Mark P. Terry
BS Mathematics and Physics
Trident Systems Incorporated
Upon reaching my senior year as a mathematics and physics major, I was unsure as to what career choice to make. Back then, I would not have believed you if you had told me that I would be a systems engineer today.
As a systems engineer, I work on the design of various systems that are used by the Army or Navy, usually in a combat role. These systems range from communications to automatic target recognition. My work generally consists of defining a way to accomplish a task (such as recognizing a target) and then creating software that does just that. Along the way, there are many obstacles that I must overcome using the skills that I learned as an undergraduate.
The current project that I am working on involves the use of wavelet analysis and neural networks to transmit images using the smallest amount of memory possible. This is important for the military because they want to be able to transmit high quality images quickly and efficiently (such as during reconnaissance missions). Having learned Fourier analysis and wavelet analysis in school, it is interesting to me to use these mathematical techniques to compress and then decompress images. I also enjoy using the matrix reduction techniques from my old text books to shrink matrices that are too big to transmit. I actually use many skills and draw on many experiences that I had as an undergraduate.
During my sophomore and junior summers, I was fortunate to be chosen to do research at different universities. My research involved mostly writing programs to do analysis of data. These experiences helped me understand how real scientists go about formulating a hypothesis and then check the data from an experiment to see if the theory was correct. I often think back on those days when I try to decide how to check my data for errors. During my last semester as a senior, I had a light course load, so I decided to get an internship. A graduate student in the department helped me obtain an internship at a systems engineering firm (Trident Systems where I work now). As an intern, I worked on a project that was to produce software that would test the logical correctness of certain inference engines. An inference engine is a tool that makes logical deductions based on given information. The Army uses them to help make decisions such as whether or not to shoot at a target. The tool we produced tested to see if an inference engine followed the rules of the predicate calculus when it processed the information. This was fun because I had just taken a formal logic course the semester before.
When I graduated in May of 1995, the company was happy with my work and they decided to hire me full time. I had had such a great time that I accepted. I have just finished my second year here and I am often surprised to see how frequently my math skills are used.