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Career Story: Computer Science Researcher For A Defense Department Contractor

Computer Science Researcher For A Defense Department Contractor

Job Title: Computer Science Researcher

Type of Company: My company does funded research, primarily for the Government, in a variety of high tech areas.

Education: BS, Emory University •• MS, Ph.D., University of Virginia

Previous Experience: I worked as a research scientist at the University of Virginia, then joined the Sandia National Labs in Albuquerque. In 1997 joined computer technologies company in Cambridge, MA.

Job Tasks: I am both a project lead and a line manager. For the projects I lead, I begin by visiting customers (primarily in the government) and soliciting suggestions from them. When possible I help them develop a call-for-proposals and then work to respond to that call. When one of our proposals gets accepted, I assemble a team and carry out the promised work.

For example, a major customer is DARPA, the research arm of the Defense Department. I would contact a DARPA Program Manager and ask for a meeting. I would take along a set of ideas that match what I know to be his interests and we'd discuss them. based on those discussions, we'd arrange for follow-up sessions, where I may provide input into developing a solicitation for proposals.

When a solicitation for proposals is issued, and the solicitation fits our expertise, I assemble a small group to brain-storm ideas. Sometimes these are new ideas (if I haven't had deep discussion with the Program Manager yet), or ideas that I know the Program Manager likes. Proposals are typically 45-55 pages. Several members of the team would take responsibility for writing the various sections. We review the offer, develop a price for it and then submit it by the due date.

My research focuses on network security. I currently have a project developing a high speed network monitor for detecting network-based attacks, including worms, viruses, botnets, scans, phishing, and spam.

I am also a line manager, supervising several junior staff. This responsibility primarily centers around ensuring the staff in my line have projects to work on, periodic feedback, and help with other issues. I sign time sheets, interact with the staff's project management, and write yearly reports.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The best part of my job is the opportunity it affords me to do cutting edge research with a group of extremely smart people. The problems we solve are 5-10 years in the future, but the solutions today have an impact on contemporary systems.

The worst part of the job is dealing with government bureaucracy; while I know the safeguards are there to protect taxpayer money, sometimes inefficiencies cost more money than they actually protect. But this is the price of doing largely government-funded research.

Job Tips: First, be technically proficient. Some people are brilliant, and there are special places for them, but being sufficiently knowledgeable allows you to hold your own while developing business. Understand your limitations and use the brilliant people to help fill those in. But be very good in places where the technically brilliant fail; interpersonal skills, acumen for business, and understanding needs are as important as technical brilliance.

Next, be creative and look past what is currently possible. It is okay to propose work that may very well fail: "high risk, high reward" is not just a catch phrase. But you have to be honest about the risks.

Last, be flexible. Projects come and go, and what is "in" today may change tomorrow.

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