What excites you about your work for NNSA? I’ve worked at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory since 1989, and since then I’ve always been proud to say where I work. I’m proud to play a very small part in what the NNSA does to protect our nation through nuclear science and the reduction of nuclear weapons.
What does a system administrator do day-to-day? My work as a system administrator changes daily based on the users’ needs. I could spend one day building a new computer for a user, and the next day I could be troubleshooting a difficult system error that renders a computer unusable, making for a very challenging time for me and the user. But then another day could be spent entering data in a lab-wide database. The diversity of this job is one of the reasons I love what I do. There is never a dull day. Even on those difficult days of puzzling problems, it’s very rewarding when you do finally find the solution.
What do you like most about what you do at NNSA? I get to work on some of the latest technologies and I also work with some of the finest and most talented people you will find. People who are 100 percent dedicated to the site, to the mission, and to our nation, and who understand the meaning of hard work.
What does a person need to be a good system administrator?
Being a systems administrator for the NNSA is a big challenge. System administrators need to have a wide range of experiences and knowledge to pull from on a day-to-day basis. They are expected to understand how hardware, software, email, data storage, and networking all fit together to provide a cost effective solution for the business model they support. At any given time they are faced with a number of issues and challenges. They need to know how to make quick decisions in stressful situations while considering safety, security, customer impact, and numerous government and site specific regulations.
What do you enjoy about your work at NNSA?
I like being a part of a historic organization like Y-12 National Security Complex. From its very beginning during World War II, to the current revitalization of the mission,, Y-12 continues to make history. I also like to continue to serve my country, from my days in the military, as I take great pride in our nation.
How would you describe your job to someone who doesn’t know what a system administrator is?
Being a Windows Systems Administrator isn’t a job for everyone. A seasoned systems administrator needs to know a little bit about a lot, as they are constantly presented with complex problems to solve. They must take into consideration the big picture of all of the many technical pieces of our interconnecting network and systems, to ensure they don’t fix one problem only to break something else. Thousands of employees depend on you to keep them working. Every keystroke could be a disaster if you make a mistake. The pressure of the role can cripple the ill-prepared. But to me, I think of it as being paid to solve puzzles. That’s how I know I’m in the right profession.
How would you advise someone who wants to become a system administrator?
It’s important to get a good, well-rounded computer science background, which should include networking, programming, mathematics, cybersecurity, and all operating systems. Also, the soft skills such as writing and public speaking are super important also. As an IT manager, I’ve written more white papers and assessment reports than I ever thought I would.
When you have free time, what are your hobbies?
My wife and I are raising six kids who range in age from 2 to 16. We also help to provide a healthy environment for kids in the Jackson and Cass County area in Missouri who currently are in foster care. As a family we enjoy short road trips, finding interesting back roads. We love to stop and read every historical marker we pass. Small towns and museums are our family’s favorite.
What exactly does a system administrator do?
It's my job to make sure that everything “just works.” That involves everything from making sure that the systems and data are secure (always back up your data!) to troubleshooting and resolving hardware, software, and network problems.
What do you like doing when you’re not “saving the world” with IT?
I enjoy spending time with my wife and two sons out on the lake in our boat. We love swimming, tubing, and fishing. I also enjoy playing guitar in the praise and worship band at my church and being an assistant youth football coach.
A key mission of the National Nuclear Security Administration is to maintain the safety, security, and effectiveness of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear explosive testing. Data gathered from experiments at the Contained Firing Facility (CFF) help validate computer modeling about how the explosives and assemblies in nuclear weapons will behave. The CFF firing chamber is the largest indoor firing chamber in the world, used for large-scale experiments using high-explosives with full containment of hazardous materials. The facility provides a combination of capabilities, including wide-angle flash radiography, laser velocimetry, pin-dome measurements, and high-speed optical cameras that are used to measure dynamics during the experiments. The CFF is a key component of NNSA's national hydrodynamic test capabilities and plays an important role in evaluating weapons in the active stockpile.
Former Army Ranger Damon Alcorn recently received the Sandia National Laboratories-Livermore Chamber of Commerce Student of the Year Award. Presented at the Chamber’s State of the City Luncheon last month, the annual award highlights a Las Positas College student with exemplary academic achievements and leadership.
Born and raised in the Bay Area, Alcorn graduated cum laude from California State University, East Bay in 2004 with a bachelor of arts in history. That same year Alcorn enlisted in the U.S. Army. After completing infantry training, airborne school, and the Ranger Indoctrination Program, he was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment.
After his military service, Alcorn earned a master of arts in liberal arts from California State University, Sacramento. Following graduation he entered the private sector, working in corporate communications and public relations.
In 2012, he enrolled at Las Positas College where he studied computer science and network security and administration. This spring, Alcorn received an associate of science in engineering technology from Los Positas College.
Next month he will begin pursuing a master of science in computer science at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey.
Madeline Burchard, community relations officer for Sandia/California, who helped present the award to Alcorn, said education and specifically science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) are core to Sandia.
“Since Sandia National Lab’s inception, we have invested in education,” Burchard said. “It is part of our culture to give back and it’s a value that we have carried over the last 60 years. We want to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers.”
Today, in accordance with a 1971 Presidential proclamation, the United States commemorates the first human setting foot on the moon. As a science agency, NNSA’s technology and development have given rise to extraterrestrial innovation and enabled other-worldly achievements. From building the hardware that help scientists reach outer space to modeling the physics that both explain and make space exploration possible, NNSA’s labs and sites are at the forefront of American space ingenuity.
Capabilities at NNSA’s labs that were created to support NNSA’s stockpile stewardship and nonproliferation missions are ideal for testing spacecraft materials against the harsh environments endured during space travel. Highlights of these efforts include:
NNSA’s Y-12 National Security Campus helps create fuel for NASA’s long-range space exploration missions, while Los Alamos lab helps chemically process and package the fuel.
NNSA’s Savannah River Site produced the plutonium used to power NASA’s Pluto flyby probe. More than 27 space missions have used plutonium-driven power sources, including 10 in Earth orbits, five moon missions, three Mars missions and nine planetary missions.
Among some of the most exciting work conducted at NNSA’s laboratories is for planetary defense – detecting, tracking, and planning deflection missions for asteroids that might collide with Earth. All of NNSA’s labs participate in the planetary defense effort.