An Engineer's Talent Speaks Volumes

September 2013
Rob Reynolds
Rob Reynolds

A background in high school theater wasn't sufficient to prepare Rob Reynolds for speaking in the professional world. "I found that it can be challenging to present complex ideas and sell them to colleagues," says the Bedford, Mass.-based digital and microelectronics hardware engineer.

To overcome that challenge, he took steps in 2008 to educate himself in the fine art of public speaking. Six years later, Reynolds has enhanced his communications abilities while working for a variety of MITRE's sponsors. He's found that using his presentation talents enables him to better communicate with business associates and convey intricate ideas clearly at meetings.

Some of those complicated concepts revolve around government mobile computing. For the past several years, Reynolds has been part of a team of 30 engineers from across the company who are addressing the issue of security on mobile platforms.

"The ability to use devices such as Blackberries, Androids, and iPhones in a variety of government scenarios is fascinating," he says. "The phone I have in my pocket today has more computing power than the PC I owned at the beginning of my career. On top of that, a phone has a wide array of sensors for light, motion, location, and can communicate over cell networks or WiFi. This technology has wide implications for our sponsors, and can benefit them in many ways, but our challenge is figuring out how they can leverage these tools to achieve their mission without compromising security."

With his big-picture view of what MITRE's sponsors are confronting, he has noticed that demand for our mobile expertise continues to grow. "I believe it's a testament to the solid work we've delivered to our customers," he says. "They're asking us to expand into new areas and improve on the applications we've developed, tailoring them for various scenarios and uses."

A Culture of Knowledge Sharing

Reynolds arrived at MITRE 11 years ago, with undergraduate and graduate degrees in computer engineering from the University of Maine. "I liked what I saw at MITRE right away, which was evident during my interview process. What struck me is that the questions I was asked at the interview were aimed at capturing what my thought process was, not what I did or didn't know."

The engineers who interviewed him gave Reynolds a problem to solve on a whiteboard and observed how he arrived at his solution. "That style of interviewing really impressed me," he says. "MITRE has an environment that encourages thinking and learning."

(Video) Rob Reynolds talks about communicating ideas at MITRE.

The environment also encourages knowledge sharing. When Reynolds decided to improve his skills in that area, he joined the local chapter of Toastmasters International, a worldwide nonprofit organization where participants hone their speaking and leadership skills on a weekly basis. When Reynolds joined Toastmasters, he wasn't sure what to expect, but he discovered a place to practice speaking and presenting in a low-pressure, supportive environment. "Members also provide feedback to each other, which is critical to making progress," he says.

He's also taken the opportunity to expand his leadership skills via Toastmasters, becoming president of the MITRE/ESC chapter two years ago. (ESC, the Air Force's Electronic Systems Center, is located at nearby Hanscom Air Force Base.) "We have 24 members and meet on the Bedford campus. I've found it particularly rewarding to help other members, who are also my professional colleagues, meet their goals."

Reynolds also organized a company-wide technical exchange meeting on mobile communications, which allowed him to put his public speaking training to work. Almost two dozen subject matter experts came together in a daylong roundtable discussion to contribute ideas, brainstorm on problems, and anticipate the future.

"Everyone shared what they work on in the mobile space, to spark breakthrough thinking. Rather than focus on the short-term solution of, 'there's an app for that,' we concentrated on the larger issues of transformative mobile technology challenges that our sponsors face."

A Mobile Worker

A few years ago, Reynolds spent two years at MITRE's McLean location, at his own request, where his then-fiancée, now wife, was working on her master's degree at Georgetown University. He approached his department head and told him that he wanted to stay with MITRE. He temporarily transferred to McLean, where he worked within a signal-processing group, contributing his technical expertise to network stream processing. "The problem was how to defend a network in a low-cost, scalable way, when the size of the incoming data flow kept getting bigger," he explains.

Reynolds says his continual involvement in Toastmasters, plus the evolving nature of technology, helps him leverage his best talents for the benefit of the company and ultimately, government sponsors.

"It's been wonderful that MITRE was able to accommodate changes in my family life, with minimal fuss for either party. But the best reward is that my own family changes have never prevented me from doing meaningful work that our sponsors appreciate.”

—by Cheryl Scaparrotta

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