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Lessons Learned from a 44-Year Engineering Career at Northrop Grumman

By Todd Harland-White

Throughout their careers, employees gain unique knowledge that contributes to their individual success and to the company overall. One such employee is Todd Harland White, who retired this year after 44 years with Northrop Grumman. Before leaving, we asked Todd, the Chief Architect at Undersea Systems and Consulting Engineer, to share lessons and wisdom he’s learned throughout his successful career.

Todd Harland White
Todd Harland White,
Chief Architect at Undersea Systems and Consulting Engineer (Retired)

I first came to Northrop Grumman’s Annapolis site from MIT in June 1974 as a co-op student in naval architecture and marine engineering. I returned the following summers and completed what became my bachelor’s and master’s theses. When I graduated and was hired full time in June of 1977, I worked at the field office that supported Mare Island Naval Shipyard in Vallejo, California, near San Francisco. I came back to Annapolis in 1981, and have been there ever since.

When I started, we did drawings manually and hand wrote engineering reports. Many things have changed, but much has not: we still take on seemingly insurmountable challenges and deliver successful solutions to our customers that meet their critical national needs. I have worked for — and with — a great number of incredibly talented and terrifically dedicated people here over the years, and I will miss each and every one of them.

Top Six Career Lessons from a Northrop Grumman Engineer

TAKE CHARGE OF YOUR CAREER AND KEEP YOUR MANAGER UP-TO-DATE ON WHAT YOU DO.

For decades I have sent my various bosses a note every Friday with what I have done this week and what I plan to do next week – always including “whatever else pops up.”

DON’T BE TOO SHY TO SPEAK UP.

You may have been hired mostly because you can do huge, elegant and complex analysis, but many folks will not have the skill or time to go through all that data and understand your value. So, tell them up front what you have done and why it matters to them. Learn how to summarize something complex in a few sentences. Be ready to stand up and offer your opinion on topics – your experience may well make you the most qualified person in the room.

DOCUMENT GOOD IDEAS SO THEY ARE NOT FORGOTTEN.

Let other qualified technical reviewers decide if the idea is great or not; use their feedback to improve your ability to generate better ideas.

CAPTURE IMPORTANT INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS.

Invention disclosures are not that hard to write, and they add power to your promotion packages. Even when we do not patent something, the disclosures still help us prove to our customers that we have unique products, talents and capabilities available here.

MENTOR OTHERS. AND REMEMBER, PEOPLE CHANGE — INCLUDING YOU.

I failed early on as a manager, in part because I did not have enough empathy to understand and motivate people. So I moved on to the more purely technical track in the organization. Yet years later I started mentoring people, have enjoyed it immensely, and it became a most rewarding part of my career experience.

FINALLY, KEEP A WORKLIFE BALANCE.

Refresh and enrich yourself with family and outside activities to complement what you do at work. Gain the perspective to see what really has to be done now and what will improve by being delayed a day. Stay healthy and sane.




Are you interested in a career at Northrop Grumman? We hire professionals in many areas of focus: engineering, cyber, information technology, business management, manufacturing and more. Explore our job openings and find a place to make a difference in our company.


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