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CHIPS Articles: Trailblazers: Computer Science innovator paves path for women in IT

Trailblazers: Computer Science innovator paves path for women in IT
By Kris Patterson, Naval Information Warfare Center Atlantic - March 24, 2021
Editorial Note: ‘Trailblazers’ is a four-part feature series celebrating the incredible innovation and highly technical accomplishments of NIWC Atlantic’s female workforce. During this special Women’s History Month tribute, readers are encouraged to learn from the personal experiences of those spotlighted and the unique ways their contributions are blazing new trails for future generations to come. This story is the third installment of NIWC Atlantic’s Trailblazers Campaign.

Edura Baham discovered her love of computer science as a senior in high school, when she decided to “cut her teeth” on something new.

It was in that computer science class that Baham, Naval Information Warfare Center (NIWC) Atlantic Business Systems and Information Technology (IT) Services competency manager in New Orleans, Louisiana, learned her first programming language – BASIC.

“I loved it,” Baham recounted as she recently reflected on the class that would set the trajectory of her long and successful career. “It was an exciting and eye opening-experience. But what left more of an impression on me was that my teacher was an African American female, just like me. I remember thinking, ‘If she can do this, so can I.’”

Baham, a New Orleans native, continued to explore computer science at Xavier University of Louisiana, where she earned a Bachelor of Science in computer science and mathematics in 1987.

During her final year of college, federal government representatives visited the campus to recruit college students to take the federal employment exam. Baham took this opportunity and tested high in the IT field.

Subsequently, the federal government hired her as a programmer/analyst, or in today’s terms, a software developer.

In February 1988, she began working for the Naval Reserve Information Systems Office, which merged with Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) in 2001 and became SPAWAR Information Technology Center.

Baham continued to grow with the organization as it changed names to Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center (SSC) Atlantic, and most recently, NIWC Atlantic.

Over the course of her 33-year career, Baham has been actively involved in all aspects of life cycle management of the Navy's manpower and personnel information systems. She has held numerous management positions throughout the years in the areas of information technology; joint systems; strategic planning; process management; customer relations; public affairs/communications; corporate information; human resources and knowledge management. Baham was also project manager for several information systems, a project lead for Data and Database Administration, and a senior programmer/analyst.

As program manager for Navy Standard Integrated Personnel System (NSIPS), the Navy's primary business solution for human resource management for over 400,000 Sailors worldwide, she was responsible for all software and hardware components, including the integrity, security, design, development, documentation and deployment of the program.

She led the implementation of numerous Navy manpower and personnel modernization and business process improvement initiatives resulting in significant improvements in Active and Reserve data accuracy, improved service to Sailors, better management decision-making, and increased accountability and audit readiness.

“Her information technology experience is impressive,” said Monica Broaden-Weber, Navy Personnel and Pay (NP2) personnel product lead. “Her willingness to own her upward mobility narrative is inspirational and demonstrates how to overcome barriers.”

In her current position, Baham is responsible for the development of sustainment of the NSIPS family of systems, including the execution of over $50 million in Operation and Maintenance, Navy (O&MN), Research, Development, Test and Evaluation (RDT&E) and Other Procurement, Navy (OPN) funding and providing support to more than 100 full-time equivalents (FTEs).

In this position, she continues to leverage her math and computer science expertise, but more importantly, she has become a caretaker of the employees within her group, ensuring they are trained, equipped, motivated and engrossed in meaningful work.

“I make sure we are putting the right person in the right job to support the command’s mission,” said Baham. “By making sure we have qualified employees that understand and acknowledge the command’s mission, they are better able to deliver products that are needed to support the warfighter.”

Broaden-Weber commended Baham for setting the standard for her role.

“Her vast IT experience and acumen, solution driven mindset and genuine employee interactions align effortlessly with not only meeting, but exceeding, the warfighter’s mission-critical needs,” said Broaden-Weber. “She is a natural leader, who has the ability to lean forward and motivate the workforce in the most difficult situations.”

Baham said the key to building synergy among her team has always been keeping an open dialogue and encouraging continuous career development.

“I love working with and developing employees,” Baham continued. “One of my strengths is the ability to see the potential in others. In my view, no individual is fully formed. Each individual is a work in progress, alive with possibilities. And I am drawn toward people for this very reason. When I interact with others, my goal is to help them experience success. I like to challenge employees to step outside of their comfort zone and see them accomplish goals and ideas that they didn’t think they could.”

Baham credits her leaders and mentors for instilling in her a mindset that has not only made her successful, but has also uplifted the careers of those who have served alongside her.

“They saw something in me that I didn’t always see in myself,” said Baham. “They challenged me to take new jobs and opportunities, while providing guidance and constant feedback.”

Baham said she emulates what she learned from them, encouraging newer generations of employees to invest in their own self-development because “they can do anything they set their minds to.”

She offers them the following advice: “Find a good mentor and sounding board — someone who has your best interest at heart,” said Baham. “Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. Don’t wait for the perfect job or position. Always remember, it’s your career, take an active role in steering it.’”

Baham takes the role of mentor seriously. In addition to her day-to-day work, she is active in NIWC Atlantic's Women of the Workforce program and supports science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) activities as part of command outreach.

For her efforts in support of the U. S. Navy, Baham has earned numerous Outstanding Performance and Special Act awards and Letters of Commendation, as well as the prestigious Navy Meritorious Civilian Service Award.

Baham said she is thankful for the support of her husband, who she said has also encouraged her to pursue new opportunities, a sentiment she passed down to her two sons, who both graduated from her alma mater, Xavier University of Louisiana.

“I am proud of them and they are proud of me,” said Baham. “I am grateful for their support throughout my career.”

As a part of Naval Information Warfare Systems Command, NIWC Atlantic provides systems engineering and acquisition to deliver information warfare capabilities to the naval, joint and national warfighter through the acquisition, development, integration, production, test, deployment, and sustainment of interoperable command, control, communications, computer, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, cyber and information technology capabilities.

Edura Baham
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