National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce
Nikole Gallegos

Location: Anchorage, AK
Alaska Region Headquarters (ARH)
Job Title: Information Technology Branch Chief

Educational Background:

  • I have a Bachelor's Degree in Information Systems from the University of Phoenix, though I completed the first two years at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Working a day job with a young son made it challenging to finish my degree through a traditional classroom environment, so I opted for completion through an online experience. Next, I went into the Information Systems Master’s program, which I am on the fringe of completing, once my hobbies get out of the way.

Describe the career path that led you to your current job with the National Weather Service.

  • After working with computers and audio/video equipment while in retail, I transitioned to a federal job. I worked as a secretary for the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and quickly learned their computer systems. Next, the Deputy Director of the NWS Alaska Region brought me on full-time as the Environmental and Scientific Services Division (ESSD) secretary and I worked with the computer system administrator. I qualified for an upward mobility position in 1994 as the NWS Alaska system administrator and found myself loving the NWS and developing my career along the way.

What do you do for the NWS?

  • As Information Technology Branch Chief for the NWS Alaska Region, I manage the IT team whose skills cross telecommunications, networking, system administration, and computer programming. My position requires that I maintain knowledge in all areas of IT so I can plan lifecycle replacements, determine when and where system changes and upgrades must occur, and ensure all areas of IT are tied together to meet the mission while minimizing downtime. Without the entire team, these tasks would be impossible.

What was the most interesting, exciting, or impactful weather/water event you experienced while working for the NWS and why does it stand out?

  • The NWS Alaska Region has hosted a public web server since the late ’90s. On March 11, 2011, a 9.0 earthquake near Honshu, Japan triggered a tsunami that was monitored worldwide. This resulted in a very large volume of traffic to the NWS’s circuit, which hosted what was then the West Coast Alaska Tsunami Warning Center’s website. [The office is now the National Tsunami Warning Center (NTWC).] Our team was able to coordinate with the Internet Service Provider and pull in a new circuit to upgrade bandwidth 10-fold to accommodate web traffic within 8 hours of the event.

What made you decide to pursue a career with the NWS?

  • I first fell into the career field of IT as it was rolling out to every desktop in the NWS. When I started with the NWS in 1993, we only had about 25 desktop computers region-wide in Alaska. My first big project was to migrate the region from green screens and DOS to Windows 3.1. This included teaching employees how to use a mouse and I used Solitaire as my teaching tool. I knew then that this was the career for me to pursue.

What do you like most about working for the NWS?

  • I really like having freedom to be creative as well as the freedom to brainstorm in a team environment or on my own. I enjoy puzzles of all kinds and many days bring a challenge to be solved. I also thrive when I see the team working in harmony. Every day is different in the world of IT and I understand the importance of technology to the NWS. The best days are when I feel a great satisfaction in solving that puzzle, especially when I see the same look of satisfaction on the faces of the team..

What advice do you have for someone interested in a career with the NWS?

  • One word sums up my advice: Network! Meet employees of different backgrounds and from various offices. Find a mentor who is in the same career field that interests you. It can also be possible to observe someone in the NWS by calling a local forecast office or regional headquarters. Mentors are a wealth of knowledge and can provide guidance for initiating your career. I continually learn from my mentors and have been a mentor several times over the years myself.

What training or coursework would you recommend to someone interested in following your career path?

  • Decide which path in IT you enjoy the most. There are several facets to IT such as networking, system administration, and programming. Volunteering in a non-profit environment, to assist with IT infrastructure, is another way to pick up basic experience. An education in IT can be achieved through many universities as well as completing training and certification for a particular facet in a vocational classroom setting.