Header Bar Graphic
Shuttle Image and IconAerospace HeaderBoy Image
Spacer TabHomepage ButtonWhat is NASA Quest ButtonSpacerCalendar of Events ButtonWhat is an Event ButtonHow do I Participate ButtonSpacerBios and Journals ButtonSpacerPics, Flicks and Facts ButtonArchived Events ButtonQ and A ButtonNews ButtonSpacerEducators and Parents ButtonSpacer
Highlight Graphic
Sitemap ButtonSearch ButtonContact Button

Meet: Markland Benson

Photo of Mark @ Seneca

Computer Engineer, Manager
NASA IV&V Center

Who I am and what I do:
I am a computer engineer and manager. Specifically, I work in an area called software assurance. I evaluate the level of risk of new spacecraft and ground systems software. Risk is how likely errors are and how bad things can get when errors happen. The best place to stop errors is in requirements, the statements of what the system must do. Before a mission is allowed to operate, the new system must be tested to make sure it meets the requirements. I make sure that the requirements completely, correctly, and consistently describe the system and that the tests of the system cover all of the requirements. I also monitor and perform research to help make software assurance better. One of the areas of research I worked on recently was making sure that neural networks behave properly so that we can use them in new generations of spacecraft. Neural networks are computer hardware or software that is good at matching patterns like the human brain. Neural networks are different from typical computer software, which is good at arithmetic but does not adapt well to unexpected situations. Instead of writing a set of instructions for a neural network to follow, you training it by example much like children learn in school.

Areas of expertise
I came to NASA with knowledge of mathematics, computer science, and software engineering. At NASA, I received training in aerospace concepts to enhance my academic knowledge. It is important for people of computer-related fields to have an understanding of what their computers are controlling. Mathematics and physics provide a good basis for understanding how things behave in the space environment. More importantly, these disciplines develop analytic thinking skills that help you learn new things. Technology keeps changing, so learning new things is an everyday job.

How I first became interested in this profession
I have always enjoyed solving problems and found that computers provide a powerful platform to help do so. Where else besides a computer can you create a (simulated) rocket, fire it off as many times as you like and the biggest cost is your time and you need not worry about an explosion or such dangers. With relative ease, you can change the way the rocket flies, looks, or it destination. Computers give us the chance to do things we have done before, faster and better, and allow us to explore ideas we would otherwise be afraid to try.

What helped prepare me for this job
Going to college and studying computer science and mathematics were good preparation. A great tool along the way was an internship opportunity I had at the NASA IV&V Facility. Being able to try out the profession at a low level is invaluable to help in deciding if a person wants to commit many years to a specific career path.

Role Models
My father provided many opportunities to experiment with new challenges on his farm. There were very few areas that he would not tackle including plumbing, electrical work, machinery repair, veterinary work, construction, etc. Seeing the power of reading and application of knowledge in him demonstrated to me that much comes from continual learning and willingness to try new things.

My education and training
My BS degree in mathematics provided me foundational knowledge in problem solving. My BS degree in computer science gave me tools to help in solving problems. My MS in software engineering showed me good ways to produce high quality solutions to problems using computers. My NASA training has equipped me to apply my problem solving skills and tools to aeronautics and space problems.

My career path
Before finishing my BS I got an internship with Azimuth, Inc., who was a prime contractor for Science and Engineering Technical Assessments for the NASA IV&V Facility. I got to work on Cassini, Mars Polar Lander, and the Production Support Flight Control Computer (PSFCC) F-18 projects. I moved on in Azimuth to develop training and simulation software for the Navy. Later, I performed analysis of the NASA Checkout and Lauch Control System (CLCS). I moved to the world of web accessible databases for a while as a contractor for the Air Force, where I built software to capture and distribute knowledge. Finally, I landed back at the NASA IV&V Facility in my current role.

What I like about my job
I like that NASA continues to make available new challenges and problems that need solving.

What I don't like about my job
NASA is subject to the politics and slowness that comes from being a government organization. Patience and perseverance are required to get through paperwork and many decision makers scrutinizing the worth of what you do.

My advice to anyone interested in this occupation
First, think about what excites you. Do not work in mathematics, science, or engineering for money. Work because you like the challenges that come from these fields. Next, develop patience and perseverance because the problems solved are not easy and often non-technical obstacles must be overcome in addition to the problems themselves. Finally, learn all you can. Take the hard courses and see if you are willing to keep after these topics in the long run. If you get satisfaction from these topics and can communicate what you do well then you will succeed.

I enjoy spending time with my wife and children. I love studying the Bible. I coach elementary soccer and basketball and play whatever sports I can, but my favorite is racquetball. I have had too many pets to mention. I like to be outdoors--especially in the forests and mountains.



Footer Bar Graphic
SpacerSpace IconAerospace IconAstrobiology IconWomen of NASA IconSpacer
Footer Info