First-generation college student forges ahead, now key to Lab's mission

Through seamless IT coordination, Fatima Woody is instrumental to uninterrupted operations

June 7, 2024

Fatima Woody

Fatima Woody was just 17 and a student at Pojoaque Valley High School when she first started her career as a Los Alamos Neutron Science Center receptionist.

Now she's in a crucial role that keeps plutonium pit production and other mission processes operating with as little interruption as possible.

Over nearly four decades, Fatima has gradually advanced from her initial positions as a receptionist and administrative secretary to become a computer technician, then a computer system professional who specializes in project management.

Today, she coordinates the workflow for nearly two dozen deployed information technology technicians who keep the computer systems and networks operating at the high-tech complex that houses the Lab's Plutonium Facility.

"I get the right people together in the right room to determine what's needed and how to do it," Fatima says.

It's her continuous growth and ascendance that most impresses Chief Operating Officer Mark Davis.

"I'm amazed at her story," Davis says. "She's been here for 37 years, starting as an administrator and slowly climbing the ranks to management. She came in at an entry-level position, worked hard, learned the business and is now a leader."

Such career dedication can serve as an inspirational model for others, Davis says, especially when 50% of today's workforce has just five years of experience or less at the Lab.

"Her long-term success shows others that you can start simply and work your way to become a leader for a mission that's vital for national security," Davis says.

Fatima says she loves her career at Los Alamos.

"It's awesome," she says. "I continue learning even today in my current position, and I get to work with so many different people. For me, the Lab is just the greatest place ever, not just for the opportunities it provides, but to work with some of the best and brightest people in the world."

The foundation to get things done


Among other things, Fatima works with other entities to coordinate planned outages that affect networks, reducing impacts to a minimum.

"I coordinate with them, advising everyone about why there will be an outage, which areas will be affected, how they'll be impacted and for how long," Fatima says. "We work together to make planned outages as smooth and as flawless as possible."

With the Lab's growing mission, facility availability for production is a big part of being successful, Davis says.

"We need planning to get in and out fast, and prompt communication and coordination with support organizations like IT provides the foundation to help get things done," he says. "Fatima is forward-leaning, proactive and transparent on everything, and that's what we need to be successful."

"She's someone you really want on your team," says Stephanie Chavez, a frontline software development manager. "She always tries to promote a healthy work environment, motivating people and getting them to do their best. She likes to help people learn and grow."

A mover and shaker

As a project manager, Fatima doesn't do the hands-on IT, although she did for many years across the Lab as a deployed computer systems professional and manager. Rather, she directly coordinates IT project workflow among directors, division heads, group leaders and technicians.

That makes Fatima a key mover and shaker in the deployment and operation of state-of-the-art computer and network technology.

That's a lot of responsibility, something her supervisor, Mel Martinez, says Fatima excels at.

"She's a blessing," Martinez says. "She doesn't need much guidance. She's a real self-starter, and I just let her run with a lot of things."

Teammates say Fatima is a pleasure to work with, providing support and assistance whenever needed.

Pursuing higher education

Fatima's career progression also inspires others, says computer information security specialist Melissa Ortiz, a longtime colleague.

"Look at where she started and where she is today — she's never wavered," Ortiz says. "She's always been up for the challenges and worked her way up. That says so much about who she is."

Indeed, Fatima never ceased to pursue higher education, paving the way for continuous career advancement over the years. She earned associate degrees from Northern New Mexico College in word processing in 1992 and in computer science network administration in 2000. She received a bachelor's degree in computer science from the College of Santa Fe in 2006. And she recently earned a master's degree in project management from the University of New Mexico.

Fatima is joined in her work at the Lab by her husband, Earl.

A family affair

Fatima, who grew up in Nambé with 12 brothers and sisters, is the first person in her family to graduate from college. But her work at the Lab is really a family affair.

"My dad was an iron worker at the Lab, and we had other family — union members — who worked there, too," Fatima says. "I always wanted to follow in their footsteps and work at Los Alamos."

Today, Fatima's husband, Earl, and their three adult children all work at the Lab as well.

When not at work, Fatima loves spending time with her four grandchildren, baking and cooking with her daughters, or just hanging out with her husband.

"My husband and I are inseparable. We do everything together," she says.

That includes carpooling every morning to their jobs at the Lab, where they both have dedicated their careers to helping solve national security challenges.