Highlighting standouts across North Alabama during Engineers Week

STEM

Engineers Week takes place from February 16 through February 22. We’re celebrating by highlighting some of the amazing engineers in our community.

Diane Aloisio

Systems Engineer | Aerospace Engineer

Why did you become an engineer?

I had strong grades in math and science when I was in high school, and I knew I wanted to grow these skills in a career. I wanted to be a part of actually making things and advancing technology. I’m also a social person, and I like working on teams of people. Engineering was an easy choice for me.

Describe the projects you’re working on. Why are they important?

One of the projects I’m working on right now is developing methods to take down small drones. A quadcopter that anyone can buy at a hobby shop can be used for some pretty nefarious applications, such as threatening passenger aircraft. For example, recently a few airports had to delay or cancel flights when drones were spotted in the vicinity of the airport. Firefighters also have trouble fighting forest fires with helicopters and airplanes when hobbyists film fires with their drones. When I was a student, I never imagined that the problems our country faces could be so “low-tech.” Working on this project has shown me that we need to be thinking about both high-tech and low-tech threats.

Do you have a specialty area of expertise?

I’m a systems engineer at Dynetics, which means a lot of different things to people. In general terms, systems engineers help design engineers break down a large, ambiguous problem into smaller pieces that are easier to solve. Then, we help the design engineers figure out whether their design has met the initial goals we defined. I find the work rewarding because I get to ask lots of questions and think about problems all day, then let others worry about implementation details.

Describe the hardest and/or most rewarding project you’ve worked on. Describe your proudest moment at work.

I spent five years in grad school doing research to get my master’s degree and subsequently my PhD in Aerospace Engineering. Before I went to grad school, I was not a good writer. I was not detail-oriented, had poor self-esteem, and had trouble working independently. I was able to work with a fantastic adviser who pushed me to improve in these areas. My work ethic, mindset, and outlook on life totally changed, and I didn’t realize it had happened until I was finished. The most rewarding parts aren’t the pieces of paper I got but instead being able to rely on the skills I developed while going through the grad school experience. Regarding Dynetics specifically, I joined the workforce after finishing grad school in late 2018. I had to translate what I had learned through my research to working on large teams with far more experienced engineers. It was a careful balance for me to lean on their expertise while advocating for the systems engineering processes I had learned about in grad school. My proudest moment so far was when a senior engineer requested my help on a new project after I had worked with him previously because he was pleased with the work I had done.

How do you stay motivated?

I stay motivated by trying to take care of my health. It’s hard to push yourself when you’re not feeling well. Also, I drink lots of tea.

What is the best piece of advice for someone interested in this industry?

Never be afraid to ask questions, even if it seems like you’re in a room full of people who understand everything perfectly.


Erin Balistreri

Systems Engineer

Why did you become an engineer?

I really enjoyed math and science in school and had several great teachers. Specifically, I really enjoyed physics and started looking into careers where I could use it. I also was very interested in pursuing a career that allowed me to help people. Engineering was a great fit because it allows me to do both.

Describe the hardest and/or most rewarding project you’ve worked on. Describe your proudest moment at work.

One of my most rewarding experiences was on a project that I led where we had to quickly adapt an older radar system for a new mission. There was not already an existing, fieldable, solution that was able to accomplish the mission. We were able to make modifications to the way our system was operated and processed data so that we could demonstrate Radar’s ability to accomplish the task.

How do you stay motivated?

I have primarily worked on Airborne Radar Systems which can provide valuable, potentially life-saving, information to our armed forces. It is easy to remain motivated if you think about the impact that our technologies can have on lives.

What are you excited to learn more about or do next?

I’m excited to learn more about future airborne platforms (next-generation aircraft/helicopters) and how we can best enhance their capability.

What’s the industry’s next big challenge or leap forward?

The industry’s next big challenges are working with open standards – The industry is pushing for systems that can simply be plugged into a vehicle/aircraft and operate without any other integration. There is a desire to be able to swap one sensor for another to perform a different mission.

Describe working at SRC.

There are a lot of interesting projects going on here at SRC. Teamwork is big, no single person is designing and building these systems alone. We also have a very open-door policy, everyone is willing to help solve problems.

What is the best piece of advice for someone interested in this industry?

My best piece of advice for someone interested in the industry is to get an internship if possible. If you can’t get an internship, I would recommend demonstrating your interests or passions by creating your own research project. Seeing relevant passion-projects on resumes can go a long way.


Gary Cartee

Aerospace Engineer

Why did you become an engineer?

I became an aerospace engineer because I was excited by the NASA Apollo space program and wanted to be an astronaut or design fantastic aircraft.

Do you/did you have a mentor?

I never had a formal mentor, but I have worked with several senior engineers who have provided great advice.

Describe the projects you’re working on. Why are they important?

Currently, I am working on the development of the Launch Vehicle Stage Adapter (LVSA), a large structural component of the NASA Space Launch System (SLS), as a Canvas contractor to NASA. The SLS is important to allow the United States to return to manned space exploration and continue seeking answers to so many questions about our Universe.

Describe the hardest and/or most rewarding project you’ve worked on. Describe your proudest moment at work.

For several years I worked on a team that trained astronauts to operate science payloads on NASA Spacelab missions and the International Space Station (ISS). Due to the high cost to get experiments into orbit, in addition to a limited operating time in orbit, proper experimentation training is crucial. It was incredibly rewarding to see the astronauts successfully complete and capture the science objectives of the payload developers. In conjunction with this, one of my proudest moments occurred when I received the NASA Astronaut Office Silver Snoopy Award from an astronaut I helped train.

What’s the industry’s next big challenge or leap forward?

The next big challenge is getting humans back on the surface of the Moon so we can prepare to land humans on Mars. Robotic exploration is great, but we are a nation of explorers and need to continue exploring.

Describe working at Canvas. Is it what you expected?

Working at Canvas is fantastic. I am just not a number or a source of revenue for a group of shareholders. All Canvas employees are treated like a valuable family member, from the Canvas president all the way down to the newest intern or engineer. Canvas provides good salaries, insurance coverage, and retirement contributions. They work hard to expand their contracts to give us the opportunity to work on exciting and important programs. I had a friend who told me I needed to get a job at Canvas because it would be the best place I ever worked. He was absolutely correct.

What is the best piece of advice for someone interested in this industry?

Once you have picked your field, get experience as early as possible to ensure it is a field you will enjoy. Seek intern positions and join organizations related to the field to maximize your opportunities.


Jeremiah Cockrell

Electrical Engineer

How did you choose engineering as a career?

Knowing I wanted to solve problems in the world, I saw engineering as an opportunity to do that. In engineering, I can learn new skills using innovative technology to resolve notable challenges daily.

How do you define success?

I define success based on the productivity/efficiency of my work and the work of my team. To be successful, achieving personal and team goals is a major key.

What professional skills do you hope to still learn?

A professional skill I tend to focus on is leadership. Leadership skills will go a long way in your career. It is not about telling others what to do and how to do it; it entails setting a good example, being a motivational presence (i.e. team player), and being responsible.

What do you like about working at INTUITIVE?

What I like about INTUITIVE is our values. INTUITIVE strives for excellence with anything we do and takes great pride in the quality of our services, which provides a foundation for my personal and professional life.

What is the best piece of advice for someone interested in this industry?

The best advice I can give someone is to BE A SPONGE. You want to venture out and broaden your scope. Try to learn something new every day and challenge yourself to keep getting better. Every day at INTUITIVE, I am challenged with a new problem to solve, which allows me to learn new skills, to equip me to become a better engineer.


Brittney Lee

Systems Engineer

Why did you choose to pursue engineering?

My parents enrolled me in a pre-engineering program, starting my freshman year of high school. I excelled in the program, and every year throughout high school I continued in the program. Once it was time to start thinking about college, I knew I wanted to major in engineering.

How do you define success?

I define success as being able to do something that matters and enjoying what you do. I like that INTUITIVE is involved in the community and encourages us as employees to participate.

What was your first job?

My first engineering job was in Panama City, Florida, working as a government employee for the Navy. I was a hardware engineer on a command and control program.

What hobbies do you have outside of work?

The hobby that takes up most of my time is baking and working on my small home baking business, Louise’s Sweets and Treats. I also love to travel, read, and try new things.


James Parkes

Senior Front-end Engineer

Why did you become an engineer?

Growing up I was always interested in computers. At a young age, my twin brother and I would sit in our father’s office and watch him on the computer. Once we became old enough to understand how to use computers, we were hooked. My earliest memories of using the computer were playing games like Math Blaster and Backyard Baseball. Going into high school, I knew that I would end up doing something with computers. I enjoyed my programming classes and I wanted to continue doing something similar once I graduated high school. I don’t think I really made the decision to become an engineer until I began working as an intern for Digital Radiance. It was there that I really saw the different opportunities that could come from writing code.

Do you or did you have a mentor?

I’ve had several mentors throughout the years. Early on, my father was my biggest mentor, teaching me everything he knew about computers. Once I entered Bob Jones High School, I was fortunate enough to take a few programming classes taught by Jennie Rountree. She was an amazing teacher and mentor to me during that time. Following high school, I attended UAH and worked a few different internships. While working an internship at Digital Radiance, I met Ron Phillips and John Cote. They both ended up becoming incredible mentors who really opened up my eyes to all of the programming and engineering opportunities. I will be forever grateful for their patience and kindness, as well as the knowledge they bestowed on me in those early days of being a developer.

Describe the projects you’re working on. Why are they important?

Right now, I’m working on the mobile app our workers use to clock-in and clock-out, manage their schedules, and view their pay stubs. The apps are important for a number of reasons. First, it’s literally how our workers get paid. Second, these apps are native which means they are developed for a specific mobile device and will allow us to take full advantage of native features on the phone. Third and most importantly, the mobile apps we are building now will be the foundation for how we move and evolve over the next few years.

Describe the hardest and/or most rewarding project you’ve worked on. Describe your proudest moment at work.

There’s been a lot of highlights throughout the years from working on a chemistry lab simulation at Digital Radiance to launching the new public-facing website at Hexagon Safety & Infrastructure to building my first course at Udacity to launching our first mobile app at Spur. It’s hard to pick one because each project required hours of hard work from a lot of amazing, talented people. The most recent project I’ve worked on at Spur is a kiosk that allows workers to clock-in and clock-out of their shifts. In the past few months, we’ve seen workplaces installing the kiosks and workers using them to clock-in and clock-out, so that’s very exciting and rewarding for me.

Do you have a specialty area of expertise?

Web development is the area where I feel the most comfortable and where I can do the most quickly. Prior to building web apps full-time at Spur, I actually built courses to help teach people how to build web apps in my previous role at Udacity. If you take some of their free courses online or sign up for the Front End Web Development Nanodegree, you may see a few videos of me teaching HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

What’s the industry’s next big challenge or leap forward?

For the industry we are trying to serve at Spur, I think the next leap forward, which is also the problem we are trying to solve, is giving people more autonomy when it comes to their work-life balance. In many ways, people are already doing this in other aspects of their lives. From apps like Netflix and Spotify which allow you to control the entertainment you want, to services like DoorDash and Shipt which give you access to food and groceries from any restaurant or grocery store from the comfort of your home, people want to have choices and control the narrative. Why shouldn’t people expect the same for how they work?

Describe working at Spur.

After previously working for the startup company Udacity in Mountain View, California, I was worried that I would never be able to work for another company that would have the same fast-paced, exciting, and challenging environment. To my surprise, Spur not only met those expectations but did so while being in my hometown of Huntsville, Alabama. At times, working at Spur has been the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. I’ve been asked to constantly pivot, learn new technology stacks, and at times burn the midnight oil all in an effort for us to find the right product-market fit to make our company viable. However, those challenges have helped me grow as an engineer and working through those problems with my teammates has helped me forge lasting friendships. I would consider my coworkers not just friends, but family. We are an incredibly tight group over at Spur, and for me, coming into work every day doesn’t feel like a job. We have fun, we cut up, but we also have an incredible mission to improve the lives of the hourly workforce through the software that we create, so it’s not hard to find the motivation to come into work every day.

What is the best piece of advice for someone interested in this industry?

Pick something and then go for it. In this industry, things are always changing and it can be easy to get caught up in what is the next new technology, pattern, or library. However, I find that sometimes developers can become so concerned with using the next greatest thing or making something perfect, that they forgot to actually just build something. I’m not saying that those things are bad, I’m just saying that it shouldn’t get in the way of you just building something. You can always go back and make changes and improvements. The more important thing is you build something, release it, get feedback, and then afterward go back and make improvements.


Will Rosa

Software Engineer

Did you always know you wanted to be an engineer?

Like most young kids, my dream was to become an astronaut. It was in high school, however, that I became truly passionate about Engineering, specifically Software Engineering. I enrolled in a programming course on Saturday mornings; so, for approximately six months, I was attending school from Monday through Saturday. After completing that initial course, I spent much of my time writing various programs and applications and reveling in what I was able to create with a computer. This creative spark and ingenuity has continued to fuel me in my career here at INTUITIVE.

What types of projects are you currently working on?

I am currently working on a missile launcher program. One of the main functions of the system is to orient the launcher on the target to deliver a weapon, accurately and effectively.

Describe the most rewarding project you’ve worked on.

The current launcher program is the most rewarding project I have worked on to date. I enjoy and appreciate the real-time feedback received when working with embedded systems between software and hardware. Witnessing all elements of the program coming together during flight test is one of my proudest moments.

What was your first job?

As a teenager growing up in Aguada, Puerto Rico, my first job was working at my uncle’s auto body shop. In addition to learning the value of being meticulous and conscientious with my workmanship, I also learned how equally important it was to interact well with customers. My uncle taught me that any degree of technical skills without the merit of interpersonal relationships does not result in lasting success.

What excites you about your work at INTUITIVE?

I am most excited about the cutting-edge work INTUITIVE can provide to our warfighters. I take immense pride in knowing that what we are doing matters, and I work extremely hard so that the warfighters get a system that is not only unquestionably reliable and precise but also affords our service men and women every opportunity to return home safely to their families.

What professional skills do you hope to still learn?

I am interested in learning more about the end-to-end business and contract negotiations.

What is the best piece of advice for someone interested in engineering?

Engineering is an incredibly rewarding career. If you have a passion for solving complex problems, this field merits your consideration. Stay focused on your long-term goals and work diligently to achieve them.


Daniel J. Thompson

Test Engineer | Laser Safety Officer

Why did you become an engineer?

I was always good at physics and math and knew that engineering provided excellent job opportunities. I have always been interested in science and technology and wanted to work for either NASA or the Army. Now I work for the Missile and Sensors Test Directorate at the US Army Redstone Test Center (RTC).

Do you have a specialty area of expertise?

I primarily work with lasers. I test these systems in both the lab and in the field. I also serve as RTC’s Laser Safety Officer, so I ensure that all of our laser testing is done in a way that guarantees safety to the engineers and technicians working the programs.

Describe the projects you’re working on. Why are they important?

My most recent projects have been supporting the Army’s High Energy Laser weapons programs. These programs are important because they provide an efficient and effective means of air and missile defense to protect soldiers in the field. The high energy systems are still in development and we provide risk reduction testing on various things including beam quality and power on target. We also work on the target tracking component which can be more difficult than the laser portion. I also regularly work with laser designators, testing for compatibility with the seeker of Army missile systems. These designators vary from the handheld type that a soldier would carry to the designators that are combined with cameras and range finders to go on helicopters and drones.

Describe working at the RTC.

RTC isn’t a typical engineering job. It provides the opportunity to work with Army weapons systems hands-on. Instead of being stuck behind a desk all day, we get to be in the field-testing missiles, helicopters, rocket motors, and lasers. RTC also provides the opportunity to do a great deal of travel to test equipment at ranges all over the United States and, occasionally, other countries.

Is working at RTC what you expected?

Not at all. I have gotten far more opportunities to work with some amazing technology and to travel than I ever thought I would. My degree was in Electrical Engineering with a focus on Optics so working with laser weapons systems is really my ideal job. When I started working for RTC as a co-op student I never imagined the things I would get the opportunity to work with.

What is the best piece of advice for someone interested in this industry?

The school part isn’t easy but the reward is worth it. An engineering degree offers a wide range of opportunities in stable, high paying jobs. It also offers great variety in work; programs and projects change constantly and you never know what you might get to work on next.


Charles Walston

Aerothermal Engineer

Why did you become an engineer?

I’m one of the many engineers that just continued to follow that childhood instinct to take everything apart, needing to know how it all worked. Fast forward a couple of decades and nothing has changed, except now I get to take what I’ve learned and apply it to tackling new problems. How I ended up getting a degree in Aerospace Engineering or working in Huntsville, AL… that’s pretty much a mystery.

Describe the hardest and/or most rewarding project you’ve worked on. Describe your proudest moment at work.

Everyone (at least us nerdy engineers) has seen the online streams of SpaceX landing their rockets vertically or NASA landing its rovers on Mars and the excitement that ensues. In my relatively short career, I’ve been lucky enough to work a couple of flight test programs that have experienced similar highs, and you’d never think you could ever find yourself so excited at work until the moment the vehicle you’ve been working on for the past 3 years hits its target and the next thing you know you’re jumping up and down high fiving coworkers. I can’t wait to do it again!

Do you have a specialty area of expertise?

I received my degree in Aerospace Engineering, and over the last 10+ years in the industry, I’ve been specializing in aerothermal analysis/design for various types of rockets, missiles, and re-entry vehicles.

How do you stay motivated?

At a company like i3, it’s hard not to be motivated. I’m surrounded by a lot of smart people, with impeccable standards and work ethic. Can’t be the one holding everyone else back!

What are you excited to learn more about or do next?

I’m most excited about the next flight test (see reasons listed under the “most rewarding project”). With each test comes tons of data, and that’s where we learn the most. We’re able to dive into the details, make comparisons to our current models, and prepare to push the limits even farther the next time around.

What’s the industry’s next big challenge or leap forward?

The age-old “go farther, go faster, be more affordable.”


Submit an engineer

Do you want to show some love to a special engineer in your life? Take a moment to submit a photo to our gallery and tell us about your favorite engineer. Click here to submit an engineer.

Trending Stories