May 29, 2024, Clearfield, Utah

This year, we had the opportunity to interview Emily Togaga’e, a computer engineering team lead at the Hill Air Force Base (HAFB) and a 2023 Women Tech Award finalist. As a technology innovator, she works on cybersecurity and develops new technologies for the Department of Defense at HAFB. Throughout her career, Togaga’e embodies the go-getter mindset and utilizes the value of hard work in everything she does.

Coming from a poor family in Wisconsin, Togaga’e became a first-generation student at BYU-Idaho. As a lifelong learner, Togaga’e discovered the intricacies of various fields through various classes. Her love for physics manifested after enrolling in a course on light and sound. Seeking an understanding of the fundamentals of life, Togaga’e decided to become a physicist with a minor in computer science.

During her time pursuing higher education, Togaga’e’s work ethic led her to form a computer modeling club at BYU that fed data to Idaho National Laboratory, one of the national laboratories of the United States Department of Energy. This data analysis and study landed her an internship at Idaho National Laboratory where she stimulated the usage of uranium dioxide in nuclear reactors. This computer simulation showed her the importance of computer science as it is “a part of all science.”

Togaga’e’s study of computer science would later pave the way for a new career path. Despite majoring in physics, she was hired straight out of college by HAFB for her computer science minor. She highlighted that obtaining this college degree allowed her to nearly double her salary upon graduation. Her degree also offered a flexible schedule with the HAFB team, including telework options. This flexibility allowed her to have a work and family balance throughout her many positions with HAFB.

Currently, as a computer engineer team lead, her career revolves around cybersecurity and technological innovation in aviation. Her roles include developing software for pilots, including F35 pilots. Togaga’e works to make sure software additions are secure and protected from internal and external threats. She highlighted how adding new software applications to fighter jets can take upwards of two years, with the added requirement of protecting from hacking interference.

One technological development at HAFB that Togaga’e’s team worked on was the development of additional tablets worn by pilots to provide them with another screen of capabilities. These tablets made technology additions faster as the tablets weren’t connected to main information systems, meaning they were safe from hacking. Using these tablets, Togaga’e’s team developed maps that included sensors to detect ground defenses and enemy lines. The technology included data filters for ease of access for the pilots.

Overall, Togaga’e’s entire career revolves around war business. She sees her work as a way to prevent war. “Your whole career is to make a difference on the earth,” explained Togaga’e. “It is how you are contributing to the world.” The purpose of her work is to develop great technology and equipment to deter adversaries and maintain peace and security.

When asked about her career growth, she explained how a “go big or go home” mentality accelerated her growth trajectory at HAFB. Togaga’e encourages high school students to embrace every available leadership opportunity and “do your best where you are at.” She also advises high schoolers to embrace an attitude of hard work.

Togaga’e concludes with this advice to students: “Your decisions at this point of your life are pivotal for how your futures will go.”

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