From Tragedy to Trajectory: How 9/11 Sparked a Career in Defense

Helen vividly remembers her college roommate banging on her door as the tragic events on Sept. 11, 2001 unfolded. A student at the University of Texas at Austin at the time, Helen felt helpless as she turned on the news to witness the horror happening in New York, Washington, DC and Pennsylvania. This was the defining moment that changed the trajectory of her career.

“I immediately thought about my good friend who was set to join the United States Marine Corps,” Helen says. In light of 9/11, Helen committed herself to working at a defense company to help beat the drum for American soldiers. Helen, who previously interned at Dell, was initially seeking an engineering career at a commercial company. After realizing she could use her key competencies and skills to defend and contribute to the country, she shifted her career focus.

“The defense sector was in the back of my mind, but having someone close to me personally caused me to divert my attention to the defense industry,” says Helen, referencing her close friend who was set to join the Marines during 9/11. “I think it’s awesome to have and develop the newest gadget such as the iPhone, but iPhones are just fun; they’re not saving lives.”

Helen worked as a systems engineer at numerous defense companies before accepting a systems engineering role with Northrop Grumman over four years ago. She believed she had an idea of what to expect because of her past experiences.

“Northrop Grumman provides enriching leadership and technical opportunities to challenge its employees, and they back up their values with action, which makes the company much different from my previous employers,” Helen says. “I think we do a much better job at challenging employees and making them feel uncomfortable – in a good way.” Helen has had her share of being pushed outside of her comfort zone at work. Through Northrop Grumman’s wide-range of opportunities and stretch assignments, she has been encouraged to grow and learn new skills – with support.

“They never put me in a position to not succeed; but, instead, they put me in a position to grow and lead.” Helen says.

Not only can Helen look forward to pushing the boundaries of physics at Northrop Grumman, but she knows she will never get bored, since Northrop Grumman provides her with opportunities to work on multiple programs and projects.

“They never put me in a position to not succeed; but, instead, they put me in a position to grow and lead.”

“If you want to learn about development, there’s a program. If you want to learn about verification and validation, there’s a program. An employee can also learn about hardware and production, which are both going on right now at Northrop Grumman,” Helen says, noting the ease of moving between different locations, sectors and programs within the company.

She has also helped contribute to Northrop Grumman’s efforts to professionally advance its workforce. As the director of electrical design technology for Northrop Grumman’s Mission Systems sector, she works with managers to find adjacent opportunities to grow employees’ skillsets and steer them into unconventional directions.

“Employees are sometimes uncomfortable taking on new assignments for a bit, but they should be uncomfortable or they won’t learn,” she says.

Helen’s ongoing success and strong work ethic at Northrop Grumman is driven by her purpose to support the mission of the defense industry and work on projects that help make the country safer.

“I’m so proud of the work we do every single day,” Helen says. “The longer I’ve been here, the more I’ve really noticed how the company takes ownership and diversity to heart.”