AJ Senol, Software Engineering Consultant

Tell us about a particularly challenging/exciting project or engagement you were part of due to your relationship with PDS.

My present engagement involves updating a ‘nationally significant’ aerospace company from traditional, waterfall-based software development processes to more modern, agile-friendly approaches. This magnitude of transformation involves not only a shift in tools and methodologies but also a fundamental change in culture and mindset across the organization. Having been in the aerospace domain for the first part of my career was instrumental in understanding and [appreciating] the culture and cultural challenges ahead, and my other consulting [experience] provided a unique outside-looking-in perspective to my client’s business problem. In most cases, it’s a journey and not a destination.

The position with PDS provided an avenue for me to combine my 2 favorite passions, to paraphrase Ron Swanson, it’s like bacon-wrapped shrimp. To Ron, it was his number 1 favorite food wrapped around his number 3 favorite food. For me, wrapping modern software process and techniques around challenging aerospace problems is as good as it gets. I consider myself lucky to have the right combination of challenging problems, supportive clients, and the right amount of work-life balance.

How has working with/through PDS contributed to your professional growth?

Not sure if “professional growth” is the right term for me as I’ve worked all around the world in widely disparate capacities. It’s more a function of having the right relationships at particular times during your path through life.

Can you share a specific moment or achievement that you’re particularly proud of in your career?

While working for a client on an advanced development program, my team developed 2 mission-critical capabilities. One with a major and significant ground system and one that introduced a new capability for a spacecraft. The company and customer credited my team [for] providing a much-needed capability that also provided the genesis for a 700M company.

How do you stay updated on industry trends and continuously enhance your skills? Any favorite learning resources or strategies?

Keep your feet moving.

We are living in a very exciting time and technology is moving at an ever-increasing rate. Accordingly, if you don’t attend to this you can (by certain industry estimates) become technically obsolete in about 2 years. I feel that it is critical to stay abreast of what’s going on in both the industry of your choice and expertise of your choice. I personally partake in many technical working groups, meetups, and symposia, and I also take the time to hone skills through actual and physical practice, whether that is coding, hands-on in a particular domain, architecting, conceptualizing, or even communicating.

What advice would you give to fellow professionals who aspire to achieve similar success?

It’s extremely important to learn how to best communicate and build the relationships needed for success. Often consultants have significant technical goods but could use some brushing up with social skills that would be keys to additional opportunities within current and future engagements. Even on tough engagements, most [issues] can be overcome and even forgiven with the right relationship with our customers and clients. The client relationship aspect cannot be overemphasized. Take the time to ask your client counterpart how their weekend went.

Get out there…socially. I know this part isn’t for everyone and may even be very difficult for some but seek out social situation[s] that are along the lines of your passion. You’d be surprised [by] what comes up in conversation, social settings are [ideal] for potential future opportunities.

In your opinion, what qualities make a candidate a good fit for PDS?:

Generally speaking, it would be the right mix of professional skills, personal qualities, and attitude. As a consultant, the ability to build strong relationships with clients and stakeholders is key. This includes being empathetic, listening actively, and listen-listen-listen.

Take the time to thoroughly understand the client’s needs and perspectives. Strong technical knowledge coupled with strong interpersonal skills help navigate team dynamics and the client organizational [structure], and foster collaboration.

The ability to adapt to new situations, embrace change, and adjust strategies as needed is critical for success. Also, the ideal candidate should be very results-oriented.