By Tamara White Hutchinson and Elizabeth McCann
Veldesta E. credits having an outsider’s perspective with helping her build a career out of finding new solutions.
“The tech industry was very homogenous when I started, and we have improved,” she said. “As a Black woman, I had a different set of life experiences and perspectives than my colleagues and was able to offer out-of-the-box ideas.”
For example, while working at an aircraft manufacturer, she saw a simple solution to an ongoing problem: When planes landed in Reykjavik, Iceland, they often blew their tires and chipped their paint in the freezing temperatures. Waiting for spares caused excessive delays. Veldesta suggested that the planes carry spare tires and paint. It turned out, the company hadn’t considered this obvious solution, and soon adopted it after Veldesta spoke up.
“At the time, there was a lot of group-think due to the lack of diversity in tech,” she recalled. “Being different was definitely an asset to the company in this situation.” Veldesta credits that willingness to go against the grain as part of how she got into tech in the first place. In the 1980s she worked for an insurance company that was beginning to digitize its paperwork, and she volunteered to be the one to learn the computer system.
Since then, she has become passionate about mentoring young people to bring even more diverse perspectives to the technology industry. In 2022, she won the Black Engineer of the Year Community Service Award for her volunteer and mentorship work. Veldesta has spent more than two decades encouraging young people of color – and especially young women – to go into STEM fields. In addition to judging high school science fairs and mentoring younger people in technical careers, she has been very active in youth ministries at her church, which has helped her get to know kids and their parents and tell them about opportunities in STEM. She formed one ministry at her previous church, where the congregation was 98 percent African American, and her current church, which is more culturally diverse, and helped open many kids’ eyes to what STEM has to offer.
“All of my career and life experiences come together in the outreach and philanthropic work that I do with students,” she said. “Getting people to grow is what makes me most happy.”
Veldesta is also active in Northrop Grumman’s Employee Resource Groups, which provide networking and training opportunities. She is currently the ERG Site Chair for Northern Virginia.
She said the best career advice she ever got was to always be true to yourself. “Don’t become a chameleon or change for someone and lose yourself in the process.” She said she shares this advice with her protégés. She believes staying true to herself and embracing the ways in which she was often different helped her find solutions that no one else could.
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