special effects man when I grew up. Over the years, I made little Super8 films with my brother.

"In high school, I got into drawing comic books and eventually tried drawing some flip books. That went pretty well, so I built my own animation stand out of some old Plexiglas, wood dowels and hot glue, and tried to make a short animated film. It was a disaster. But while making it I learned a lot about the fundamentals of traditional animation from a book called The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston."

Why He Didn't Study Computer Graphics in College: "I never really considered going into the computer graphics industry or studying it in college. It seemed risky, and I was encouraged to find a more practical engineering profession. I specialized in signals and systems during undergrad and became interested in networking, and focused on that for my master's degree."

How He Got His Job: "After graduation, I went to work for Motorola in Arizona doing work with rescue radios, but I kept close tabs on the graphics industry and the technology. In early 1995, I started my search for a job in the computer graphics industry after deciding I would never forgive myself if I didn't at least try to break into it. I had some idea where to start because I read industry publications and the graphics-related Usenet newsgroups.

"I noticed that some postings in the newsgroups were from people in the industry at companies like Digital Domain and Blue Sky Studios. I sent some polite email to these people asking about the different positions, job responsibilities, and any advice they might have for someone breaking into the industry.

"I received some very informative responses, which helped me focus my cover letter and resume. Over the next few months, we kept up a dialog, and my contacts gave me lots of good advice and encouragement. I also sent out resumes in response to job postings on company web sites and newsgroups.

"My email contacts advised me to attend Siggraph, the big computer graphics conference. I registered to attend, which turned out to be a stroke of luck. Soon afterwards, I received a phone call from Disney. They had kept my resume on file and wanted to schedule an interview at Siggraph and wanted to know if I was attending."

Worst Job Search Slip-Up: "One company asked me for a demo reel, so I put together something fairly quickly on my PC. It's embarrassingly bad in retrospect, and I hope they destroyed it after their viewing! My mistake was to try to become a technical director when I did not have any production experience. I should have focused on getting a software position, but I was too naive to realize this at the time."

Why He Thinks He's Been Successful: "I think my job search success was due to persistence, luck and good timing. My timing was good because 1995 heralded the recent boom in the computer animation industry, so I managed to catch the beginning of the wave. Also, now there is so much noise and spam on the newsgroups, I don't know if I could make the same contacts now that I did a few years ago."

Most Challenging and Satisfying Projects: "We use many different third-party software packages that don't talk to one another, so we have to write code to help us get data from one package to another. About a month or two after I started, I was asked to add a new feature to one of our data translation programs. It was an urgent need for a show that was currently in the heat of production.

"The learning curve was steep, and the deadline was tight. But by asking a lot of questions and reading a lot of documentation, I managed to implement the feature, and in the process became the data translator specialist for Core/3D.

"I've been lucky enough to learn something new on each project. I find that to be the most satisfying part of my job. Plus, most of the projects I've worked on have ended up being fundamental pieces of our production pipeline, and I get a lot of satisfaction knowing that every frame of the finished movie passed through something I helped to write."

Advice for Those Who Want to Enter the Field: "Become a good software engineer and programmer and then worry about the 3D graphics knowledge. While both are important, we look for good engineers familiar with computer generated imaging, and have turned away 3D experts who lacked design experience or sound programming skills.

"Become familiar with the industry and decide where your niche will be. In the motion picture business, people tend to specialize. Read Cinefex or American Cinematographer to learn about how visual effects are done. Also, read Computer Graphics World or 3D Design to learn about the latest computer graphics industry news and techniques. And unless you happen to be an accomplished artist with a killer demo reel as well as a software engineer, don't expect to work directly on a scene in your first job."

Name: Diana Escobar-Johnson

Title: Software Developer
Company: Lucent Technologies, Naperville, Ill.
Education: B.S. in Computer Science, Corpus Christi State University

Job Description:

  • Software design
  • Testing
  • Implementation

Current Project: "The area I work in is called Processing Feature Development. The project I'm working on is called Primary Rate Interface 2B Channel Transfer. I'm involved in the call processing portion of it which transfers to joint parties. This is the biggest project I've worked on so far. It's been a learning process because I've had to learn how the features interact with the components involved."

How She Knew This Was the Field for Her: "It involves a lot of problem-solving and I'm a results-oriented person; I like to see the finished product in front of me. It's a field that is consistently progressing and there are many opportunities. There's always something new and fascinating to learn. One of the pluses is that it never gets stale."

Advice for Those Who Want to Enter the Field: "Don't be afraid to speak out and voice your ideas on the job. Don't be afraid to ask a lot of questions. Employers look for new and different ways of doing things. Also, continue to keep yourself informed about new technologies because the telecommunications industry changes so rapidly."

Technical Skills Needed for the Job: "Programming and knowledge of design tools."

Non-technical Skills Needed for the Job: "Communication skills. You have to be able to relate information to both technical and non-technical audiences. Especially for customers who are users, it's important to relay the information in a way they can understand."

What She Wishes Someone Would've Told Her Before She Entered the Work World: "It's nothing like the academic environment! I didn't realize it would be so vastly different. Also, every company has its own way of doing things, its own policies, its own methodology. Some employers are better at implementing these than others."

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