2014 Influential Women in Defense Electronics: Jane Donaldson, President of Annapolis Micro Systems, Inc.
Jane (Jenny) Donaldson started Annapolis Micro Systems, Inc. in 1982 with Bob Donaldson and Lawrence Marshall, Jr., serving as the company’s first president. Annapolis performed custom engineering: software for ground stations for Comsat, point-of-sale terminals for Schlumberger, medical instruments, contract assembly for IBM, and ASIC design for Atmel, in addition to touch technology work with IBM fellow Evon Greanias. In 1994, Jenny guided the company’s transition from custom engineering to FPGA-based products. She has a B.A. in Philosophy and a minor in English from the University of Washington and took Computer Science classes in the late 1970s at the University of Maryland.
Q: What are the biggest challenges you face every day as a woman in the defense industry?
Oddly enough, I have never found any challenges caused by just being a woman. My main challenges are as a businessperson in the high-tech community: Pick the right product and develop and implement a tight plan for getting it developed, marketed, manufactured, and sold under budget and within a reasonable timeframe. Keep the customers happy. Keep the cash flowing in and out.
Q: How do you overcome those challenges? What or who is your inspiration?
I think hard all the time, work hard all the time, and constantly review everything and try to do better at everything. I work with the staff, particularly senior management, to help them do the same thing. For inspiration it starts with my parents, Ben and Jane Van Zwalenburg, who taught me by example that:
1. Every human being has a unique and intrinsic value.
2. Work has an inherent worth and we should do every task to the best of our ability.
3. I could and should use my talents to do something significant, to be a useful member of society.
My husband, Bob Donaldson, has stood by me and worked with me through every challenge life has offered us.
Our mentor, Evon Greanias, IBM fellow, taught us that in technology, if you are not pushing the envelope then you are wasting everyone’s time and money, and that doing your absolute best is not good enough. It must work and must be on time.
Q: How can women be more prepared to enter the male-dominated defense industry and, for that matter, traditionally male fields such as the engineering profession?
My advice for others, both male and female:
1. Figure out your strengths, and play to them.
2. Be brave. You need to make mistakes in order to learn. If you never make mistakes, then you are not pushing yourself hard enough.
3. Challenge yourself. Often and always. You will be surprised to see what you can accomplish.
Q: During your career in the defense electronics industry what have been the most significant events and disruptive technologies?
Technology-wise it would be FPGAs and their development as a key tool for high-level signal processing in radar and electronic warfare platforms. We have been using FPGAs for processing since 1992. Today we are designing our 14th modular family of FPGA processing boards. A significant event would be a procurement one – the COTS initiative, introduced 20 years ago by then Secretary of Defense William Perry. COTS has changed the way the defense industry procures state-of-the-art technology and, along with common standards such as OpenVPX, enabled commercial processing technology to quickly and efficiently benefit the warfighter.
Q: The defense market’s budget-constrained environment makes forecasting tough. Given that fact, what segments of the military market will have the most growth potential over the next five years for producers of defense electronics?
I foresee at least another four or five years of technology improvements in FPGAs, A/D, D/A, and Solid State Drives (SSDs) – the fields we currently care most about. We’ve geared our new line of products, which combine the latest FPGA technologies, the connectivity and speed possible from OpenVPX architectures, and high-performance A/D and D/A, to meet the current and near-term needs of our customers in defense applications such as radar, signal processing, Signals Intelligence (SIGINT), Electronics Intelligence (ELINT), and communications. We see these applications having the most growth, especially in the current budget-constrained environment where the government and primes will look to outsource more to embedded computing companies who develop COTS products to fit needs not being filled in the market. This is something that we believe customers have the money for and will pay for, if it were available. We review the latest available technology and put that together with our technical abilities.
Over the next few years it will be about advancing the state-of-the-art, providing a good resolution to needs, and doing it within the budget customers have for particular problems and within the timeframe in which the need will exist. Then we go for it.