Northrop Grumman IT: Developing Applications
As a top-tier integrator of large-scale information systems, Northrop Grumman Information Technology’s business solutions reside behind the scenes of many worldwide government and commercial enterprises. From the Internal Revenue Service to the Department of Homeland Security, the work of Northrop Grumman’s more than 18,500 IT professionals ripples throughout these government agencies. Tackling some of the most demanding and complex IT projects in the business, these professionals serve as problem-solving powerhouses who deliver the solutions that ensure security and optimal performance for their customers.
“At the IT sector, Vice President and Chief Technology Officer Dr. Robert Brammer sponsors an Independent Research and Development program. A significant portion of the IT budget is designated each year to fund these new development initiatives,” said Kathy Land, program manager at the Northrop Grumman IT location in Huntsville, Ala. “In addition, members from each sector compete for publication in Northrop Grumman’s Technology Review Journal.”
The Huntsville location employs 15 IT professionals, who support a variety of commercial and government projects.
“Our group provides a range a technical services, systems analysis, database design and development, network design and analysis, and software process definition and improvement,” Land said. “The software engineering section was formed just over two years ago. We determined that in order to be effective, encourage growth and to develop a well-rounded IT staff, we should center our operations on customer-focused development, the marketing of our products and talents and internal support to improve the existing Huntsville operations infrastructure and business operations.”
The SecurTracker, an enterprise security application, is an example of the type of commercial solutions developed at the Huntsville location. Land said contracting and government agencies use this application to manage all security tasks for an organization. The Huntsville staff also supports numerous government projects such as America’s Army, a game and government training application, and Combat Flight Record System (CFRS), an application to automate the record keeping associated with helicopter flight training.
IT projects that support the Huntsville operations business areas include the Web-based inventory assessment system for the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Systems (UAVS) Project Office and the Web-based portal supporting the Threat Systems Management Office (TSMO) Intelligence Modeling and Simulation for Evaluation program. Land said the Huntsville team also provides support for its internal operations infrastructure.
“The team was responsible for the development and deployment of an operations portal that has become an integral part of our effective business operations,” she said. “The portal enabled all parts of the Huntsville operations to become connected and provided cross-program management visibility.”
Because of the nature of the work in Northrop Grumman’s IT sector, Land said professionals first should understand software engineering and the software development process, and then they should identify where their area of expertise lies.
“For example, do they excel in database technologies? How far could they go in becoming a DBA, data warehouse expert, etc.?” she said. “If they like and have the talent for a variety of object-oriented programming languages, then they should pursue that path. However, every IT professional here should understand the basic concepts of operating systems, networks, etc.”
The IT job roles and responsibilities at Northrop Grumman mirror the software life cycle: marketer, proposal participant/lead, detailed requirements elicitor and documenter, software designer, software configuration manager, software quality-assurance expert, software test lead, software fielding team member/lead, documentation support team member and help desk team member. Land said IT employees’ level of responsibility depends on their training, level of experience and demonstrated abilities. In general, Land said she looks for potential candidates with applicable experience.
“When I interview candidates, I ask technical questions. I ask questions about their past jobs that might provide me with some type of indication of their ability to support project requirements and their ability to flex to any future requirements,” she said. “We are careful not to rush interviews — interviews of proposed technical staff are a tricky thing. Truly talented individuals put the ‘I’ in ‘individual’ and may be quirky. So in an hour, how do you separate what might be a quirk from a potential disastrous personality flaw? I concentrate on isolating their level of technical skill. If an individual has the technical ability, they will stay busy and productive.”
Although technical competence is crucial, soft skills are critical for Northrop Grumman IT professionals, as well. Land said she looks for candidates with project leadership experience, as well as risk management experience.
“I will hire the IT professional with demonstrated project leadership experience who is also technically competent over the programmer without this experience,” she said. “I need software engineers, individuals who know how to identify requirements, who can properly categorize project risk, and who can accurately estimate. These skills are critical to providing customers with the correct product on time and within budget. This is what we are paid to do. Programming is a small, small part of it.”
Land said Northrop Grumman endorsed and funded the IEEE Certified Software Development Professional (CSDP) examination for the IT department at the Huntsville location. About 70 percent of the Huntsville IT employees are CSDP certificate holders as a result.
“We felt the CSDP would provide individuals working within our department with a unique opportunity to demonstrate their software engineering proficiency,” she said. “In my opinion, the CSDP provides a true measure of the software engineering professional — no other certification exam provides the direct mapping to the Software Engineering Body of Knowledge (SWEBOK). In addition, the CSDP requires a stringent 9,000 hours of current software engineering experience within at least six of the core SWEBOK knowledge areas.”
Further, Land said she encourages members of the development staff to obtain vendor-specific certifications and programming language-specific certifications when needed to meet immediate project requirements. She said Northrop Grumman discourages a focus on developing expertise in narrow technical specialties.
“Our focus is on software management, development, integration, deployment and maintenance,” Land said. “I encourage members of the development staff to obtain vendor-specific certifications. We want to focus on the technical professional rather than on training the technical expert. The goal is to nurture and develop mature and adaptable technical professionals, not to develop specialists whose specialty might become obsolete. The goal of any manager should be to help technical professionals in their careers and to encourage high potentials in their staff.”
Professional growth also is provided by Northrop Grumman IT’s learning and development department. It provides on-site education that supports targeted engineering, program and subcontract management, and professional and leadership development. It also provides Web-based distance learning courseware, which supports topics such as ethics and business conduct.
Additionally, Northrop Grumman offers an educational assistance program for employees. Land said five of her IT employees are participating in the program.
“For traditional approved coursework, employees are reimbursed for courses and books. There are no fees associated with internal learni