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A better world through a systems approach

Interview with Laurie Nasta, CSEP

Courtney Wright

Sep 01, 2021

SEP Interview 04 - Laurie Nasta photoThe following questions are from an interview in 2014:

Q1: Describe your current position/role.

Laurie is a senior systems engineer for a major defense contractor in the Washington D.C. Area.   She supports a Government IT program in a governance role, where she performs requirements analysis, architecture implementation, strategic planning, and outreach to the larger IT user community.

Q2: What are one or two of your proudest professional accomplishments?

One of Laurie's proudest accomplishments was when she made a convincing argument, backed by systems engineering analysis, to cancel a program that was duplicating what an active program already effectively performed. She faced tremendous resistance, from both inside her organization and outside, to keep the other program alive. No one ever likes to see work eliminated, but this decision, while difficult, saved the Government (and therefore the U.S. taxpayers) millions of dollars.

Another example was when Laurie was working in Configuration Management (CM) and Logistics.  She had a boss who had no idea what she did, or what the value of her role was as Lead Engineer on the program. Laurie educated her boss on the importance of CM and how involving CM earlier will save a program time and money.  Her boss allowed her to implement early CM audits, which uncovered a major defect at Preliminary Design Review (PDR), which would have been very costly to correct later.  Correcting the defect delayed the completion of PDR for a month, but reduced cycle time in the operational program from three weeks to three days.  Afterward, her boss told Laurie, “You were right – it was worth it!”

Q3: What is the biggest challenge you face as a Systems Engineer?

The biggest challenge Laurie faces is when she knows something is wrong, but it may not be politically correct or accepted to say so.  A Systems Engineer has to have the integrity to stand up for their convictions and get the point across.

Q4: What advice do you have for individuals starting their career as a Systems Engineer?

Laurie advises new Systems Engineers not to get stuck in a rut doing the same thing.  Instead, gain experience in multiple areas to truly understand what it means to be a Systems Engineer.  Do not knock the approach of “learning by doing” as experience is the best teacher!

Q5: How do you continue to learn about SE? What professional development activities do you do?

Laurie continues her professional development by continuing to add certifications (she has five at this time), attends conferences (she has presented at several), taking advantage of the wealth of on-line learning resources, and participating in other related associations (such as the Innovative Solutions Consortium).  Laurie was also the president of the Washington Metropolitan Area (WMA) Chapter of INCOSE during 2012-2013.

Q6: What are the next career goals you want to achieve?

Laurie is working to obtain her INCOSE ESEP certification.  She wants to have a research paper accepted at the INCOSE conference and stay gainfully employed in a rewarding and interesting job!

Q7: What are some of your hobbies/interests outside of work?

Laurie enjoys bike riding, Pilates, yoga, karaoke, and keeping up with her teenage boys and their activities.

Q8:  Are there any other final comments you would like to make?

Laurie encourages young Systems Engineers to find a mentor they respect that they would like to emulate to help them excel in their careers.  Experienced engineers need to find ways to get connected with younger engineers. It is a challenge because of hectic schedules, but very important. Do not be afraid to fail because that is how we learn. If one does not learn from their mistakes, they are doomed to repeat them!

In 2021, we reached out to Ms. Nasta to answer more questions:

Q9: Why did you decide to get the SEP certification?

First of all, I was in the original 'beta' class for the earliest SEP tests; the test was over 400 questions, and we were given 8 hrs.; I finished in 4 or 4.5 hrs.  At this point in my career, I had been doing systems engineering work but was called by different names:  logistics analyst/engineer, configuration management analyst/engineer, and program management analyst.  But I was doing technical work on submarine communication and combat systems.  However, I found that those other 'titles' were often construed as administrative, or non-technical.  I felt I had experienced the whole systems engineering life-cycle in the many programs I supported, and understood multiple areas of SE and could demonstrate my knowledge to prove it.  So, while others, including my manager at the time were hesitant to take the test, I felt it could truly demonstrate my knowledge and experience was more than my job titles.  I passed that initial test (believe I was CSEP #47), and continued to demonstrate my knowledge, experience, and leadership by being certified as an ESEP a few years ago.  I also passed the Acquisition Extension, which is no longer offered as an exam/certification, which has also demonstrated my knowledge and experience in this specialized domain as well. 

Q10: How does the SEP certification impact your professional career?

Being among some of the first SEPs in the field, initially it had more intrinsic value then overt career benefits.  I had 'bragging rights' and was sometimes cited as one of a few certified SEs in the company.  It also gave me confidence, and I used my platform as a certified SEP to persuade others of the certifications value.  I can remember working in a government program office and managing to persuade two of my government customers that they should get certified.  I would say it has only been in more recent years -- maybe last 10 or so, that I have really seen job requirements actually called for CSEPs or ESEPs.  I have also advocated to government folks and government HR folks to recognize it from an equivalency perspective for some government engineering positions, but that is a hard field to plow.  Would love to see INCOSE do more to convince the government agencies we SEs support recognize the certification in a meaningful way, especially for those of us who are non-traditional (traditional = education) SEs.

Q11: What has surprised you in the past five years related to systems engineering?

I would say that the recognition of SEs importance in many more domain areas than the longstanding DOD/military/aerospace.  Also, that the need for good SE just seems to continue to increase as the complexity of systems increase, as well as world problems/crises.  It bodes well for the profession.  I also am heartened to see more focus on the 'soft skills' side of SE and the rise of SE competency models for use in hiring and advancement.  Sadly, there is still a huge gap in the HR world on what an SE is, and how they can help projects....we are not coders, modelers, Systems Admins, etc...there are some SEs that might have these skills or do these types of functions, but it does not represent the full nature of a trained SE, esp a certified one with experience in multiple SE disciplines.  This is another area where an INCOSE public relations campaign can change a world of perspectives. 

Q12: What job titles have you had other than “Systems Engineer?”

In earlier response I noted some of those other titles, some of which came with other certifications (e.g. PMP, Agile), but to reiterate:  Project Manager (PM), PM analyst, Acquisition Engineer/Analyst, Systems Analyst, Configuration Management Manager/Analyst, Logistics Engineer/Analyst, and Supportability Engineer.  But my favorite title is MOM; and, yes, SE has helped me be a better Mom too!

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  1. Emmet Eckman | Sep 01, 2021
    Great Blog and Laurie, you still have "bragging rights!" I look forward to welcoming you to the ESEP community! (Rusty)

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