Career Spotlight: Engineer Libby Howell

Position & Title: Electrical Engineer/ Computer Network Assessor Auditor
Employer: US Army Research Laboratory
City & State: El Paso, Texas

What are some of your job responsibilities?
“We do certifications and accreditation of army systems for the risk management framework. Normally, I am a team lead so we go and access the army systems to make sure that they meet the minimum requirements as far as security poster […] so they don’t get hacked into. The requirements are part of the NISTA: National Institute of Standards of Technology. That’s one area, the other area is that I work for a directorate under the Army Research Laboratory that’s called Survivability Lethality Analysis. So we perform all types of survivability analysis and again, in support of the Army to make sure that they are survivable when they are being built. My area has to do more with information assurance. We test army systems as they are going through a developmental cycle to make sure that they could survive a cyber attack. So we run tests, we do penetration tests, and also […] evaluate the soldiers on how well they can detect, react, and restore their systems if there is a cyber attack.”

What is your educational background?
“I have a Bachelor’s of Science in Electrical Engineering. When I first started working for the Department of Defense, I used to work the modernizing the radars that were used as instruments for testing out in White Sands Missile Range. That was my first job so […] I couldn’t have done that if I didn’t have an engineering degree.”

How did you find your current job?
“I was looking for a job locally […] and really there weren’t a lot of technical jobs. Most people either went to work for Fort Bliss or White Sands [for those who were engineers.] So I applied to White Sands and I got the job. Another interesting thing though, is that back then, I was the first female engineer they ever had. A year later another [woman] got hired. I mean they had females, but as secretaries and they had two female technicians, but was the first female engineer [at that one organization]….It was an organization that was called the Instrumentation Directorate. We basically were involved in modernizing or providing new instruments that were used to collect data.”

What did you do to prepare for this career?
“I studied hard. You know the reason I got into engineer is kind of weird. Math came easy to me and I liked it, but I didn’t know what to do with math [in the beginning]. I didn’t want to be a teacher, that didn’t interest me so I figured that engineering is the application of math. So that’s why I picked it. I didn’t know anything about EE (Electrical Engineering) when I was in high school. When I was in high school, it was very different from your guys went. There wasn’t any AP classes and all these special programs, you just did the basics. I was never really exposed to it.”

What is your favorite part of your job?
“It’s really the people, my coworkers. Nothing that we do is ever one person. We do a lot of test events so we do things as a group.”

What is the most challenging part of your job?
“What’s challenging is keeping up with the changes, especially for computers. Things are changing so rapidly, it’s a lot of stuff you have to know. You need to know the ins and outs because you need to know that in order to try to exploit the weaknesses.

What advice would you give to help a girl prepare for a job like yours?
“It’s a great career…and there are so many applications in the engineering field. You can apply it to so many different things. As a EE you can work with car manufactures, aero-space industry, electronics, there are so many different applications that I think is a very good field.”

What do you do for fun when you aren’t working?
“I take art classes, I’ve always liked art. I read a lot. I like doing things with my hands so I take a lot, what they call continued education classes at the community college, that have to with crafts. I love crafts so I’ve taken mosaic, stained glass, metal embossing…I used to love art in high school. I at one point considered, doing something in that field. At the end of the year [next year], I would’ve retired. I would have had 32 years. I want to take a lot more classes, I want to do faces and people, but that’s a lot harder. I want to do wood working and learn to play the piano again. I also want to volunteer. I haven’t decided if I want to do a nursing home or a shelter for battered women.”

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