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Brian Alvarez: Supervisor, Engineering Development Group

Brian AlvarezB.S., Electrical Engineering, University of Maryland

M.S., Technical Management, The Johns Hopkins University Whiting School of Engineering

What is your primary role? I supervise a group of 36 electrical, mechanical, and materials engineers, chemists, and technicians working on a broad range of tasks supporting customers in all mission areas of the Laboratory. We design, manufacture, test, analyze, and synthesize systems and products for our customers. As subject matter experts in their fields, our engineers serve in a variety of roles—from consultant to lead engineer to principal investigator—depending on customer needs. Our ability to take on an entire project, beginning to end, or any portion of it, makes our staff a unique and valued resource to APL programs.

What do you like about your job? I like the diversity of tasking and the variety of technical challenges my job brings. Our group is continually called on to respond quickly and innovatively to customer requirements. As a result, I’m constantly learning new things, which is both exciting and challenging. Fortunately, I am surrounded with highly skilled staff who love what they know and do, and are willing teachers.

My job is rarely dull. For example, I have gone from a meeting where our chemists are talking about the synthesis of a molecule that will uniquely bind with phosphates to remove them from water, and minutes later joined a meeting where our quick-turn prototype fabricators are resolving issues with soldering a 1800-pad land-grid-array device using a stepped stencil. Participating in these types of creative processes is fascinating and rewarding (and sometimes even fun).

What makes a good day at work? As supervisor, I spend a significant portion of my time removing obstacles and providing resources to enable my team to achieve their goals, both programmatic and personal. So a good day would involve success at one of those endeavors more often than it would involve a technical innovation (although I still love making a technical suggestion that leads to an optimal solution).

What do you like about working at APL, and what’s your biggest challenge? The level of knowledge and capability embodied in APL staff makes it an exciting place to work. I like that I don’t have to go far to get more information on just about any topic, and I find that our folks are typically well networked outside the Laboratory as well.

With the breadth of involvement of my team, it’s challenging to ensure that I’m steering our group in a direction that maintains our future relevance to customer needs, while still providing for personal growth of staff. Internal and external networking and communication are keys to this process and an ever-present challenge for me.