Software Engineer Sees the Difference She's Making for Warfighters on Patrol
MITRE Software Systems Engineer Erin Connors enjoys being able to interact with sponsors, soldiers, and the people who use the software she designs.
Erin Connors thrives when she's in the thick of things. One of four daughters in a sports-oriented family, as a young girl she was always on her way to a competition—in soccer, tennis, gymnastics, figure skating, and more. Meanwhile, in the classroom, what she calls her "engineer's curiosity" prodded her to find out how things work.
Today, as a software systems engineer for MITRE, Connors develops software for the U.S. military. "In previous jobs, I would write software, and maybe five years down the line it would get in the hands of a user," she says. By the time her work reached its intended audience, she had moved to another company.
"At MITRE, I can actually see my work in action. I interact closely with sponsors, soldiers, and people who use the software I design. I can see how they use it, get their feedback, and incorporate those lessons into future improvements."
Since joining MITRE in 2008, Connors has contributed to projects for the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) and the Natick Soldier Research, Development, and Engineering Center (NSRDEC). Most recently, she led the NSRDEC project to develop key components of the Nett Warrior Android prototype, a handheld device for soldiers on patrol, and to transition the prototype to the Nett Warrior program of record. Most handheld devices include mapping software that requires Internet access to display. Connors' team developed software that enables patrols to load and store maps before a mission to enable situational awareness wherever they are, even without Internet connectivity.
"It's great new technology that I was able to learn, develop, and put in the hands of real users. It's a powerful device that provides important information to our soldiers," she says. The handheld device replaces the Land Warrior system, which was bulky, expensive, slow, and so power-hungry that patrols had to carry extra battery packs to keep it operational. Nett Warrior Android represents the effort to find a mobile solution that was lighter, faster, less expensive, and more powerful. Connors also spends significant time in the field, testing the technology she and her team develop for NSRDEC.
Benefits of a Collaborative Environment
A Boston-area native, Connors earned her bachelor's degree in computer science from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., and then a master's degree from the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va. As a graduate student, she worked part-time at NASA Langley Research Center as a Langley Aerospace Research Scholar, conducting software engineering research on the verification and validation of spacecraft procedures.
(Video) Erin Connors talks about Engineering at MITRE.
With graduation approaching, she was hoping to find a job near Boston, and a colleague at NASA suggested MITRE. Connors knew about the company. One of her uncles, a software engineer, worked here for about 10 years. Another uncle, a building contractor, had helped install windows at the growing Bedford campus.
Although she could have taken a job with any number of Boston-area companies, she chose MITRE because of its collaborative environment. "There aren't internal firewalls preventing people from working together," she says. "If I need to learn about a system or technology, other employees will take time out of their schedules to speak with me."
Recently, Connors moved from an office in MITRE's original lab building to the new, state-of-the-art E Building, where she shares space in an open area designed to promote the kind of collaboration for which MITRE is known. "You can more easily see what other engineers are working on at their lab benches, and they can see what you're doing. It helps you keep abreast of what other programs are doing and identify areas where you may be able to collaborate," she says.
Although the NSRDEC project has been the focus of her professional life over the last several years, Connors says she always has an eye on the future. As a college student, she held a part-time job at the University of Massachusetts Medical School at the Center for Healthcare Financing. She hopes one day to do more in that field—possibly with MITRE, which was recently awarded the contract to operate the FFRDC for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
"At MITRE it's fairly easy to follow your interests and switch up what you're doing. It's nice that we have different types of programs where we can move to other areas and contribute to new projects within the same company."
—by Molly Manchenton
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