Math communication = success

A conversation with Barbara Humpton, Lockheed Martin Corp.'s project manager of the FBI's $1 billion Next Generation Identification biometric system

Barbara Humpton, Lockheed Martin Corp.'s project manager of the FBI's $1 billion Next Generation Identification biometric system.

Barbara Humpton comes from a family of mathematical whizzes, but her
skills as a communicator play an equally important role in her success. She
is now Lockheed Martin Corp.'s project manager of the FBI's $1 billion Next
Generation Identification biometric system.

The project will upgrade the agency's fingerprint identification system, let
the FBI collect photographs and palm prints, and more easily share data.
Humpton spoke with Washington Technology reporter Alice Lipowicz
about the challenges of government contracting.


Q: How did you get interested in government
information technology work?

Humpton: Growing up in Lexington, Va.,
my parents were both math professors. We
kids were guinea pigs for their teaching
methods. I remember watching a film projected
on the wall in the dining room about
partial differential equations. It was all natural
to me. It was what we did.

I majored in math at Wake Forest
University. In those days, before there was a
computer science major, we would joke that
IBM Corp.'s strategy was to drive buses down
and hire all the math majors.

In that Cold War period in the 1980s, I
learned how to do intelligence work at IBM.
Initially, I thought I would get a bit of experience?
before going on to become a math professor,
but I stayed with it.

Q: What factors influenced your career?

Humpton: The project management profession
has grown a lot. I earned the Project
Management Professional credential [from
the Project Management Institute] in 2007.
That emphasis has made us more capable and
has made it easier to do our jobs. It also has
given us a common vocabulary on costs and
schedules and a focus on common risks. Also,
Carnegie Mellon University developed a capability
maturity model for long-term software
development. It has really raised the bar.

Q: What can you tell me about the FBI's Next
Generation Identification project, especially in
terms of its small-business subcontractors?

Humpton: The FBI is very excited about it,
and our job is to be the strong systems integrator
that the FBI needs to make this project
successful.

We are big Lockheed Martin, and we have a
responsibility to help small businesses. We
have always done a healthy dose of small-business
subcontracting, sometimes up to 75 percent.

With the mentor/protégé relationships,
you try to ask: What does this company need
to be doing in turns of organization and business
development?

Q: How have you dealt with being a female
IT project manager in a field dominated by
males?

Humpton: I've been working with many
very effective women managers from the
beginning. People seemed to like my style
because I am a communicator. Over time,
there have been more women involved on
both the client side and the industry side.

As a manager, I put a lot of emphasis on
mentoring. I have several women whom I
mentor who ask me about the work/life balance.
I say, "Forget about balance, make it a
blend. Don't cut off one area of your life but
rather blend it all together." I love BlackBerrys: I will take calls at home from a customer,
and I will accept a call from one of my
kids at work. Think of it this way: Does a
farmer ever "go home"? That is the model I
have chosen for blending my life.

Q: What other advice do you give to managers
in government IT?

Humpton: I try to bring a sense of enthusiasm
and a sense of mission. I want the team
members to feel this is the most important
project.

Studying abroad helps. I spent a summer
in South Africa and a year in Venice as a baby
sitter. It has helped me to adapt to and
respect different cultures. The ability to do
that in government IT contracting, with
workplace cultures as diverse as the Air Force
or the Social Security Administration, makes
you more valuable as a manager.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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