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Mary Alice Rose

picture of Mary Alice Rose

My official position at Space Telescope Science Institute is Project Engineer for the Data Processing Team in the Science and Engineering Systems Division. In more familiar terms, I manage a team of engineers who develop software for processing data from the Hubble Space Telescope. The software we design, implement, test, and install is but one part of the operations ground system for the HST project. My team maintains about half a million lines of code. I direct the work of 13 engineers, and coordinate activities with other organizations, both inside and outside the Institute. It is also my job to safeguard the quality of the software prior to installation in operations, and to work closely with operations staff to effect a smooth transition for accommodating a new software load. Two of the operations staff members I work with are Mark Kochte and Forrest Hamilton, whose biographical sketches are also available in the Live from HST project.

I really didn't know what career path I wanted to follow until I got in college. I was interested in music (piano and voice), astronomy, meteorology, and computer science. I took courses in all these subjects and decided to pursue meteorology. I got a degree in meteorology from the University of Oklahoma. OU was a good place to study meteorology because Oklahoma is in the heart of so-called Tornado Alley; I saw a lot of interesting weather phenomena while I was there. Then I decided to get a second degree in computer science while I was working at the National Severe Storms Lab in Norman, OK. I decided to get another degree both because I liked programming (once I was forced to do some of it for my meteorology degree!) and because I thought that a second degree in computer science would give me more career options.

I was right. The positions I've held since obtaining my CS degree have been software related, so naturally my degree in computer science has been an important factor. However, the positions have also focused on some aspect of earth science, first oceanography and now astronomy. A number of the same concepts and college courses are required for all the earth sciences, so my meteorology degree has also been a plus on my resume.

As for becoming a team manager, I never "decided" to be a manager. At first I didn't want to be a coordinator or leader or manager; I just wanted to focus on the hands-on work, as I derive a lot of satisfaction in writing software and getting it to work in various environments. However, I have found that I enjoy coordinating activities, working with a team to get a job done. And since I keep finding myself in such positions, I finally decided that maybe this is where I should be focusing my effort! But I still enjoy the occasional coding task. I sneak little software tasks in when I can.

One really fun thing about this job is knowing that ALL science observations taken with the HST are processed by our software. Without our software in ground operations, no images would make it to astronomers or the media. It's also fun being able to see software projects all the way through -- from conception and design to implementation, shake-down, and operations -- such as the work we did for the first HST servicing mission, and the work we're now doing to support the second servicing mission.

To prepare for a career in software development, it's a good idea to get some hands-on experience with computers. Most schools offer courses in computer usage and programming. Even if one doesn't pursue a career as a computer scientist or software engineer, any experience gained with computers is a plus in today's job market. Keeping up on the latest computer hardware and software technology by reading newspapers and magazines, at the library or at home, is also a good idea.

No matter what career one chooses, having the right attitude is a key to success. My parents taught me that. Of all the people in my life, I think my parents played the biggest role in my career development. They encouraged me to pursue whatever career I desired, and assured me that I could do whatever I decided to do. They taught me that age, gender, ethnicity, etc, neither guarantee nor exclude excellence, but that being honest and responsible do lead to excellence. They also taught me that the way to achieve equality in the workplace is simply to *be* equal, and to treat others equitably, reasonably, and honestly -- and to be honest with myself. The utility of these lessons has been demonstrated to me countless times during my career. This schooling in ethics has been the most important influence in my career and in my life.


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