Naval personnel operating ballistic missile defenses need to know the status of those systems at a glance.
That means someone has to figure out how to collect, aggregate and present a range of data in an easy-to-understand visual format on a computer monitor or touch screen.
Such readouts are called human-machine interfaces, or HMIs. For Justin Castronovo ’19, building them is his dream job.
Justin is a graduate of the instrumentation and control technologies program, now known by a more straightforward name: smart systems technologies. He is a civilian contractor at the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) in Philadelphia where he works on the Aegis Ashore land-based missile defense system.
“The human can’t just go to the chilled water system and get all the data from it,” he explained of the complex machinery. “There has to be some in-between way to get all that data in a reasonable format for a human to look at quickly and say, ‘Hey we’ve got a high-pressure alarm at the chilled water system.’”
HMIs are everywhere, including laptops and cell phones.
“Little do people know that behind that screen is a lot of programming that goes into it to make those communications happen, and that’s where I lie, in making that conversation happen with the machinery in the field,” he added.
HMIs appeal to Justin’s interest in the inner workings of technology. In high school, he enrolled in BOCES classes for electronics and computer technology. As a senior, he visited the Victor Campus Center and met Sam Samanta, professor of physics, an unflagging advocate for the smart systems program he coordinates.
“I needed that mentor figure to say, ‘Hey, here’s something I think you would be good at, and I think you would enjoy,’” Justin said of that pivotal encounter. “I knew I wanted to be in the tech industry, and I knew I wanted to do something with electronics and computers, but I wasn’t sure what. So when I found Sam’s program, I was like, ‘This is perfect, this stuff is awesome.’”
The smart systems degree combines a range of fields, from electronics and automation to process improvement and data acquisition, appealing to Justin’s fascination with what goes on behind the screen.
As a graduate of Caledonia-Mumford High School, he also appreciated the atmosphere of the Victor center.
“It seemed more like a family there and a home, and that’s important to me because I grew up in a very small town. Knowing the people I go to school with and knowing my professors and having that connection was important,” he said.
He credits Sam with keeping the programming relevant and engaging.
“Technology is ever-evolving, and I think that’s something Sam incorporated well into his program. He wasn’t just stuck teaching the same thing. He’d always be switching up the material and courses, which helps you evolve to learn new things and keep up with the technological times,” Justin added.
As part of the program, he interned with Bosch Security Systems in Fairport, testing security products such as motion sensors.
Sam, as program coordinator, takes the time to match a student’s skills and qualities to the specific needs of a company when making co-op placements and job referrals. This custom approach helps both parties: students continue learning while small- and medium-size companies get potential future hires.
“The keystone in this arc of community growth is a motivated, life-long learner, of which Justin Castronovo is a prime exemplar,” he said. “Justin is an unboastful, joyous collaborator. He lets his work speak for itself.”
At Sam’s urging, Justin transferred to SUNY Oswego for computer science. Before graduating in 2021, Justin worked two summer and two winter breaks for New Scale Technologies in Victor, testing a robotic gripper that could pick up and measure a part to make sure it met certain specifications. In the back of his mind, he wanted to pursue HMI.
“I fell in love with it in college and knew it was something I wanted to do. People might say, ‘Whoa, isn’t programming hard?’ Well, no. It’s just a different way of thinking, and maybe sometimes that scares people,” he began. “That different way of thinking, that engineering mindset, it does change the way you think when you take computer science courses, but that’s what it’s supposed to do, and you’re supposed to grow as a person.
“I really like where I’m at with my career, and I like that I can call it a career now because it definitely does feel like a job that I can do for a long time.”