Innovation on All Fronts

By Suzanne Kubler

Ken Friend served his country as a station commander in the U.S. Army for 24 years and said he was humbled by the talent that surrounded him every day. When he retired from the service, his passion to help empower veterans like himself grew — and, as a Northrop Grumman talent acquisition manager, he’s been finding inventive ways to connect veterans with the perfect fit for their passion.

“I see veterans who transition from the military with so much to offer but who need help focusing their talents,” said Ken, who is always on the lookout for ways to match veterans with job opportunities. “I kept hearing about the industry shortage of software engineers and that the need for these roles will continue to increase through 2030.”

Ken saw this need as an opportunity to further Northrop Grumman’s partnership with the military community. With 250,000 service members transitioning annually from the military into civilian roles — all with a passion to support the warfighter and many with existing security clearances — Ken started working on a plan to connect and prepare veterans to excel in these in-demand roles.

“If we can develop their software skills, we can provide them with a path to Northrop Grumman,” said Ken.

Working in collaboration with his talent acquisition and software engineering colleagues, Ken started looking for a way to get candidates specialized software engineering courses. He reached out to more than 50 coding institutions before he found a match at Codecraft Works, a computer science academy in Melbourne, Florida. Educators worked with the Northrop Grumman team to tailor a curriculum that includes skill-building specific to the company’s software products — an element that students wouldn't normally get in school.

“After participants complete this course, they’re prepared to go directly into one of our open requisitions. The program sets them up for success,” said Ken, who secured funding for the program through local government in Brevard County, Florida — meaning zero cost to students.

Preparing for Take-Off

It was time for the final step: finding veterans who already had or were interested in getting a STEM degree. Ken enlisted the help of Northrop Grumman’s armed services recruiting team, who reached out to military bases across the United States and found 12 candidates for the 16-week program, which launched its first session in August 2023. Upon graduation, successful candidates could apply for a full-time software engineering position at Northrop Grumman. So far, more than half of the graduating class has accepted offers with the company and the program is expanding to other areas of the company.

Breana McDonald, a veteran and West Point graduate, was part of the initial cohort and joined Northrop Grumman as a software engineer in January 2024. Breana said this opportunity was exactly what she needed.

“It was hard finding a way into software development, and this program provided the steady foundation that I was missing. I'm really thankful for it,” said Breana. “And I really appreciate Northrop Grumman's mission of using technology and innovation to keep our nation safe.”

The Key to Success

Ken is no stranger to innovation. He’s used his problem-solving mindset to recruit hard-to-find talent in other specialized roles at Northrop Grumman throughout his 15 years with the company. It’s a strategy that’s paid off in Palmdale, California, and Iuka, Mississippi, with aircraft mechanics, airframe fabrication technicians, non-destructive test experts and composite specialists.

Ken believes we all need to think outside the box to find solutions to tough challenges.

“Everybody's an innovator, everybody has ideas of different ways that we can do business. And that’s the key to our success,” said Ken. “This is proof you can innovate in all facets of Northrop Grumman.”

Life at Northrop Grumman

Your work at Northrop Grumman makes a difference. Whether you want to design next-generation aircraft, harness digital technologies or build spacecraft that will return humanity to the moon, you’ll contribute to technology that’s transforming the world. Check out our career opportunities to see how you can help define possible.

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