A Day In The Life ...
CPI employees work in exciting work environments that vary from doing cutting edge research in government labs, taking a lead role in a software development project at a government facilty, or being responsible for a research project at one of CPI's corporate offices. For an on-the-ground look at what CPI has to offer as a rewarding work environment, we invite you to read our employees' descriptions of their day-to-day life at work at a cross section of our company work locations.
Working at the CPI Boulder Office is fairly casual. The group here is small, which creates a very nice environment for engaging in mentally challenging work. There's plenty of flexibility for scheduling work hours. It's pretty much up to you and your supervisor as to how you tailor your work day. Traffic in and around Boulder is fairly manageable, where biking and a regional bus service provide alternate means of transportation. The flexible hours has helped me immensely in scheduling around family needs.
Currently, most of the work out of this office is directed towards various research projects encompassing atmospheric research, both earth and planetary. We also are involved with assisting in projects that are based at the CPI Springfield, Virginia office. Depending on the depth of your skills, opportunities on other projects may allow you to expand your horizons, increase your knowledge base, and visibility within the company, which is a very exciting part of working at CPI.
Seeking new business is always an ongoing effort. Whether it is a government-based solicitation, or as simple as providing work to another company's project, we are always trying to think about the future. Going after new business is a big part of what we do here at CPI, and depending on your job duties, it should be encouraged from the start.
The Boulder office, and CPI as a whole, is a great place to work. The company firmly stands 100% behind its people.
CPI is a great atmosphere to work in. It is quiet enough that concentrating on your work is easy, while at the same time there are plenty of good people around to discuss physics, computers, or research and technical proposal ideas. The atmosphere is open and relaxed. If you are stuck on something, whether technical or theoretical, you can simply walk into a colleague's office and get an answer from an expert on the subject. I've also had the opportunity to learn many new things while working at CPI headquarters. In addition to learning a lot about the Earth's upper atmosphere I've been able to gain experience with various computer languages such as C, FORTRAN, and Python in the course of various projects. Being a small company there is no red tape to deal with. Any questions (computer issues, leave requests, 401k questions) can be quickly solved with a short walk and a knock on a door.
I typically arrive at the office at 8 AM. However, hours are flexible which is a nice benefit given the vagaries of traffic in Northern Virginia. In the course of a day I may work on three different projects or dedicate the entire day to one specific project. Depending on the details of the project, I may find myself writing and maintaining code to analyze data, interpreting results, writing a paper or technical report, doing model runs to simulate atmospheric conditions, testing a PostgreSQL databse or participating in a telecon discussing satellite instrument calibration. I usually meet with my supervisor once a day to discuss progress, review results, and plan out future paths we want to pursue in our research. Occasionally there are larger meetings to discuss projects or progress updates for bigger projects, but there are never any pointless meetings. Most people bring lunch but there are several dining options across the street or a short drive away. There is also a post office, supermarket, pharmacy, and service station across the street which is very convenient.
Naval Research Laboratory - Remote Sensing Division
NRL has a relaxed schedule, which is convenient if you get stuck in traffic, have a doctor's appointment, etc. You should contact someone if you're going to be more than an hour later than your normal starting time, but if you come in 30 minutes late one day and stay an extra 30 minutes, it's no big deal. My average arrival time at NRL is 9:45 am, so I can leave home as morning rush hour is clearing up, then go home as evening rush hour is clearing up.
My day always starts with checking data flow of processing software. Is the automated data processing running correctly? If not, is there a software bug, a satellite problem, or perhaps it's trying to write to a full hard drive. We continue to refine our operational software and use it to re-process older data, and new bugs can come up as we improve it. On a normal day I am running some job that will take four processors and several weeks to complete. This could be a re-processing of old data with new software, derivation of a new calibration, or analysis of old data to look for new properties or defects. Sometimes we find a bug after a job has been running for weeks, and its serious enough that we have to throw away the results, patch the software, and restart from the beginning. There is always something short to work on while waiting for long jobs to finish.
There are few regularly scheduled meetings or bureaucratic hurdles to cut into work time. I spend the whole day in my office, except to use the microwave to warm up lunch or if I need to stop by a co-worker's office to discuss goals or methods. People stop by my office too, to ask questions about programming, data formats, software versions, etc., or to ask me to do a quick analysis or dig up an old result.
NRL has probably the largest pool of scientists with such a diverse background in physics and engineering, making it an exciting research environment to work at with many new daily challenges. Discussions about research are common as are opportunities to publish in peer-reviewed journals. The other interesting part of working at NRL is the number of lectures or colloquia going on that encompass the full spectrum of physics that one can attend. Finally, for the fifth year in a row, Diversity/Careers in Engineering & Information Technology magazine has named the Naval Research Laboratory a " Best Diversity Company" in 2011 based on a reader's choice survey.
Naval Research Laboratory - Space Sciences Division
My work on the SSULI (Special Sensor Ultraviolet Limb Imager) program at the Space Sciences Division at NRL involves a diverse set of tasks and responsibilities, but can be summarized simply: to devise new and better ways to characterize the SSULI sensor, so that its results can be understood as best as possible. SSULI is somewhat unusual in that our NRL group has cradle-to-grave responsibility for the sensor. We devised, designed, and built the sensors; we performed their pre-flight calibration and characterization; and we're responsible for the on-orbit data, including ongoing sensor characterization as the sensor ages and changes in the harsh space environment.
Because of this, my responsibilities involve working with the sensor on the ground and in orbit. As part of the pre-flight orbital efforts, a typical day for me might involve preparing SSULI for testing in our ultraviolet (UV) calibration facility, performing and analyzing pre-flight calibrations, or devising new tests to understand the sensor response under extreme conditions, such as ion bombardment on the detector. To achieve this, I have to maintain familiarity with our ground test equipment, including the calibration facility, our reference detectors, and UV illumination lamps, along with all the associated hardware. I'm responsible for much of the chamber troubleshooting and maintenance, as well as that of the sensor itself when it's in the facility. If an anomaly is seen in the data from a sensor on orbit, it's my job to figure out how to reproduce it in the lab, and to recommend a fix. Similarly, if I see a troubling effect in pre-flight testing, I will need to propose fixes or workarounds.
Equally important to my efforts is analysis of and monitoring of on-orbit data. Once a sensor is on orbit, it's no longer possible to characterize it under controlled conditions, so I have to develop, in partnership with NRL employees, ways to use data formatted for operational use to glean the sensor characteristics. I monitor SSULI's path in the sky to anticipate fortuitous observations of UV stars that have been well-studied by astronomical missions for comparison to SSULI observations as way of continually recalibrating the instrument sensitivity - and while doing so, use the same data to fine-tune our understanding of the instrument's pointing and field of view.
Pairing the laboratory data with the in-flight data, coupled with the considerable hands-on experience with the sensor itself, has put me in a position to develop a deeper understanding of the sensor that wouldn't be possible if I were focusing on one area alone. This, coupled with a flexible and relaxed work environment, frees me to give each new challenge its due.
United States Naval Observatory
USNO is a leading edge Navy research facility located in a secluded campus in the middle of Washington D.C. At the time USNO moved here in 1893 the site was well outside the city, and separated from it by a deep valley. Although the city has since grown around it, the USNO campus retains a peaceful green setting of trees and open fields dotted with historic buildings such as the main building with its circular shaped library, and the buildings housing the retired 26-inch dome and transit circle telescopes. The grounds of the USNO not only include the Temporary Official Residence of the Vice President of the United States but is also home to much wildlife. All this in the middle of Washington, DC! Taking a break normally means seeing at least 10 deer.
Oh! There is the work as well. The JMAPS project is quite fascinating. We are mapping the stars. We have the responsibility of creating the ground data processing system for the imagery that will be collected by the JMAPS satellite to create a final star catalog. Aside from meeting deadlines for the occasional reviews (Software Requirements Review (SRR), Preliminary Design Review (PDR), Critical Design Review (CDR), and Test Requirements Review (TRR)), USNO is a very casual and laidback place to work with fairly flexible work hours.
There is nothing like looking at my keyboard and to the heavens every day. Soon we will be navigating the galaxy like crossing the street. Forgive us if we are walking around with our heads in the clouds. It is the nature of our work.