Arielle G.’s Rise from New NSA Employee to the ‘Face’ of the Agency

January 10, 2022

I went from a brand-new NSA employee to the Face of the Agency. - Arielle G.

Born in Maryland, Arielle enjoyed ballet and modern dance as child, that is, before she found her true love of track and field in 8th grade. The sport taught her stamina, discipline and determination – attributes she’s carried with her throughout her career. She still trains for events to this day.

She also sprinted her way to a leadership role within the National Security Agency (NSA). Here’s the story of how she reached that particular finish line.

Endowed with the gift of understanding how things work, she studied engineering in college and became a Mechanical/Electrical Project Engineer after graduation. In that position, Arielle had her hands in building a data center for Google, the MGM National Harbor and a science facility for a local university.

However, while earning her master’s degree and looking for new career options, fate intervened.

“I was encouraged to apply to NSA by a guest lecturer for one of my master’s courses,” Arielle says. “I did not know what I wanted to do but I knew I was not happy in the construction industry. He and I spoke briefly after the lecture. Shortly after that, he agreed to be my mentor and talked to me about opportunities with the agency. I never considered working for the government in any capacity and definitely had not imagined a career in the Intelligence Community (IC) before then.”

Arielle was hired as a Systems Engineer and has now been with NSA for a little more than two years. Her transition from the private sector to the agency also meant a transition from being a hands-on mechanical engineer to a more theoretical one, two disciplines that are inherently different. However, she quickly found a common thread between the two.

“In both environments the work changes daily, so it is easy to stay engaged,” Arielle says. “The work itself is very different in practice, but the critical thinking and problem-solving skills I apply are the same.”

Outside of academics, Arielle points to her background in fast-paced projects early in her career as being an excellent training ground for her job at NSA. She also worked with a wide variety of individuals: architects, designers and other engineers who were all working toward the same goal. That experience, she says, makes her an asset to NSA.

“Overall, I would say my analytical thinking and attention to detail made me a great asset to NSA and I have been able to demonstrate that in my position,” she says.

While Systems Engineer may be her official occupational title, Arielle rapidly took on additional duties after joining NSA. She volunteered and was selected to serve in the role of Communications and Outreach Lead, which puts her in the position of not just working for but representing the agency.

“As the Communications and Outreach Lead, I have had the opportunity to brief and collaborate with the general workforce and several senior leaders across the agency,” she says. “I am currently leading a large agency-wide effort working daily with a number of senior stakeholders. I am in a high-visibility; high-responsibility role way sooner than I anticipated. I went from a brand-new NSA employee to the face of the agency.”

Arielle credits NSA’s Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) with helping her to transition from the private sector and becoming acclimated to NSA’s workplace culture. She is a member of the African American, Women and NextGen ERGs, and says the groups have been helpful in providing information about opportunities and resources across the agency.

“I was promoted and gained a new mentor; neither would have happened without the ERGs,” she says. “I needed a Machine Learning tutor, reached out to an ERG and so many people responded willing to either tutor me themselves or connect me with other people. For new and seasoned employees, ERGs provide a lot of support as we all navigate our careers here.”

Arielle also credits NSA with giving her the scheduling freedom to pursue her continued work with Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, of which she is a proud sister.

“I have been able to adjust my workdays to attend regional and national sorority conferences without using my personal leave,” she says. “I’ve also participated in a number of events geared toward our chapter's local school partnerships, which primarily take place during the school day.”

Arielle has taken advantage of NSA’s Morale Building Activity (MBA) hours, which allow her to connect with other Alpha Kappa Alpha sisters who work for the agency. Since serving as a chapter president at the undergraduate level, as well as an Executive Board member at the graduate level, Arielle is passionate about her ongoing Alpha Kappa Alpha involvement.

“Those leadership opportunities [with Alpha Kappa Alpha] have taught me, allowed me to implement and improve on a number of personal and professional skills needed to navigate any environment, including my position as a team lead now,” she says. “I have learned to effectively collaborate within a team and across multiple teams, which is vital to my role as a Systems Engineer at NSA.”

Because of Arielle’s own successful path to a rewarding NSA career, she encourages her colleagues in the private sector to look seriously at a career in intelligence. Her advice to those who follow in her footsteps is to make genuine connections and build a support system early, especially with the help of ERGs.

“It is a big place and it’s easy to get lost in it all,” she says. “The connections you build can provide insight and advice you can trust to help you navigate it. Take advantage of every opportunity that may interest you, you meet so many people that way.”

And finally, while many people perceive NSA as having large dark corridors filled with shady looking spies, Arielle says that NSA is a simply a normal workplace with plenty of room for career growth.

“There are a wide range of people and positions – you can walk down the hall and see people in suits and others in cargo shorts and flip-flops.”