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The Road Less Traveled

August 2011

For a woman whose career is grounded in the binary code – the black and white language of computer science – the numbers don’t lie. Robin Remines is clearly in the minority.

“I don’t know why there aren’t more girls and women taking math and science classes in school and choosing computer science and information technology as a career path,” she says. “The computer is embedded in every aspect of our lives. Women need to be part of the services, the products and the solutions if they want their needs met appropriately.”

Aberdeen High School can claim this techie as an alumnae long before it hosted the prestigious magnet school program and became the Science and Mathematics Academy in 2004. College was not an expectation of Remines’s parents, so conversations about campus visits and majors never circulated the dinner table. “It’s not that college was discouraged or prohibited. It just never came up,” she remembers. Still, Remines was a good student and easily got a job at the nearby Aberdeen Proving Ground. Boring key punch work filled her day and the less than stimulating GS2 pay grade did little to fill her paycheck. She noticed that the work at her grade level was being contracted out while much more interesting work, and higher pay, surrounded her. She eventually quit her job to attend Towson State University (now Towson University) where she earned a bachelor of science degree in computer science.

Returning to APG, Remines went to work for the U.S. Ballistics Research Lab (now called Army Research Lab). She was part of an Advanced Computer Science Team whose sole mission was to think. Innovate. Dream about why and what if. Mike Muuss, famous for authoring the popular freeware language PING that would become a standard part of UNIX, was her team leader.

“With no boundaries, the mind can do amazing things. No idea was off limits or considered irrelevant. If we thought it was cool, our job was to figure out how to build the systems to make it happen. Some days, the most intelligent thing out of my mouth was ‘wow,’” she adds with a smile.

Remines was also a witness to the evolution of the computer working on a team that administered the first generations of UNIX, as well as the Army’s first two supercomputers, Cray 1 and Cray 2. Remines sweeps her arm around as she makes the comment that those computers filled entire rooms … quite a contrast to the new iPad 2 she used to check her emails during the conversation. “I’ve lived during such an amazing time for technology. Of course, I guess every scientist says that,” Remines chuckles.

Remines continued her career on base as a civilian employee working for the Chemical Demilitarization Command at the Edgewood location of APG where mustard gas disposal was front and center. She and her team were tasked with finding IT solutions to improve communications between the scientists involved in the project. The military laid over 600 miles of communications cable from the Johnston Atoll, a facility built to destroy the dangerous material in the North Pacific Ocean, to a U.S. military base in Hawaii, yet the scientists were only sending and receiving faxes. Her team developed additional ways to transfer data and increase speed of communications within the constraints of the existing cable.

“That’s where I developed an interest in project management from a scientific perspective. Time. Resources. Money. It’s all ones and zeros. What you get out of the project is a direct result of what you put in. Anything less just doesn’t add up,” says Remines.

As her career progressed, Remines found herself surrounded by more men and no female mentors. She also discovered that she was going deaf during this time as a result of nerve deterioration, eventually choosing the Cochlear implant as her own backup system to save her hearing. “While working on base, the science community valued my mind, so I was never treated differently because I was a woman. APG had a robust diversity program and embraced it. I was a woman in a predominately-male field, had two pregnancies and went deaf. If they wanted a reason to treat me differently, I was the tri-fecta,” she adds.

Remines went on to earn a masters degree from Johns Hopkins University in technical project management and became the vice president of information technology at a leading credit union headquartered in Edgewood in Harford County. In her 13-year tenure there, she is credited with leading several large initiatives, including moving the credit union from a transactional mentality to a networking strategy, introducing VOIP (voice over internet protocol), ushering the company through preparedness and training for the Y2K scare, and moving an entire system to a new operational building and mainframe without downtime.

As her management position involved increasing administrative tasks, Remines felt she was becoming too removed from the work – the fun of finding solutions and thinking creatively. She left the credit union and is now a national Business Continuity Consultant for Ongoing Operations, a continuity and recovery solutions provider with corporate offices in Hagerstown, Md. “Until now, I’ve spent my entire life and career along the I-95 corridor. There is so much happening there – especially in the information technology field,” she remarks. The consultant role is a departure from her previous positions, but it allows Remines to focus on an area that she has grown increasingly adept in over the years – business continuity planning – making sure that a company won’t suffer from service interruptions and that any event is mitigated for minimal impact. She is able to work remotely from her home in Aberdeen and travels the country giving workshops and doing tabletop exercises to help companies uncover their vulnerabilities and create solutions to fix them before a disaster happens.

Remines says, “Maybe young girls don’t follow the technology sciences because, in general terms, people don’t think techies and geeks are creative. I disagree with that completely. I’m very creative. I may not create artwork or poetry, but I create solutions.”

For more information on careers and women in IT, visit the National Center for Women and Information Technology at NCWjustaIT.org. Contact Robin Remines at Ongoing Operations, 877-552-7892.

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