As advances across the areas of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) continue to be pivotal in the way NSA accomplishes our mission, NSA’s office of Capabilities is committed to empowering women to take an active role in that transformation. This new series aims to highlight the women working in STEM fields across Capabilities. Read on to find out how Technical Director Dr. Caldwell found her passion at an early age and how she thinks we can continue to advance women in STEM at NSA.
What is your STEM field? What led you to this field?
Dr. Caldwell: I am currently the Technical Director of a group specializing in capability development for Internet of Things (IoT) devices. I wanted to major in mathematics and computer science, but my father convinced me to explore electrical engineering instead. In college, I had a mentor, the first woman faculty member in the Texas A&M Electrical Engineering Department, who exposed me to research and taught me techniques for applying artificial intelligence in the analysis of electric power systems. When I joined the Agency, I gravitated towards capabilities development and when I was given the option to join my team, it seemed like the best of both worlds. I have been able to revive my love and interest for electrical engineering, especially electric power and big data analytics and combine that with my experience in capability and product development.
Was there a defining STEM moment in your life?
Dr. Caldwell: Growing up, my parents enrolled me in summer enrichment programs at Southern University and Louisiana State University that focused on subjects like electrical engineering, computer programming, and math. Eventually, I convinced my parents to purchase our first computer (a TANDY 1000) and I taught myself to program in FORTRAN and PASCAL. From there I developed an interest in solving problems and a love for computer science and programming.
What do you like about the work you do at NSA?
Dr. Caldwell: The best part of working here is that you have the ability to always expand and learn something new. I love seeing how emerging technology can be applied to challenging mission sets and being on the forefront of emerging technologies is one of the top reasons I enjoy working here. I have always been able to work on cutting edge technologies like speech processing, protocol processing and industrial control systems. I can truly say it is never boring. One of the other reasons I enjoy working at NSA is the ability to interact and collaborate with others to help drive innovation. I always look forward to working on our challenging problems with some of the top experts in the field.
What advice would you give someone looking to enter your field?
Dr. Caldwell: I think there are three things for success in ANY STEM field:
1. Remain persistent. In order to be successful, we must not give up on challenging problems. Persistence is what helps you find that hard-to-find bug or bugs in a computer program or to understand and research vulnerabilities in complex systems. With all of the theoretical concepts I have learned in school and the technical experience I have gained on the job, the one thing that really helps with problem solving and drive success is persistence.
2. Don’t be afraid to take credit for your ideas. I wish someone would have shared this with me when I was first starting in my career. Diversity of thought is critical so never be afraid to share and take credit for your ideas.
3. Remain curious, continue to ask questions and look for opportunities to learn. That’s why I like working here. Technology is always changing, and in order to stay ahead, it’s critical to continue learning and increasing your technical knowledge and expertise.
How do you think we can get more women in STEM? Why is that important?
Dr. Caldwell: It’s critical we continue to highlight women in STEM. Things like this series make a difference. It really helps when we, as women, see other women succeed. It helps drive other women to not only pursue STEM careers but remain in that career. I remember being one of the only women in my class for probably 90% of my classes in college. So, when a female professor joined the faculty, I knew I was taking her class, no matter the topic.
Mentoring is also very important. We have to start engaging with young girls and women early in their careers to make sure we’re giving back to the youth and young professionals. The instructor I mentioned earlier is still one of my mentors to this day. I’m a strong believer in giving back and being an advocate for other women. This is important because with more women in STEM, we expand our knowledge and ability to develop comprehensive and fully-thought out solutions. Also, it creates an environment and sense of belonging for all persons, which can only be beneficial for the larger mission.
If you’re interested in a fulfilling career defending the nation and growing your STEM skillset, consider checking out www.intelligencecareers.gov and apply today!