Unexpected Advice Leads Intern to Career at MITRE

January 2020
Matt Gramigna
Matt Gramigna in a lab

By the end of his second summer as an intern at MITRE, Matt Gramigna had carved out a rewarding niche as a software engineer. In the course of two years, he had thrived on the challenge of working for two vastly different sponsors—the Internal Revenue Service and the Air Force.

He'd been given the creative freedom to take risks, along with the confidence of knowing exactly what was expected of him. He loved what he was doing and was getting great feedback on his progress. The future looked bright for this soon-to-be sophomore at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

So, he was a little taken aback when his supervisor, Carole Mahoney, sat him down for a chat to encourage him not to come back to MITRE the next summer. She suggested he experience work at a different company instead.

"She thought it would be good for me to try something else," he says. "She was worried that if I spent every academic summer at MITRE and then went right into a full-time job here, I might end up wondering if I had made the right choice."

He followed Mahoney's advice. He spent the summer of 2016 writing code for a commercial company that provided high-speed broadband services. The experience was a dramatic change from the nonprofit world of MITRE, and it led to a clear insight.

"I realized MITRE was a perfect fit for me," he says. "And I really wanted to come back the next summer."

Intern Experience Comes Full Circle

He did just that, working on a web application project for the U.S. Marine Corps during the summer of 2017. When his supervisor asked him to serve as technical leader for the younger members of the team, Gramigna realized his intern experience had come full circle.

"I started at MITRE as the youngest intern, soaking up everything I could from the older ones," he says. "And then my last summer as an intern, I was the oldest one, and I was in a position to help the younger people on the team. It felt like a great way to end that chapter in my life."

Still, he was a little nervous when Mahoney wanted to schedule another chat. But this time she told him there was a job offer for him whenever he wanted it. Gramigna officially accepted the position a few months later and started as a full-time software engineer the following summer.

Finding a Passion for Helping Cancer Patients

Since then, he's been immersed in two projects related to healthcare. In one, he's supporting the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services as it transitions to a more modern software standard for the exchange of electronic healthcare information.

He is also part of the MITRE team working to develop and launch the minimal Common Data Oncology Elements (mCODE) in partnership with the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

mCODE is a standard for the collection of critical data points—such as cancer disease status and cancer stage—that MITRE seeks to implement in electronic health records across the country to provide an accurate representation of a patient during the many different stages of the illness. It is both a common language and an open-source model to help clinicians and researchers improve care for cancer patients by accessing comprehensive information on treatments and outcomes.

Gramigna's role in mCODE has focused on a web application called Flux Notes. Flux Notes is a concept demonstration for a low-burden approach to collecting mCODE that is user friendly for clinicians. He helps add new features, such as visualizations, and also works on finetuning the concept, which is based on a JavaScript framework.

Paying It Forward

He has been deeply affected by the work. "If I can write some lines of JavaScript that end up having a direct impact on someone's life, that's incredibly powerful," he says. "I'm becoming really passionate about the subject."

Now that he manages his own team of interns and also serves on the hiring team for his department, he's often asked what he finds most rewarding about his work at MITRE. He's happy to share how fulfilling it is to know he's making a difference in the world.

There's something else he shares, too—Mahoney's advice. One of his recent interns was completing his second summer at MITRE and wondering about a third. He wanted Gramigna's thoughts.

"Funnily enough, I told him the exact same thing Carole had told me," he says. "It's probably the best advice I've ever gotten."

—by Twig Mowatt

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