Once [the application] is set, you can’t just go out in the field and update it. We want robust systems that can run weeks and weeks at a time.”
Creating Sailor-proof Software Solutions
APL takes pride in working with our Navy and Department of Defense sponsors. Through our diverse departments, our teams work side by side with the Navy to provide innovative solutions to the Navy’s complex problem sets. Aaron Nix Gomez is a true professional of this area.
As a technical program manager in the Electronic and Photonic Systems Department, Aaron Nix-Gomez resides in the Washington D.C. area. He manages a Seattle-based 12-person team of developers and test engineers. He and his team are responsible for numerous software projects for the Navy. Unlike some teams of APL, their work is not solely academic-based. Instead, Aaron and the team focus on classified projects for the Navy.
Aaron’s team continues to work on software for real time data recording and data processing systems. For decades, the team has worked on multiple software projects at the same time, all with different life cycles – a true test of Aaron’s project management skills! While working on multiple projects, they generate numerous test plans, test the software repeatedly, and diligently document their results, then start all over again. In parallel, they train and interact with Navy servicemembers and give recommendations on how to further test and finally implement the software in its operational environment.
Unlike a commercial organization such as Twitter or Meta, APL’s focus with the Navy is to ensure that applications have a long lifespan of years and years. The software must be high quality, robust, and with minimal bugs. This forces the team to be a bit more deliberate and thoughtful in their development work.
Everything Aaron and his team creates is applied – they produce tools in response to the needs of their Navy customers. If there’s a “problem” that software can be used to solve, the team will engineer a novel software application.
It’s satisfying to see our tools applied. Doing something complex, learning how to do something new.”
Meet Aaron Nix Gomez
B.S. Electrical Engineering, M.S. Electrical Engineering, M.S. Computer Science
How I came to APL-UW
I saw the job posting on the UW website a while back and applied.
Who helped me along the way
My first year at APL, I worked closely with Jim Luby. I’d call him my mentor at first. And then, Bill Jump (a former colleague) worked with me for two years where he introduced me to circuit design software. For almost a whole year, we’d sit down, side by side, and program. Together, we had a tight feedback loop on a daily basis.
And for the longest time, Bob Johnson is still a colleague I continue to professionally grow with. He’d always ask those “why” questions – “Why am I doing it that way?” He’d never blindly accept the software I would write. These challenging questions demonstrated a mentoring structure within our team that I carry on as a leader now.
Standout moment (so far)
There was a project where I’d say, in the span of a year or so – from the idea presented to us, to having to deliver it, all while maintaining other development responsibilities – we were able to successfully complete it! To do something from start to finish and it works for the first time… that’s pretty incredible. It takes time and multiple trials and error to successfully develop software that is sailor proof. To have that project completed and delivered on the first try with no issues was amazing. It’s a true demonstration of how we work together and support each other as a team.
Aaron began his career at APL 25 years ago. After graduating from the University of Michigan – where he earned his B.S. in electrical engineering – Aaron knew he wanted to move closer to a city. He originally applied to many graduate schools in pursuit of studying medical imaging. With the influence of an elementary school best friend who resided in Seattle, Aaron applied and was accepted to attend the University of Washington. He earned his M.S. in electrical engineering with a focus in signal processing.
After years of school, Aaron took some time off to travel. He returned to Seattle, where he applied to numerous jobs. The first position he was offered was at APL as an electrical engineer. At the time, he wasn’t sure of what the position entailed, but it intrigued his interests. For the first few years, Aaron was a pure electrical engineer. Over the years, as commercial technologies improved and were widely adopted by the military, Aaron did less electrical engineering and hardware design and more software engineering.
With the change in demands of his position at APL, Aaron earned a second master’s in Computer Science from Johns Hopkins University. Since his arrival to APL, Aaron and his team have grown and matured from a seven-person flat team to a 12-person team with a management structure.
Aaron’s role also grew and matured over the years. He went from electrical engineer to software engineer, to now project manager. With the relatively new role comes new exciting challenges. Aaron ensures everyone on the team understands their sponsor’s problem sets, optimizes people performance, and improves systems.
How can I improve processes that have been around for a while? How do I lead a group of people to develop solutions? I’m stimulated on a daily basis.”