NSBE - Convention 2011 - (Page 18)

team lead Kerry nichols Taming the wind for NAvAIR By Peter Slavin o land safely on a carrier, Navy aircraft require up-to-minute data on the speed and direction of headwinds and crosswinds. The information is vital to pilots and to officers on a carrier’s bridge, so they can decide in what direction to position the ship and determine whether it’s safe to land a particular aircraft. Measuring and displaying wind data are also vital for Navy, Coast Guard and Military Sealift Command ships that launch helicopters. The Navy’s current digital system to track the wind’s effects on flight is called Moriah. Since 2004, Moriah’s software side — design, installation has fallen under Kerry Nichols is team and maintenance — Nichols, 36. Under civilian Kerry “KC” his leadership at NAVAIR at Lakehurst, lead for the design, on more installation and main- N.J., Moriah has been installedNavy than 30 ships. Ultimately, the plans to place it on more than 200. tenance of software “Most air-capable ships in the Navy for the Navy’s Moriah and Coast Guard eventually are going wind-tracking system. to have Moriah,” says Nichols. He is also part of a group that is trying to design a low-cost version of Moriah for noncombatant ships, which don’t need to have their systems hardened. Fresh out of City College of New York, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, Nichols began his Department of the Navy career as a software developer on the aircraft control and data management system for ships. He then replaced the software engineer on Moriah, which was just going into production for carriers and guided missile destroyers. He was a one-man shop for several years until Moriah’s expansion to additional classes of ships required more staff. He went from software engineer to software team lead overseeing five engineers. Nichols influenced the functioning and design of the system for these ship classes. The actual work was done by an industry contractor, whose employees worked closely with Nichols and followed his guidelines. Meantime, Nichols’ team undertook a new, 18 • nsbe magazine • convention 2011 t more technologically advanced version of Moriah for the Zumwalt class of guided missile “stealth” destroyers. For these ships, “we actually did the design work and all the coding and all the underthe-hood work,” says Nichols. However, after two years, the Navy decided to scrap the program, largely because of budgetary and technical challenges. Nichols’ supervisor at the time, William P. Larsen, finds it remarkable that Nichols could maintain the established Moriah system while building a variation. Nichols, he says, “is one of those guys who gets the job done,” regardless of obstacles. Nichols has learned several lessons in his work. “Surround yourself with good people, and trust your team,” he says. He says his superiors support his decisions, trust the information he gives them and take his opinions seriously, and this has taught him that he can trust his team and make room for their creativity. He’s also learned the importance of listening to his subordinates. “I know I don’t know everything,” he says. “Even if technically you don’t know how something works, that doesn’t mean you can’t have a good idea on what the problem might be.” Such a person, he adds, may say something that sparks an idea for a solution. Nichols says he learned the hard way to give team members assignments that play to their strengths. “Don’t put people in a position that they’re going to struggle…,” he says. “People perform better when they’re in their comfort zone.” Nichols says he thinks like a teacher. “If I know something,” he says, “it’s better if I show you how to do it or I explain it to you, so now there are two of us who know it. That way, when a problem arises, he says, two minds are trying to solve it — and also are prepared to anticipate problems. ■ www.nsbe.org http://www.nsbe.org

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of NSBE - Convention 2011

Nsbe - Convention 2011
The Essence of Engineering
Flipping the Script on Retention
Nsbe’s New High-Tech Hook-Ups!
The Programs Zone
David Anfield of Walmart
Kerry Nichols of NAVAIR
Arthur Hall of Philadelphia Gas Works
Kevin Engram of Illinois Tool Works
Dr. Kevin M. Carter of MIT Lincoln Laboratory
Nsbe Calendar
Membership News
Mack Named Clarkson University Trustee
National Advisory Board Update
Nsbe Honors a Diversity ‘champion’
Things to Do in St. Louis
Golden Torch Award Winners
NSBE’s Steve Earl: Building for Home and Community
Employer Profiles
Advertisers Index

NSBE - Convention 2011