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Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month: Javier Ortiz

Javier OrtizJavier Ortiz was born in Spain, and while he moved every three or four years as the son of a Mexican-American U.S. Air Force radar technician, he always seemed to land back in his mother's home country of Spain.

"I remember making my first communion in a seaside town near Valencia, dressed in a sailor suit, and I fondly remember spending my high school years in Spain too," says Ortiz, supervisor of the Signal and Systems Analysis Group of the Force Projection Department.

Today, with two children of his own, Ortiz is happy to have settled on American soil and thankful that his kids have only moved once. But, he's worked hard to keep them in touch with their Hispanic roots—helping them to learn the language and culture and stay in touch with family and friends living in Spain.

With an emphasis on discipline and hard work, his Latin upbringing and parents' influence led him to become an engineer. "There wasn't really an option," says Ortiz, smiling. "My family was extremely focused on getting a viable career that would allow you to do well. Their thought process was, ‘you are going to go to college and will be successful at it.'" While Ortiz originally wanted to become a pilot, his father thought the fact that he wore glasses made it an impractical career choice for him and encouraged him to train as an engineer.

Today, Ortiz's successful career spans more than 20 years as a systems engineer and software developer, although he's a relative newcomer to APL with just three years at the Lab. Supervising a team of engineers working on signal processing and the testing and analysis of prototype systems, Ortiz specializes in acoustics systems and sonar subsystems.

"I came to the Lab because of my experience in the area of acoustics and have been pleased with the opportunities to grow and lead here," says Ortiz. His section's focus is currently on the Advanced Capabilities Build, or ACB—a step process that is a method of inserting new technology in existing sonar systems. "The process has been on subs for a while, and now we've been asked to do the same thing for surveillance sonar systems because there are a lot of similarities," he adds.

What he's enjoyed most in his time at APL is the ability to take some risks in his work. According to Ortiz, it is that emphasis on learning and research without the fear of failure that puts APL on top. "APL has a knack for assembling a team of people who can work together to analyze and assess a problem to come up with a great solution, even though it may be a challenge brand new to them." A favorite quote by Albert Einstein, hand-written on the white board in his office, has become a daily reminder of his professional objectives: "If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research would it?"

A tolerance for risk and trying new things is a thread woven through Ortiz's personal life too. He once was a skydiving competitor in ESPN's Xtreme Games, judged on his ability to perform artistic maneuvers in the air, and later worked as a skydiving instructor, performing tandem jumps and training others to jump alone.

Ortiz's current passion is scuba diving. "I recently took my two children for their first scuba-diving experience. It was an exciting and very special experience for all of us," says Ortiz. When asked about his next challenge, he doesn't hesitate: BASE jumping, in which participants jump from fixed objects using a parachute to break their fall. The acronym BASE stands for the four categories of fixed objects used: Buildings, Antennas, Spans (bridges), and Earth (cliffs).