Christopher T. Jones has risen to stellar ranks in the defense field, and his accomplishments have been duly noted by those both inside and outside his industry.
Despite his professional longevity and numerous achievements, Jones hasn't lost sight of what it's like to be just starting out.
He remembers his early days and his experiences attending his first BEYA and other engineering conferences. While he encourages young people to have fun during the after-hours activities (he hints that having a good time was certainly high on his agenda back then), having a mission-like focus during the daytime conference events pays dividends.
First introduced to BEYA in the early 1990s, when he was an engineering graduate student at the University of Maryland College Park, Jones was selected as BEYA's student of the year in 1996.
Jones currently serves as corporate vice president and president of Northrop Grumman Technology Services, where he's a leader in integrated logistics; sustainment; modernization; defense, health, civil, and governmental services; and training solutions.
Jones said there are simple strategies young people should follow that can result in a far richer, beneficial experience while attending BEYA and other conferences:
• Do some homework about some of the companies with which you wish to connect. Having some basic knowledge about the company will provide talking points when having a discussion with a company representative. "If you go to the Northrop Grumman booth looking for a job or internship and we ask, ‘What do you know about Northrop Grumman?' and you say, ‘I don't know anything,' that's not good."
• Observe the behavior of executives and leaders. How do they carry themselves? How do they interact with others? Are they making eye contact with the person they are taking with? Are they showing others respect? How are they demonstrating attentiveness and engagement? Note a few positive leadership traits, and try to emulate those behaviors.
• Make sure you network and follow up with an email to those you wish to make an impression on and with whom you hope to develop a relationship. Too few people follow up after an event, and that post-event contact helps an individual to stand out. Don't neglect to stay in touch with students you meet from other colleges and universities either. These people will be climbing the corporate or military ladder as well and may be in a position to be helpful to you and you helpful to them one day.
• Attend as many seminars as possible, sit in a front seat, and have a question to ask the panelists or presenters at the appropriate time. By sitting up front, you get a better, close-up look at the presenter, which will help you remember them. Asking a question may help them remember you. "You never know where you are going to run into these folks again."
• Be prepared to answer the question "Why do you want to work here" with more than "I need a job or internship." Sharing how your skills and knowledge can be of benefit to the company is how to make an impression.
Jones joined Northrop Grumman in 2004 as director of product support for the Airborne Early Warning Program. He previously worked at Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. as a lead analyst, flight tests and research on rotorcraft technology.
Jones leads businesses for approximately 14,000 employees at more than 400 locations throughout the United States and in 16 countries, supporting a diverse customer base, including the U.S. departments of Defense, Energy, Homeland Security, State, and Interior; NASA; the U.S. Postal Service; and the Virginia Information Technologies Agency.
Jones, who earned a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology as well as two master's degrees and a doctorate, also served in the Air Force as a systems analyst.
Jones said the work of BEYA and other organizations is critical to foster young people to enter the field.
"We need more STEM folks in this country," he said, noting that defense companies such as Northrop Grumman can't hire people from foreign countries.
"All these companies have hundreds and hundreds of openings," Jones said. "We have to develop the talent we need. It's strategically important to our country."
When asked what being selected as the 2016 Black Engineer of the Year means to him, Jones gave a patriotic answer. "To me, it's a reflection of what's good about our country," he said, noting working diligently and being in service to his country through military service as well as attending multiple universities. "I worked hard, and it kinda worked out."
"All these things had to happen for me to be in a position to win the award," said Jones.
He added that young people shouldn't be in awe of his accomplishments.
"I was no different from them.... There's nothing stopping them from being me," said Jones.