Career in Aerospace and Defense Is Balanced by Life, Love and Leadership

A career in aerospace led this electrical and computer engineer to take the lead as a cultural engineer at Northrop Grumman.

“Life, Love & Leadership” was the title of the keynote address Mary Petryszyn delivered at a recent Society of Women Engineers conference in Austin, Texas. It was about her journey and guiding philosophies. “It’s a balance: life, love, leadership — they’re all connected,” says Petryszyn, Vice President and General Manager of Northrop Grumman’s Land and Avionics C4ISR Division.

Among her messages:

  • Love what you do and who you do it with and for.
  • Learn from your victories and your defeats.
  • Your character is part of your brand. Make it intentional.
  • True leaders serve the people who work for them.
  • Honor the past, but don’t dwell there. Lead a new way of doing something.

Though simply stated, each was gleaned through years of life experiences.

Although she studied electrical and computer engineering, Petryszyn didn’t have her sights set on a career in aerospace and defense. She happened upon it through a chance encounter visiting a friend at a hospital. Her friend’s roommate encouraged her to pursue a role on the flight simulator for the B-2 stealth bomber.

She landed the job, but waited several months for her security clearance. To stave off boredom, she devoured internal training offerings — from contracts 101 to ethics to program management primers. That “filler” time helped open her mind to thinking on a systems level, being open to rotations and identifying her strengths.

Advice From an Engineering Veteran

“When you’re trying to grow a business, You have to know how it all fits together before you go create a strategy,” she says. “Take the opportunity to try different things. It will influence the way you think about people in those roles and give you a new perspective and respect for them.”

Once cleared, her work on the flight simulator program took her places she hadn’t imagined. The cockpit simulator, she recalled, displayed an image of Cairo at night. It looked and felt like the real thing. She was hooked.

Since then, Petryszyn’s career has spanned every branch of service across sea, air, land and space. She’s come to consider herself a “cultural engineer,” aligning the organization to translate customer needs into engineering solutions. “It’s in dealing with the user of the system where I find I am most useful, understanding their needs and unleashing our extraordinary talent to solve really complex problems.”

Since that first flight simulation in Egypt, Petryszyn has traveled the globe.

“I love this country. Freedom, like no other place in the world really,” she says. “I’ve spent my entire career in the defense industry. I’ve been fortunate to travel the globe. I’ve seen so many other cultures and ways of life, and I’m humbled by the freedoms we have here in the United States of America. I’m honored to help further our ability to preserve freedom, all while protecting those who serve our nation and allies around the world.”

There are many paths for successful and interesting careers at Northrop Grumman, including specific leadership tracks. Click here to find opportunities in flight simulation, electrical engineering and computer science.

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