Lance Steele, Certified Consulting Meteorologist

Lance Steele, Certified Consulting Meteorologist

Please describe your educational background and what sparked your interest in atmospheric or related sciences.

I graduated with a B.S. in Atmospheric Science from the University of Kansas. Having grown up in Kansas I was definitely interested in severe weather and tornado formation and therefore focused on mesoscale and severe weather phenomena.

What was your first job in the field and how did you end up in the job you are in now?

My first job after graduating in 1999 was at Weathernews and I have ended up staying at this company for 20 years. I currently develop software to handle data from geostationary weather platforms and polar orbiting/low Earth orbit satellites. As my company is also involved with developing and deploying radar I am positing myself as a remote sensing specialist. Although I do not actively consult at this time, I am an AMS Certified Consulting Meteorologist and have met many wonderful people through the program.

What opportunities did you pursue that you knew would be beneficial to securing a job in the profession?

I have received advice from many meteorologists that pursuing an advanced degree is extremely beneficial for the chances of employment and promotion. That is currently not an option for me, so instead I went through the exam process to become a Certified Consulting Meteorologist (CCM) in 2011 and received my certification after passing the oral exam at the Annual Meeting in 2012. The CCM program encourages professional development by allocating points toward certificate renewal, so I make sure to stay active in the field by attending lectures, conferences, symposia, and giving presentations both within my company and externally. I also highly encourage developing skills in computer programming in addition to data and statistical analysis as the entire industry continually moves toward big data, cloud computing, and numerical weather prediction.

What other courses/skills beyond the required math and science courses do you think would be the most helpful to individuals wanting a career in your profession?

While attending university I thought I would go into broadcasting so I did a television internship and took several journalism and communication classes. Sometimes the harder science and math courses alone cannot provide enough preparation of the "soft sciences" of communication, technical writing, and interpersonal interaction.

What is your typical day on the job like?

Most of my time is spent on software development, writing code primarily in C++ (with some perl, python, and Fortran occasionally in the mix) and debugging my programs. I code on a MacBook and on a dedicated Linux platform to test and fine tune my programs before submitting the end result to be compiled and run on production servers at my company's headquarters. My company has a global presence, so I also participate in remote meetings via video conference to coordinate with my supervisors.

What do you like most about your job? What is the most challenging thing about your job?

The best aspect of my job is the continual learning process. Every day spent programming is an opportunity to learn new tips, tricks, and techniques, and I keep a repository of code and subroutines that can be applied to future programs. Although it can be daunting I also try to keep up with the latest developments in computer science including artificial intelligence and machine learning. The most challenging aspect of all of this is the need to remain engaged but not be overwhelmed. It is also vital to be self-motivated and to create personal goals if the professional ones are not clearly defined.

Does your job allow for a good work/life balance? If not, why?

Fortunately my job does provide a good work/life balance, as I have enough flexibility in my schedule to take care of personal and professional tasks as needed. My first decade was spent as an operational meteorologist on rotating shifts and moving to software development has led to a much more stable schedule, which has been beneficial for my family and my health.

Over the course of your career what is the most exciting thing that has happened to you?

I am most proud of becoming a Certified Consulting Meteorologist, as the process took a year to complete and required commitment during a time that I was very busy personally and professionally. My CCM is a clear example of the benefits of setting a goal and putting in the effort to achieve it.

Is there anything you wish you had done differently in your career?

If students and young professionals ask my advice I tell them "you can never know too much about computers or programming." Although my university course load required one three credit-hour Fortran course and I also took a one credit-hour C++ elective, I worked on developing my programming skills sporadically through my early career. If I had put more focus on computer science early on I may have achieved my current position sooner.

What are some "must haves" on a resume if a person wants to gain employment in your field?

Currently a B.S. in Atmospheric Science or some closely related field is the basic requirement, but advanced degrees, certification, and certainly computer science, programming, and statistical analysis skills are very beneficial.