To the Stars and Back: Booz Allen’s Angela Wallace on Her Career in Space

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To the Stars and Back: Booz Allen’s Angela Wallace on Her Career in Space

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Tuesday, May 30, 2017 - 3:25pm

CONTENT: Blog

To safely predict the coordinates of adversaries on the battlefield or touch base with family members back at home, deployed soldiers rely heavily on connectivity. Meet the problem solver at Booz Allen Hamilton, who for over two decades, has been developing next-generation satellite communications architectures to support and protect over 130,000+ deployed soldiers, sailors, and airmen. Meet Angela Wallace.

Inspired by a seamstress grandmother, Booz Allen Vice President Angela Wallace took that inspiration to the stars and back. A leader in the 103-year old consulting firm’s growing Engineering and Science Business, Angela supports many defense clients with systems engineering, acquisition and satellite communications. She earned a Master’s degree in electrical engineering, and provided technical support to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Advanced Space Technology Program before coming to Booz Allen. We spoke with Angela about what it’s like to be a leader in a field in which women are traditionally under-represented, and asked what advice she has for young women.

Who are some of your role models?

Role models are important.  They shift the equation from “Is there a way?” to “Here is a way.”  My grandmother was my earliest role model. Back in the 60’s, while raising her five children, she set a strong example as a working Mom.  She was a seamstress and did some clothing design work, and showed me that women could be successful in business while also raising strong families. While I wasn’t interested in sewing, my grandmother modeled for me the kind of balance I try to achieve between my career and my family.

What was your dream job as a kid? How does that align to what you do now?

I remember when I was ten that I was very interested in being a doctor, a wife and mom and super-wealthy by the time I was 21—quite ambitious!

I began college on a pre-med track but found that environment wasn’t satisfying to me. I had strong science and math skills, but I was interested in doing more collaborative work, and solving problems. Those interests led me to study electrical engineering. I was one of only a handful of women in the Electrical Engineering Department at my university—and I was certainly aware of the spotlight on me because of that, and the necessity that I set a high standard.

When I graduated in the early 1990s, I was offered two different positions at the Department of Defense.  I chose to work on space communications systems, and have always felt very good about that choice. In fact, communications has been a thread that’s run through my career, whether I was working on cyber, space systems engineering, or supporting DARPA.

Beyond architecting space communications systems, everyday communications are also important to me.  Our colleagues in real estate often use the phrase “Location, location, location.”  For a team of engineers and scientists the key phrase should be “Communication, communication, communication.”

When I first started working—and for quite a while—I thought that all you had to do to solve a problem was to think of and share a clever idea. But there is a lot more to it than that.  You must master the power and art of the conversation.  As an engineer, I can be overly focused on products or results.  However, the conversation is often where the key decisions are made. 

What about your work makes you proud?

I’m very proud of what we do to help the mission of deployed warfighters. At any one time, there are 130,000 American servicemen and women deployed around the world. Many of them are overseas, and tasked with completing a challenging mission. They may not have access to fiber, wi-fi, or cellphones. So, satellites are critical for communications, and of course, communication is critical. The work we do boils down to saving lives: both warfighters and the people they protect. Ensuring reliable satellite communication also means that men and women can talk to the spouses, parents, and children they’ve left behind during their deployment. So, our work can provide that family connection that’s so important to our deployed soldiers.

What inspires you?

My children inspire me—and so many young people inspire me. It’s amazing what young people today can do with the computing power that they have access to, and I’m so interested to see what evolves over the next 20 years as we learn more about what humankind can accomplish.

What advice do you have for women embarking on careers in STEM?
Sometimes I think that the defense industry can intimidate young women. I want young women to know that there are very good opportunities in defense—and wonderful people to work with.

Early in my career in the Defense Department, I found that I was often the only woman on technical teams. Sometimes that felt unusual, but I found that my colleagues and managers were respectful and interested in my perspective. I also found that I got more name recognition than some of the men received. Again, I was very aware of the pressure to shine—because as a woman in a male field, I represented more than just myself.

Booz Allen is a top employer of engineers who represent diverse backgrounds, ways of thinking, and areas of expertise. Many our engineers are women, and we are a long-standing supporter of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE).

To learn more about Booz Allen's engineering capabilities, drawing on the deep experience and expertise of our more than 3,000 engineers and applied scientists, visit BoozAllen.com/expertise/engineering.

Keywords: Diversity & Inclusion | Booz Allen Hamilton | Defense | Gender Equality | Innovation & Technology | Problem Solvers | STEM | engineering | space | women

CONTENT: Blog