A Johns Hopkins alumna with a master’s degree in communications, Michaela Negus was a technical writer and technical business development specialist in systems engineering when she realized something: The part of the job that she enjoyed most centered on systems engineering activities.
She decided a change of career was called for and enrolled in Johns Hopkins Engineering of Professionals program in Systems Engineering, graduating with her MS in August 2021.
What is your current job title, field, company?
I am a senior R&D systems engineer specializing in model-based systems engineering at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Your undergraduate degree is in communications. What was the spark that led to your career change to Science and Systems engineering?
While I’ve always been personally interested in both arts and sciences and had operated my own additive manufacturing business previously, I originally pursued my communication degrees because I wanted to be a technical writer. My career as a technical writer was short-lived. My management team quickly recognized both my ability to speak their language as well as my knack for strategic planning and helped me move into a technical business development specialist role. I thrived in that position. After a couple years, I began to realize that the part of my job I loved the most involved eliciting stakeholder needs, defining potential solutions or concepts, interface definition and integration, and performing trade studies or option down-selections. That epiphany helped me make the decision to go back to school and pursue my MS in Systems Engineering. I came back to Johns Hopkins, my alma mater, because I knew the quality of the program would be unmatched and would provide me with a robust systems engineering foundation on which I could build my future career.
Did you have any reservations about making such a career change?
Yes. To be honest, I was not eager to undertake the additional financial burden of tuition. I had already been to grad school once and knew exactly how rigorous and demanding Johns Hopkins programs can be, so I was also nervous to lose my work/life balance. However, I understood the long-term earning potential of this career switch would make the short-term sacrifices more than worthwhile. Beyond finances and time, I was also concerned about the reality of making the leap from business development to engineering at my company. That sounded like a hard (and scary!) thing to do. Many women in STEM fields often face “imposter syndrome,” so maybe I was dealing with a little bit of that, as well. I’m so glad I did it!
How did you learn about Johns Hopkins Engineering for Professionals program and decide to attend one of its programs?
I completed my MA in Communication at Johns Hopkins previously through the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences’ Advanced Academic Programs. I had heard of Engineering for Professionals at the Whiting School of Engineering and knew the pacing of the program would set me up for success while I continued to work full time. One of the main reasons why this program attracted me more than programs at other universities was way the Johns Hopkins structures its core systems engineering courses to almost mimic the system development lifecycle phases. Another major deciding factor was that this program references government/DoD system acquisition phases. I felt very comfortable coming into a program where I already understood the terminology and could immediately apply what I learned to my job.
Can you share a few thoughts about how your systems engineering degree is impacting your job and career?
A few things come to mind. First, the core phases and deliverables of the system development lifecycle taught in the systems engineering program are very representative of the real world. The types of deliverables I created in school—system and component requirements, interface definitions, functional and physical architectures, verification matrices, etc.—are nearly identical to artifacts I produce in my job. I gained a strong systems engineering foundation from this program that was relevant on my first day as an engineer. Second, I use nearly all the techniques I learned from my two model-based systems engineering courses every single day in my job. If you have an opportunity to use real-world software in school, do it. I used Cameo for model-based systems engineering, which gave me a competitive edge in my current role and was a key factor in getting hired. Lastly, Don’t sell all your textbooks! There are a couple textbooks, especially pertaining to SysML and model-based systems engineering, that I continually reference in my job and have even recommended to other colleagues.