Getting on the Field with the Customer to Enhance Support

September 2010
Rory Jennings
Rory Jennings

Listening directly to customers and helping deliver what they need have been hallmarks of Rory Jennings' career thus far. Jennings, a lead information systems engineer, traveled to Ft. Bliss in Texas last year, for example, to spend two weeks in the desert on simulated missions with soldiers from the U.S. Army's Evaluation Task Force. His journey was in support of MITRE's role in the design, testing, and analysis of the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS), a Department of Defense-wide initiative to develop an interoperable, adaptable family of radios for military use.

"The best way for MITRE to truly understand the customer's mission is to provide soldiers with an initial radio product prior to formal testing and allow them to use it during mock missions as they would in a real operational scenario," says Jennings. And that's exactly what he did in the desert, observing how the handheld radios were used, performing troubleshooting tasks, and gathering valuable statistics. The data that Jennings collected supports the corporation's big-picture, systems engineering approach to JTRS.

"We want to deliver the best capabilities we can to the ultimate users," Jennings states. The very radio tested at Ft. Bliss became the first JTRS product to successfully complete an operational test, as a prerequisite for a production decision. As a result of his in-the-trenches efforts, Jennings earned an award from MITRE's senior management for his superior systems engineering work and end-user engagement practices.

Jennings began his career at MITRE as a co-op student from Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey. MITRE's Ft. Monmouth, N.J., site is located near the college, and he arrived as a freshman with the energy and the fresh eye of a student to tackle programming projects that supported battlefield simulations. "My undergraduate degree is in computer science, but at the time I wasn't sure if I wanted to become a programmer, a software engineer, or expand my focus to a broader systems level," he recalls. "The co-op tasks I performed at MITRE as a college student really helped me find my niche."

Showing an early propensity for broadening his professional horizons, Jennings placed an important phone call during his co-op years at MITRE. "I contacted the site leader at MITRE San Diego, described the work I'd been doing at Ft. Monmouth, and asked if I could try something new out there."

So Jennings spent his last summer as a college student working at the corporation's San Diego location, assigned to various projects that involved supporting the U.S. Marines at nearby Camp Pendleton, as well as contributing to MITRE's ongoing technical support of naval programs.

Sunshine State

San Diego is where Jennings is located as a full-time employee today, and he continues to apply his technical know-how to joint network engineering programs. He most recently spent several weeks at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, once again observing soldiers employing the handheld radio, as part of an integrated exercise that showcased the U.S. Army's future networking capabilities.

In addition to his undergraduate degree, Jennings also holds a master's degree in systems engineering, which he achieved while still in a co-op role. "So by the time I started working at MITRE full-time, I had already completed both degrees," he says.

As a former East Coaster, he says the major lifestyle difference is that he can play sports outdoors all year long. "While playing basketball on a sunny southern California winter day, my friends back East still remind me of what I'm missing by sending me photo text messages of winter snowstorms," he laughs.

He remains a New York Yankees fan, but has become a devotee of professional baseball, California-style. "I live within walking distance of the San Diego Padres' ballpark, and I can pick up a ticket the day of the game," he says. "Of course, that's a major difference from what I'm used to going through to see a baseball game on the East Coast."

While Jennings is getting a taste of West Coast life, one thing that has remained consistent is his devotion to the corporation's workplace values. "The information-sharing and the willingness of everyone to help each other's programs are truly remarkable," he says. "MITRE is a place where you can get a broad picture of everything that's happening within a major military program, because there is MITRE support in so many different areas.

It's tremendously valuable to know that if I'm looking for information on a particular aspect of my sponsor's system, there is almost always another engineer or technical specialist in the corporation who supports it and can teach me about it."

—by Cheryl Scaparrotta

Recent Conversations