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Software Engineer Gets Energized Outside His Comfort Zone

By Nancy Gast Romps

Nick Merlino

Nick Merlino

For a peek into the mind of MITRE senior engineer Nick Merlino, look no further than the giant whiteboard in his Bedford, Mass., office. That’s where he maintains a running bucket list of professional pursuits. The embedded systems technology expert, thrill-seeker, and people-connector shared what attracted him to MITRE—and what keeps him engaged, challenged, and motivated to be involved in just about everything.

I’m an engineer, but I also like to think I’m a people person. Collaborative work is engaging and motivating to me.

My department, Embedded Systems Technologies within the MITRE National Security Engineering Center, dives into deeply technical problems—sometimes with no information about how something works at the start. It’s super-challenging. That’s where the collaboration comes in.

When I’m working on a problem and feel stuck, there’s always someone on my team who has done something similar, or a coworker down the hall who knows the process from another project. Everyone is willing to help, including MITRE leadership. We’re very good at sharing solutions within and across projects.

People here are incredibly smart, and it’s easy to have imposter syndrome. At the same time, you want to be around them, learning and doing more. All of us understand the impact of what we do—and we’re all driven to do our part.

You can find interesting work at a lot of companies, but you can’t find MITRE’s people. They’re what brought me back year after year as a student intern and eventually full-time.

Reverse Engineering for Impact

Projects that combine quick turnaround with very deep technical knowledge have always been especially interesting to me.

Our team brings expertise in software reverse engineering, which means figuring out how a device’s firmware or operating system works, then potentially using that information to find ways to change its behavior. This kind of analysis can help our government sponsor know if firmware or an operating system is as secure as it’s intended to be. A recent project involved using our expertise with a certain technology to prove out a novel use case that our sponsors will leverage in a new space.

One thing I like a lot about my work is the sponsor-engagement element. It’s a great soft skill for a people person in tech that comes from loving what I do—and being excited to share it.


You can find interesting work at a lot of companies, but you can’t find MITRE’s people. They’re what brought me back year after year as a student intern and eventually full-time.

Nick Merlino

Making Things Happen

In and out of work, I like to get out of my comfort zone. I’ve always taken steps to learn, create, and try new experiences. I have unforgettable memories of scuba diving, bungee jumping, skydiving, downhill mountain biking, skiing Tuckerman’s Ravine, and so many other things

My love for software engineering started in high school—and grew with each computer science course. I was driven to learn more, so I’d work with administrators to add new courses. I’d help set up a class, then take it.  

In graduate school, I saw an opportunity to offer a course on cyber effects. I worked with MITRE leadership I met during internships and the UMass Manning College of Information & Computer Sciences to develop the curriculum. Now we’re coming up on our fifth year offering the course through the UMass Cybersecurity Institute.

Getting and Staying Involved at MITRE

I try to get involved in a lot of different things at MITRE—helping out with recruiting and career fairs, advising students at hackathons, giving tours to sponsors and guests, being a mentor, and participating in Drone Day.

I’m also a co-chair of NextUp, MITRE’s largest affinity group, which focuses on early-career professionals. We hold internal and external events with opportunities to network, build community, and mentor.

Being engaged with colleagues helps make connections and is good for employee retention. It’s also a lot of fun! Look at me. Eight years after my first MITRE internship, I never left.

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