It was 2003. Michelle Styczynski had just graduated from UCLA with a degree in mechanical engineering, and she wanted a job in the defense industry. But she wasn’t having much luck finding one.
About 300 applications into her job search, she attended a “college day” event at the El Segundo, Calif., campus of what is now Raytheon Technologies.
She left with three job offers.
“One of the panelists said, “Every day is different here, and I’ve had the opportunity to do so many different things. That immediately attracted me to the business.”
That was nearly 20 years ago, and what the panelist said has held true for Styczynski. Every day has been different – and today, at the midpoint of her career, she’s a vice president at Raytheon Intelligence & Space, a Raytheon Technologies business, where she oversees its work in radars for the F-15 fighter jet.
Her first role at Raytheon was as a mechanical design engineer, developing the array power supply for the U.S. Air Force’s F-15C fighter jet’s new radar system – the APG-63(V)3. That was one of the company’s first radars to use an active electronically scanned array – a major shift in radar technology that has made them more reliable, more resistant to jamming, with a lower probability of enemy detection and the ability to work in multiple modes.
Today, Styczynski is vice president of F-15 radars, working at that same campus in El Segundo, and she holds a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from UCLA, paid for by the company. She credits her rise through the ranks of one of the top aerospace & defense companies in the world—from college grad to vice president—to a lot of help from mentors and sponsors, who pointed her toward tackling tough challenges and taking on new roles that she sometimes was hesitant to accept.
“Sometimes you have to put yourself in uncomfortable spots,” she said. “Several years back, I didn’t apply for some senior-level positions because I didn’t think I had checked all the boxes, but I had mentors tell me that I didn’t need to master every skill to advance in my career. What skills I didn’t know, I could learn, and I have resources I can always reach out to for help.”
After spending four years designing the F-15C’s radar using 3D modeling tools, Styczynski transferred to the operations department where she got hands-on experience about manufacturing the unit, producing the first three radars for the Air Force. Five years later, she managed the program and oversaw the entire process. Then came an opportunity to work in software development. She took the leap.
“I had people ask me, ‘Why would you get into software development?” and my answer to them: ‘Because it’s our company’s bread and butter,’” she said. “I wanted to be part of that. The software is where our systems go to the next level. It also really helped me see the whole aircraft lifecycle. And career-wise, it gave me different skills and different experiences.”
In 2020, Raytheon Intelligence & Space promoted her to vice president of F-15 radars. One reason for her advancement, she said, was that she followed her mentors’ advice to meet commitments, develop a wide set of skills and believe in herself. On that last point, she acknowledges that she has at times suffered from “impostor syndrome,” or self-doubt about skills, talent and accomplishments.
“I didn’t see a lot of people in my role with my amount of experience,” she said. “I would start to think, ‘Well, I got the job, but how am I going to make this happen?’ And then, I’d tell myself, ‘Slow down, breathe...you can do this.’”
Styczynski mentors colleagues, including women who ask how she has advanced while also continuing her education and raising a family. Some tell her they’re not sure they can succeed in their career and have a family too.
“I tell them, ‘We can do whatever we want to do.’ It’s all about setting boundaries and making sure your leadership knows that your family is very important to you,” she said. “I was recently part of a leadership development program where 50 percent of my classmates were women, in their 40s with young children, and it gave me so much hope and appreciation for what the future will be like at Raytheon Technologies. I haven’t seen a makeup like this in all my years at the company...even in college.”
Styczynski sings the praises of her leaders, citing “a boss who is super supportive of her work-life balance.” She works from home three to four days a week on what’s called a 9/80 schedule, allowing her to take every other Friday off. And her family takes vacations regularly.
“I think that the COVID pandemic helped managers sympathize and empathize with their employees, realizing their people have other things happening in their lives besides work,” she said. “If we can help our people and be more flexible, we’re going to have happier and more productive employees.”
So, what’s Styczynski next career goal? Possibly venturing outside the world of radars and into the company’s other areas of specialty including space, electronic warfare or cybersecurity, she said.
“I’d love to blossom out and learn new systems,” she said. “With a company as diverse as Raytheon Technologies, I could stay in defense, or I could branch out into the commercial area at Pratt & Whitney or Collins Aerospace. The opportunities are endless.”