Laura McGill, the vice president of engineering at Raytheon Missile Systems, discusses how a model-based engineering approach helps in bringing multigenerational teams together.
6 Questions with Raytheon’s Laura McGill
Jul 23, 2020
by Chitra Sethi
Laura McGill is the vice president of engineering at Raytheon Missile Systems, an $8.3-billion business of Raytheon Corporation. She had previously served as the deputy vice president. From 2007 through 2011, she was the product line chief engineer for air warfare systems, where she was responsible for all engineering activities and technical performance of a $2-billion portfolio of air-to-air missiles, precision-strike air-to-ground weapons, and Tomahawk cruise missiles. McGill is also an adjunct lecturer for Raytheon’s onsite M.S. in systems engineering program, offered in conjunction with the Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering. She is a Lifetime Fellow of the AIAA, serves on numerous academic and research foundation advisory boards, and in 2019 was elected to the National Academy of Engineering.
Q1: What inspired you to pursue aerospace engineering as a career? And if you look back at your career at Raytheon, is there anything you would do differently?
Laura McGill: What inspired me was airplanes. For me airplanes were the most leading-edge capability, and then of course, the space program. I grew up with the Apollo program and to me that was where we were really pushing the boundaries of technology and engineering. So, I knew I wanted to be part of that. Then when I got into aerospace, I was really inspired by how you could work with huge teams that would pull together bringing all the different disciplines of math, science, engineering, and technology together to create a capability that was new and different.
Q2: You took on a series of engineering jobs at Raytheon ranging from program manager to chief engineer to deputy director and now your current position. Which achievement are you particularly proud of?
L.M: Well, for me, I would say it was being the chief engineer of the Tomahawk cruise missile program. It was one of the most challenging assignments I had and definitely one of the most rewarding, working with a large team of over 100 engineers to bring a new capability through development and into production. That program continues today, 15 years after I left.
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Q3: Today you oversee the activities of a diverse group of engineers working on hundreds of high-tech weapons systems. What are some of the challenges of leading a workforce force of that size?
L.M: Everybody comes from different perspectives, which is an enabler for us, but it also has its challenges. Being able to bring so many disciplines together when you think of, you know, all the different technologies that have to come together on a really sophisticated system. Part of the challenge is getting everybody in line working together. We are definitely using agile methods and a lot of capabilities that allow our teams to work together. We are really building on model-based engineering and that’s one of the capabilities that really allows our teams to work together seamlessly.
Q4: What are the benefits of following a model-based engineering approach?
L.M: It’s very important to us and an area where we’ve been investing. The model capability allows us to preserve more information about our systems and carry those through the whole lifecycle of the product. Because they are updated in real time and interlinked with other different models and tools, it allows the team to stay up to date on the latest configuration and the latest design decisions. It’s knitting our different generations together. A lot of our up-and-coming engineers have a lot of capability with the model-based tools. We have senior engineers who don’t have those skills but have a lot of great experience and knowledge. And when you put those two together, it’s a great way to transfer knowledge from somebody with a lot of experience and expertise to somebody who can develop the model and take what’s in the engineer’s head and put it in the model. There is a lot of learning knowledge that goes both ways.
Q5: Engineers play a key role in solving global challenges. In your opinion, how can engineering and technology converge to meet global needs?
L.M: That’s actually something we are focused on. Technology in my mind is sort of the promise of capability. What it takes is engineers to work directly with the technologists to bring that capability that they have developed sometimes in a lab and bring it to application that can really use be used by people and in our systems to make the world a better place.
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Q6: What’s your career advice for young engineers?
L.M: I always encourage people to follow their own their own passion and interest. Because of the size of our teams and how complicated they are, there is absolutely a role for everybody. Don’t feel like you have to adjust your career aspirations to meet where you think the opportunities are. Pursue your passions and go after your curiosity and ask questions. I can say that my career changed over the course of years, I got into one position, I had questions and wanted to know more about things, which led me to kind of maybe a different path than I would have chosen at the beginning. So don’t feel like you have to be on a set path. But just as you go through your career, follow your instincts, follow where it leads you and don't feel you have to construct your career to advance your career. It will come along if you do good work. It will come to you.
Listen to the full interview with Laura McGill in an episode of our podcast series ASME TechCast.
Chitra Sethi is executive editor, media.