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Engineering Success At Every Level: Melissa Charles

While conducting an interview, an applicant asked me how long I had been with the company. My response—13 1/2 years—actually took me by surprise. When I started in 1992 as a summer intern, I was not thinking of a long-term career. Yet at a time when most of my friends are with their third or fourth company since graduation, I still enjoy working for the same company.

Through name changes (Hughes Aircraft Company, Hughes Space and Communication, Boeing Satellite Systems, Boeing Electron Dynamic Devices, L-3 Communications Electron Technologies Incorporated), different locations (El Segundo, Calif., Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Torrance, Calif.), and varied assignments (from member of the technical staff to engineering manager with many stops in between), my responsibility is to ensure that all hardware delivered is the highest quality and meets the customers’ unique specifications. These are essential for providing clear, uninterrupted modes of communication via satellite television, telephone, pagers and radio.

Early in my career, I sought guidance from multi-level employees (both technical and non-technical). I used advice from the company president (focus on the company’s goals and objectives), human resource/diversity manager (focus on the employee), engineers (focus on good design and hardware performance), and inspectors (focus on quality) to become one of the youngest managers in the company’s history. At twenty-five, I was responsible for over two million dollars a year and supervised twenty-two engineers and technicians. Several other management positions followed with more customer interface and increased financial responsibility. In my last assignment as the Deputy Director, I supported an organization of almost one hundred people with an annual budget of over $22 million dollars.

One of my most challenging positions was as an Integrated Product Team Lead in the Middle East. I spent eleven months in Dubai, United Arab Emirates working with my husband and a team of engineers to set up a ground station for a mobile telephone satellite system. I was responsible for installing and upgrading software, troubleshooting the system, validating the user manual, tracking and correcting any problems and training the customer on proper usage. Amidst a culture where women do not typically work and are not regarded as technically savvy, I was able to gain the trust and respect of the customer. The telephone terminals used by the troops in the Middle East today are a result of this successful project.


I provide guidance to other women (and some men) trying to find ways to balance work and home life. As a mother of two children ages four and one, I know how hectic things can be when both parents work. I suggest ways for employees to approach their supervisors with modified schedules, effective ways of maximizing their time at work, and options for working some unclassified projects from home (i.e. document review, schedule updates). Although I am not a benefits administrator, I also tell them about different programs available for extended family leave, returning from maternity leave, daycare searches, and preparing for life as a new working parent. These are critical to retaining employees and minimizing daily stress.

The Company Today

L-3 ETI is a very successful small company—not an enormous, bureaucratic corporation—where everyone’s contribution is valuable and recognized. This sentiment is expressed by the company’s president, Kevin Mallon, and felt by the employees, including me, “Everyone who works here can make a difference and has an impact on our success.” Everyone is encouraged to speak up and address issues all the way up the chain of command. Not many people in the workplace have this opportunity.

L-3 ETI offers the opportunity to work on many different tasks—working with the technicians on the floor, visiting vendors/customers, performing design and analytical work, presenting technical information to customers, handling compliance issues—based on expertise and interest. The company employs talented women at every level and has a commitment to offering part-time and flexible work schedules.

Electrical engineers, mechanical engineers (designers and analysts) and program managers are highly encouraged to inquire about joining our team.

Charles is the Engineering Manager for Passive Microwave Devices at L-3 Electron Technologies.