This interview presents information from 2014 and some updates from 2021:
Q1: Describe your current position/role.
2014: Stephanie is a Principal Systems Engineer at Raytheon Missile Systems in Tucson, AZ. She works on the production team, as well as on the development team for a block upgrade of a heritage air-to-surface and moving maritime target system to include interface requirements for the flight platforms. She employs her in-depth aerospace background to implement requirements changes which will result in iterative system enhancements for the end user. She also currently serves as the INCOSE SOARizona Chapter President.
2021: I am a Chief Systems Engineer at SAIC in Tucson, AZ. In my current role I work with a team of other chief systems engineers to advance the state of the art in Digital Engineering and deploy these capabilities to our customers. I work both on the research and development of these capabilities and with deployment efforts. I predominantly support our NASA customers and contracts.
Q2: What are one or two of your proudest professional accomplishments?
Stephanie’s proudest professional accomplishment is managing the delivery of over 200-piece parts to the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) being developed by NASA. Working for a sub-contractor to Lockheed Martin, she employed the full spectrum of her Systems Engineering skills to manage the project from design through production to acceptance and delivery of this critical hardware over a five-year period.
Q3: What is the biggest challenge you face as a Systems Engineer?
The biggest challenge Stephanie faces as a Systems Engineer is encouraging and balancing solid Systems Engineering principles with the reality of cost and schedule constraints. The ideal Systems Engineering approach to a system design and assembly is almost always faced with the need to implement solutions which are “good enough” for the sake of budget realities. The challenge for the SE is to fully understand this trade space and advocate for the optimal system design and test solution.
Q4: What advice do you have for individuals starting their career as a Systems Engineer?
Stephanie’s advice to new Systems Engineers is to not be intimated by a lack of knowledge or experience in a particular technical domain, area of industry, or engineering discipline. Good Systems Engineering is ubiquitous across all system development in any industry. They key is to network with the subject matter experts in the field and glean the knowledge needed to apply SE knowledge. Always be a learner and get as much education as possible from system experts to understand and apply SE processes.
Q5: How do you continue to learn about SE? What professional development activities do you do?
2014: Stephanie is the local chapter president of her INCOSE chapter, and in this role she engages regularly in learning about SE and professional development. She takes full advantage of cross industry technical forums to include participation in the INCOSE International Workshop and events through American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). She enjoys interfacing with SE’s outside of her industry to enhance her own SE skills and learn how SE principles are applied in other domains. She also participates in Science, Technology, Engineering, Math (STEM) events for K-12 in her community and interfaces with the Systems and Industrial Engineering (SIE) department at the University of Arizona to encourage the next generation of Systems Engineers.
Q6: What are the next career goals you want to achieve?
Stephanie would like to grow into a Systems Engineering leadership role within her current program and then perhaps become an SE Functional Manager. In this path she hopes to grow into roles where she can provide technical guidance and leadership within innovating and emerging programs in the aerospace industry. Stephanie also plans to be both learning and guiding within INCOSE and other technical communities that share a passion for delivering innovation.
Q7: What are some of your hobbies/interest outside of work?
Stephanie has several outlets that provide balance and fun in the midst of her professional pursuits. She is a competitive ballroom dancer. She is a gaming aficionado and attends gaming conventions, even crafting her own costumes for these events with her knitting and sewing skills. She is also an avid runner having completed four marathons in the last 2 years along with several half marathons. The crowning running event for her though has been competing in the Inaugural Dopey Challenge which is several races totaling 48.6 miles of running over a 4 day period at Walt Disney World in Florida.
Q8: Are there any other final comments you would like to make?
There are a lot of ways to describe what SE is and how it applies to one’s workplace, but very few people have the same definition or description of what the discipline is. Be prepared to give an example or a model of how SE applies to a system, such as Systems Engineering can be described as the connective tissue for the body of a system, or the glue that finds ways to connect all the parts.
In 2021, we reached out to Ms. Chiesi to answer more questions:
Q9: Why did you decide to get the SEP certification?
I decided to pursue SEP certification because I thought it was important to my career to have a measurable and demonstrable proof of my knowledge and expertise. I think SEP certification shows my investment in my own continuing education and role as a systems engineering leader.
Q10: How does the SEP certification impact your professional career?
Resumes and profiles on sites like LinkedIn always have a place for certifications and awards, and I proudly list my SEP certification there. Colleagues and hiring managers that may be looking at these sources will recognize that certification and know the effort it takes to achieve and maintain the SEP certification. In addition, there are some contracts and proposal requests that have been released by customers that ask for SEP certified personnel if available and so I can help meet that requirement.
Q11: What has surprised you in the past five years related to systems engineering?
What has surprised me the most in the past five years in systems engineering I think has been the unevenness in approach to adopting new technical languages and tools to get the work done. The training and adoption of engineering standards, languages and tools can vary greatly within a company, besides from one company to another or one industry to another. There are times where it seems there are clear benefits and that more people are catching up with training and adoption only to turn around at the next conference and hear that same company repeating the same thing or same struggles as 5+ years ago. I think that within the last 2-3 years there has been more effort between academia and industry to bridge some of those gaps, as well as more coordination and partnering with other engineering disciplines that is really starting to make progress a constant forward push rather than sinusoidal.
Q12: What job titles have you had other than “Systems Engineer?”
I have heard titles of Project Engineer and Project Lead as well as Integrated Project Team Lead, but probably my favorite title that I've heard given to me is "Trouble".