As advances across the areas of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) continue to be pivotal in the way NSA accomplishes our mission, we are committed to empowering women to take an active role in that transformation. Lymari C. is currently in the systems engineering (SE) field after starting her STEM journey in physics. Upon completing high school, Lymari applied to a Physics degree program and went on to earn a Bachelor of Science in Physics, a Master’s in Engineering Physics, and a Master’s in Systems Engineering (SE).
Question: What do you like about the work you do at NSA?
Answer: I can work complex technical challenges in a variety of mission areas and be able to create an impact by improving a process, helping people collaborate better, or enabling an effort to deliver technical solutions that advance NSA’s missions. As a physicist and systems engineer, I have a passion for identifying solutions to complex problems. My work at NSA is all about taking something that is complex (it can be either a technical problem or an organizational problem) and turning it into something that is cohesive and easy to understand. It is all about integrating all the moving pieces of a large effort. In addition, I love that every day I learn something new, which I think it is essential for both career and professional growth.
Question: Was there a defining STEM moment in your life?
Answer: The moment that led me to pursue STEM happened at 10 years old. My parents took me to visit the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, which at the time had the largest radio telescope in the world. That’s when I validated that I wanted to study something related to STEM, because I wanted to be the person working the radio telescope. Years later that dream became a reality while I was doing my Master’s in Engineering Physics.
A defining moment in my career came years later. Upon finishing my Master’s Degree I worked in private industry as a radar systems engineer where I developed scenarios of ballistic missiles for US ground radar systems, and modeling and simulation of ground radar systems for the DoD. Three years later, NSA hired me as a Tech ELINT signals analyst. I started to take on more SE responsibilities and began my pursuit of a Master’s Degree in SE. Since that moment, I have been able to work a variety of mission projects at every stage of the project lifecycle and have been the lead Systems Engineer working large NSA efforts. Another moment came when I helped implement the NSA SE Development Program. That was a crucial moment because at that point I was responsible for ensuring NSA had a cadre of trained systems engineers ready to work our most complex challenges.
Question: What advice would you give someone looking to enter your field?
Answer: I would advise someone interested in pursuing a career in SE, that SE is a way of thinking that is developed over time. It is the ability to combine technical skills with people skills to manage complexity and deliver outcomes.
Complexity is not only technical, sometimes it is people, and how they communicate or collaborate.
I would advise someone new in SE to find a mentor who can share what worked and what did not work for them, and share the resources they use, like templates and knowledge repositories, so they don’t have to reinvent the wheel. I would also advise them to never stop learning. Take courses to develop new skills, learn a new tool, and partner with other people doing similar work. SE can be hard but it is also fun and rewarding! It lets you see the big picture but also allows you to work the implementation of lower level tasks that create the big picture.
Question: How do you think we can get more women in STEM? Why is that important?
Answer: We need to generate interest and inspire other women to pursue careers in STEM and to work at NSA. We need to give them the confidence and the support needed to be successful. This can be done by creating more opportunities for NSA STEM women to partner with women interested in STEM fields, so they can become mentors, advisors, or coaches early on in their studies or careers. We need to build strong relationships that will attract women to NSA. But these relationships need to persist after the person gets hired at the Agency.
It is important to show them a clear view of what career progression looks like for women in STEM at NSA, and highlight the many benefits the Agency provides for education, professional development, and employment benefits. Also, to be able to get more women in STEM, we need to target our recruitment efforts to purposefully seek women in STEM talent by taking advantage of professional platforms on social media such as LinkedIn.
It is important to recruit and retain more women in STEM to bridge the gender gap in STEM and ensure equal opportunities. This will result in more diversity of thought and experiences that will ultimately help us advance mission outcomes.
Learn more about jobs at NSA through our careers website.