This Career Path Led Me to a Senior Executive Role in an Industry I Love

Photo Courtesy of NSA.

Photo Courtesy of NSA.

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May 19, 2024 at 4:52PM UTC

Amy A. started her career in computer science as a student at Central Michigan University, before her career path led her through the exciting period of internet’s globalization and landed her at NSA. Even as a senior technical leader, Amy says she learns something new everyday from the “really smart people” she is tackling issues of the nation’s security alongside. 

Those lessons aren’t all technical. As a proud senior sponsor of the Women’s ERG and African American ERG at NSA, Amy is learning more about the challenges and accomplishments these groups are encountering at work to better advocate for the equality of all.

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The supportive environment of NSA presents the perfect opportunity to do this work. We spoke to Amy about how the agency and its mentors are helping her grow as a leader, her journey to the top in the male-dominated industry of computer science and what she’d tell her younger self before setting off on her career journey. 

What is your job today? Describe in layman's term what you do. 

I am a senior technical leader. Right now I am leading multiple teams to update our playbook for telework. 

What has your career path been since graduating? 

I started as a computer science cooperative education student at Central Michigan University. I started my career by designing and developing databases.I learned a lot about signal processing along the way and then went deep into network analysis just as the internet was evolving from being local to becoming a global powerhouse with connectivity around the world. From there, I became a technical senior executive and have been leading efforts and teams. 

Have you worked for any organizations other than NSA? 

No, but I also am an executive coach.   

What has your experience been as a woman in a male-dominated field? 

Well, there has been bias — most of it unconscious. In Computer Science in the late 1980s, there were not many women. I was typically the only woman in the classroom. But I loved programming and I loved software design, so I stuck with it. 

In the early part of my career, there weren't a lot of women in my technical area but there were many women at the Agency. Our numbers continue to grow across entry-level and in senior ranks. I work with some amazing people, some really smart people and some very kind people. If I point out that I see bias, my colleagues are always generous and caring and will listen and learn.   

We have a ways to go, but we have a real focus on understanding diversity and inclusion and on working towards a better tomorrow. 

What's the most challenging part of your job? 

I wouldn't say that any part of my job is challenging but parts of it do take a lot of mental energy. I work with really smart people who have a lot of ideas and, by default, are problem solvers. The most challenging part is allowing myself and others the space to come up with ideas, work through the idea and not dive into problem-solving mode too early. 

What's your favorite part of your job? 

My colleagues. I learn something new about them and about myself on a daily basis.   

What will surprise people to know about you personally? 

I am a running coach — I coach 10k and half marathon running programs.   

What advice would you give your 16-year-old self? 

Life is a journey. Enjoy every mile.  

Can you describe your training experiences at NSA? 

Everyday is a learning experience. There is a lot of formal support for you to grow in your profession, but it is the informal experiences that I really value.   

How have mentors at NSA helped you make decisions about your career? 

I am of the belief that we each own our own professional development path. I have had many mentors and coaches who have helped me navigate my path when I was lost, but in the end, I picked the roads I wanted to travel.

Do you belong to any ERGs? If so, how does the group help you with career development? 

I have been involved with the Women's ERG for many years but in the last 10 years, I have been a senior sponsor for both the Women's ERG and the African American ERG. I love working with the ERGs because they allow me to learn more about the issues, challenges and accomplishments that these groups are encountering at work.   


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