Engineering Career Advice: Lessons Learned From a 44-Year Career at Northrop Grumman

Throughout their careers, employees gain unique knowledge that contributes to their individual success and the company overall. Todd Harland White is a great source of engineering career advice, having recently retired 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.

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

Engineering Career Advice: Appreciate the Journey

I came to Northrop Grumman’s Annapolis site from MIT in 1974 as a co-op student in naval architecture and marine engineering. I returned the following summers and completed my bachelor’s and master’s theses. I graduated in 1977 and was hired full time supporting Mare Island Naval Shipyard in Vallejo, California. I came back to Annapolis in 1981 and have been here ever since.

When I started, we did drawings manually and handwrote engineering reports. Many things have changed, but our mission has remained constant: take on seemingly insurmountable challenges and deliver successful solutions to our customers that meet their critical national needs. I worked with a number of talented, dedicated people over the years, and I will miss each and every one of them.

Six Career Lessons From a Northrop Grumman Engineer

Take Charge of Your Career and Keep Your Manager Updated.

For decades, I sent my bosses a note every Friday with what I did that week and what I planned to do the following week, always including “whatever else pops up.”

Don’t Be Afraid 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. Tell them up front what you have done and why it matters to them. Learn to summarize complex ideas in a few sentences. Be ready to stand up and offer your opinion on topics. Your experience may make you the most qualified person in the room.

Document 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 hard to write, and they add power to your promotion packages. Even when you don’t patent something, disclosures help demonstrate unique products, talents and capabilities to customers.

Mentor Others and Remember, People Change — Including You.

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

Maintain Work-Life Balance.

Refresh and enrich yourself with family and outside activities to complement what you do at work. Gain the perspective to see what 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, project management, manufacturing and more. Explore our job openings and find a place to make a difference in our company.

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