I went to college at a time when the PC was being invented. I never used punch cards or slide rules; I was the generation just beyond that.

I took some computer engineering classes, started writing programs and found that it was all a big puzzle. I loved that because it was all about problem solving.

With engineering, almost everything you do, you are bringing a team of people to solve a problem.

I became more inclined to direct teams that were solving problems rather than solving them myself. I began to develop a knack for solving problems in a shorter amount of time than other folks. It was my ideal job at that point.

My first major breakthrough was becoming a chief engineer leading a large billion-dollar program for the Federal Aviation Administration. It combined the problem solving and the management.

Jim Gaughan is the new chief operating officer for Metron Aviation. (Courtesy of Metron Aviation)

We delivered the system and got it operational across the country. That was a major endeavor. At the height of the program we had 2,000 people working on it, so there were lots of moving parts and people worked in the laboratories 24-7. Being able to lead a team and a system of that magnitude is something I’ll always be proud of.

And then 9/11 happened. I was actually in a large-scale meeting for one of our contracts when word came down. It was a big deal to everyone in the country but to the aviation industry, it was a very, very big deal.

Commercial air traffic fell off dramatically, as you can imagine. The need to get more folks involved in securing the nation’s borders became paramount. A lot of us who worked in areas outside of security found ourselves working in security systems pretty rapidly.

We responded well to a very critical moment. The fact that we haven’t had another major attack on U.S. soil more than a decade later is comforting. But we all knew that things had changed and would never be quite the same.

At the time I thought working in security would be a permanent move. Seven years in, I acknowledged that it was a good ride and worthwhile work but my heart was still in aviation.

Then I got a call from Metron Aviation.

It gave me a chance to get back into aviation and work with a small company that was at the forefront of the next generation of the FAA and other world traffic control systems.

We’re perfectly positioned to help air traffic control authorities around the world achieve the vision of providing an increased capacity of the air space and airports so that the traveling public has more efficient air travel.

At the same time, I want to make sure we are helping to do that in an environmentally responsible manner.

That is where I want to spend the rest of my career.

—Interview with Vanessa Small

James M. Gaughan

Position: Chief operating officer of Metron Aviation, a provider of air traffic products and services for the aviation industry.

Career highlights: Program director, Lockheed Martin Transportation Security Solutions; delivery executive, FAA Oceanic Advanced Technologies and Procedures; chief engineer, FAA Terminal Common ARTS; and Chief Engineer, FAA En Route Display System Replacement.

Age: 49

Education: BS, Computer Engineering, Ohio State University.

Personal: Lives in Damascus, Md. with wife Elizabeth and two children, Erin and Ben.