Janne Ackerman Janne Ackerman
Senior Manager
Raytheon Electronic Systems

Janne Ackerman joined the defense group of Texas Instruments Incorporated (TI) in 1978 as a software quality assurance engineer. She was responsible for the software product quality and process on multiple radar and missile programs. Ackerman moved to software engineering in 1984 as the lead software engineer for a radar program. She progressed to software manager and software systems engineer on numerous radar and infrared sensor programs. Her expertise includes real-time software systems engineering, software development and process, and engineering management. For her technical contributions, Ackerman was elected a Member, Group Technical Staff (MGTS) in 1990 and a Senior Member of the Technical Staff (SMTS) in 1998. These peer-elected TI Technical Ladder designations are limited to the top 22% and 7% of the engineering population, respectively. Ackerman finished her career at TI as the technical manager for a 50-person software group developing real-time embedded software for fire control infrared sensors.

Ackerman joined Raytheon in 1997 as part of the sale of TI's Defense Systems and Electronics Group. She is currently the engineering manager for the Surface Combat Department, the leading supplier of infrared systems to the American soldier. Her responsibilities include the engineering design and career development of over 200 engineers and technicians located in Texas and California. Ackerman is also actively involved in Raytheon's Diversity Initiative and is the People Strategy star point for engineering in the North Texas region.

Ackerman received her BS in Mathematics from the University of Oklahoma in 1977 and her MS in Software Engineering from Southern Methodist University in 1999. She is an alumnus of Leadership America. Ackerman also earned her private pilot's license in 1988 through the Texins Flying Club and has served as the Treasurer and VP/Membership for the club. She and her husband, Garry, formed the North Texas Flying Club in May 1999 and have guided its growth to over 100 pilots. The Ackermans have two daughters, a menagerie, and airplanes. Away from the office, Ackerman enjoys spending time with her family, reading, flying, and the outdoors.

1. What was your first job in technology?
I was as a computer programmer for a food processing company. I maintained several large computer models that balanced quality, cost, and ingredient availability for weekly production of sausage, hot dogs, salami, and other processed meats. I learned a lot about weekly deadlines, maintaining poorly written code, and the food processing industry. I also learned what it was like to get laid off which happened to me after one year on the job.

2. Who has been your most significant mentor? Why?
Richard Tobaben was my most significant mentor. When I began looking within the company for a career change, he believed I could easily make the transition and connected me with the right group. Most people I interviewed with looked at my current assignment (software quality assurance) and assumed that few of my skills would transfer to software development. Therefore, I wouldn't be able to compete successfully against someone who had been doing software development for several years. The offers I got from them were well below my capability level to say the least. Rich's guidance and friendship made the right change happen and allowed me to prove that they were so wrong.

3. What has been your greatest challenge and what strategies did you use to overcome obstacles?
My greatest challenge was getting my pilot's license. I flew in a small plane when I was a teenager and loved it! When I decided to follow my husband's lead and get a pilot's license, I was over 30, married with two kids, and fully aware that I was mortal. I approached each lesson and flight with sweaty palms. I continued in spite of my trepidation and the personal payoff was huge. I have rarely felt as elated as I did when I soloed. I learned to force myself outside my comfort zone. Most limits I've encountered have been self-imposed. The strategy I used then - keep the goal in focus and push outside my comfort zone - is the same strategy I use on a day-to-day basis to be successful.

4. Who has been the most influential person in your life? Why?
The most influential people in my life have been

  • My mother, Joanne Corney, as a role model of a strong woman,
  • My father, Blair Corney, for his encouragement in all my non-traditional (for a woman) endeavors, and
  • My husband, Garry Ackerman, for keeping my outlook positive and balanced.

5. What lessons have you learned that would be valuable to women beginning their careers in technology?
Take the initiative. Let your supervisors know you are interested in more responsibility and what your long-term career goals are. When a position opens up that you want, put your name in the hat. Don't wait until you get asked - you may get overlooked because they assume you wouldn't be interested.

Volunteer for special assignments or tasks outside your normal day-to-day job. This will expand your sphere of visibility, grow your skills, and let you establish a larger network of contacts. You need to get noticed and stand out from the crowd. You also need to be known outside your immediate group.

Establish your presence. Treat yourself and everyone around you as equals. You'll get more respect for your ideas and contributions and you'll get more cooperation and teamwork from your supervisors, peers and subordinates.

Act, sit, walk and talk with confidence. When you enter a room full of people you don't know, take stock of what's going on, then walk up to a group and introduce yourself. You can't network if you're a wallflower.

Hone your communications skills. You must be a good listener in addition to speaking and writing well. Be open and honest so people want to talk with you.

Persevere and be patient. Timing is everything. Get the right skills required for your next job before you need them - then you'll be positioned when the time is right. Recognize that it takes time to gain the experience to get to and perform at the top. You won't be there five years after you get out of school.

Attitude is the key. Exhibit a "can-do and will-do whatever it takes to get the job done" attitude whether you are making your own copies or briefing the CEO. Keep a positive perspective and look for the good things in any situation. Be confident but not cocky. There's a fine line between the two.

Performance matters. Nothing else matters if you don't do a good job, but doing a good job is not enough to separate you from the pack. Lots of people do a good job. Don't expect fantastic rewards for doing the job as well as everyone else, it takes more.

6. What new technology do you believe will have the most positive impact on the world in the next 20 years? The most negative impact?
I think the technology that will have the most positive impact will be information organization. With the internet, we have access to more information than we ever thought possible. As the amount of information grows, the need to have more refined search, access, and organization capabilities to specific data will grow. The downside is that we must be careful that we don't allow abuse of or with the data. Technology is evolving so fast that changes in our culture may not keep up with issues as they arise.

On a lighter note:

1. If you could have dinner with any 2 people (living or not), who would they be?

Jim Henson - Most people identify with an imaginary character. For me that is Kermit the Frog. I've always been fascinated by the magic that the Muppets create for me.

I couldn't pick a second person. I had a bunch tied for next in line and just couldn't pick one. Lots of people come to mind: Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Adm. Grace Hopper, James Earl Jones, Gen. Colin Powell, and Patty Wagstaff just to name a few in the United States. I haven't even gotten to other continents yet.

2. What was the last book you read? What books do you love to recommend?
I actually had to look up the last book I read which was "The Diamond Tiger" by Ann Maxwell. I read about a book per week as a mental release from the day-to-day grind so the order in which I read them sometimes blurs together. I love mysteries so I enjoy authors such as Sue Grafton, Scott Turow, Dick Francis, and Karen Kijewski.

My favorite book to recommend to business associates is "Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams" by Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister. This book deals with teaming, productivity, and soft people skills that are often overlooked by managers. Our people define our company so it is in our best interest to make them feel valued and to help them become as productive as possible. I also often recommend "Lions Don't Need to Roar" by Debra Benton for personal development.

3. If you couldn't do what you are doing now, what profession would you choose?
When I entered college, I made a decision to major in mathematics. The choice was hard because I wasn't sure how I would use my degree when I got out. I didn't want to become a teacher because I felt they were underpaid for their contributions. Computer science was just taking off but my university didn't offer an undergraduate degree in that field until two years after I started. So I majored in math and took as many computer science classes as I could as electives. I found I loved computer science more than I did math.

I seriously considered becoming a veterinarian since I enjoy animals so much. I've substituted a menagerie at home to fulfill this desire of mine.

4. What is your definition of success?
I stopped to think what I define success to be, and realized I'd never stopped to think about it. So I asked my husband, Garry, how he defined success. He answered, "You do some things well and some things not so well. If the things you do well outnumber the things you don't do so well, then you are successful." I liked that definition! Of course, I'm going to keep trying to turn my "don't do so wells" into my "do wells."

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