Atg Logo Vector

A Day in the Life of a Systems Engineer: Tuyet-Hanh Schnell

Tuyet-Hanh Schnell is a Systems Engineering Lead at Lockheed Martin. Learn more about her work as a systems engineer and how you can #BeThatEngineer!
A Day in the Life of a Systems Engineer: Tuyet-Hanh Schnell

I did not initially pursue a career as a systems engineer. I didn’t even know that engineering was available when I started college!

I graduated with a Bachelor of Engineering from Stevens Institute of Technology in 1991 and then a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering from Drexel University in 1994.

I decided to pursue engineering after attending a STEM program the summer between my sophomore and junior year in high school. I then joined the Boy Scouts Explorer program in electronics, which led me to take all the circuit classes that my high school had to offer. I really liked building circuit boards!

I loved all of my math and science classes, and I also took a programming class. The combination of my work experience after graduating college and training from my company led me to systems engineering.

In college, I was part of the collegiate section of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). I was the Treasurer for one year and then the President of that section for two years. Unfortunately, I did not know about the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and all the great benefits of a SWE membership until after I graduated.

Now that I’m a part of SWE, I find the most valuable aspect of this organization is that I can connect with other women engineers and engineering students. Even though there are not many women engineers in my own local area, I have made connections to other women from all around the globe.

Tuyet-Hanh Schnell headshot
Tuyet-Hanh Schnell, Systems Engineer

After my first year of college, I participated in a cooperative education program that alternated semesters of work and school. I graduated in five years, but I had 18 months of work experience upon graduation.

I chose to work at three organizations for my co-op assignments: a small company, a research institute, and a large company. Each gave me different perspectives that helped me choose what I wanted to do and where I wanted to work when I graduated.

In my last co-op assignment, I was given a whole design to do on my own. I designed the circuitry startup module for the Global Positioning Satellite (GPS). I was part of the design team that developed the design, performed analysis, and picked components for the module.

I also got to attend the Critical Design Review, and my design was then used on other satellites! It was a wonderful experience.

I learned a lot about teamwork and planning. I learned that I could volunteer to do more and would receive more responsibility by recognizing the need and asking to help. I also learned about how customer requirements shape design and implementation, and how to communicate at a professional level with engineers and leaders at all levels.

I currently work for Lockheed Martin in the Rotary and Mission Systems Business Area in Moorestown, N.J. Headquartered in Bethesda, Md., Lockheed Martin is a global security and aerospace company that employs approximately 116,000 people worldwide and is principally engaged in the research, design, development, manufacture, integration, and sustainment of advanced technology systems, products, and services.

I started out as a digital design engineer, designing circuit boards. I then transitioned to writing low-level firmware code at the component level. Then I moved into writing software to monitor and test hardware systems which led me to developing software for command and control systems.

illustration of software development

Systems Engineer: A Typical Day

I also was a manager for many years and was a technical director for a research and development project. All of these experiences helped to shape my knowledge and understanding of the system as a whole. My knowledge and experience across different engineering disciplines and designs helps make me a better systems engineer.

My typical workday now depends on the phase of the project I am working on. In the design phase, I take high-level customer requirements and break them down into requirements that are specific to my product area. During this phase, I work with the program technical director, lead systems engineer, and product systems and software architects to determine the design.

I also work with my product team to allocate requirements to the appropriate components of my product. This can include creating or updating software models to see how the design impacts the larger system. We hold meetings to discuss design options and perform trade studies to determine the best approach.

In the implementation phase, I work with software engineers to create the software that makes the design come to life. I answer questions about the design and review the code.

In the testing phase, I verify that the code properly implements the intent of the requirements. I either test using a desktop environment that I can access from my computer or at the lab that more closely matches the real computing environment. Then, I work with the software team if there are problems that need to be fixed.

In the deployment phase, I travel to the customer site to install and test the software on the end-user equipment with the customer. The test facilities could be on a U.S. military base or a military platform like a ship or a plane.

I am also part of the team that trains the soldiers or sailors on how to use this new equipment. This phase is the most rewarding because I get to see how my design impacts the ultimate end user and get their feedback as well. Plus, I get to travel the world, meet new people, and see new places!

naval ship on the water where a systems engineer works

My favorite part of being a systems engineer is that I’m rarely bored. There is always a challenge to tackle. I love the teamwork and really enjoy working with the customer. It truly uses every aspect of my education and experience.

While we do work hard, we also have time for play. I have been a part of volleyball and softball teams in our intramural leagues within the company. I also sing as part of the company choir. We have performed at special company events, as well as ship commissionings. Our choir has a fall and spring season and performs concerts for employees and at local nursing and retirement facilities.

I am very involved with SWE within Lockheed Martin. We hold professional development events and perform outreach activities. I am also a member of the Women’s and Asian American Employee Resource Groups to help develop and grow the talent in these under-represented groups.

My advice to students interested in engineering is to try everything! You never know what you’ll gravitate towards.

Also, don’t forget about fostering your creative side with music, literature, and sports. I have a minor in literature in addition to my engineering degree. I find that participating in performing arts helps me overcome my fear of being in front of people and improves my communication skills. It also allows my brain to exercise all aspects of its capability and, therefore, helps me be more creative in my problem solving.

Being physically active is also important for when you are at the customer site and need to walk long distances or climb structures to get your work done.

Outside of work, I’m a mother of two kids, and my husband is also an engineer! My biography is even featured in a children’s book, “Asian American Women in Science: 15 Inspiring People You Should Know.

Learn more about the SWENext program.


  • Emily Tacopina

    Written by Emily Tacopina: Emily is a Consultant Engineer at FM Global. Emily graduated from the University of Rhode Island with a BS degree in Mechanical Engineering.