Written by WWC Team

PartnersWomen Who Code

Karen S. Burrows, Director, Integrated Warfare Systems Engineering, Naval Sea Systems Command, and Capt. Seiko Okano, Major Program Manager, Program Executive Office, Integrated Warfare Systems 2.0, Naval Sea Systems Command

Women Who Code recently met up with Karen Burrows and Capt. Seiko Okano from the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), the organization responsible for the design, construction, delivery, maintenance, modernization, and disposal of our Navy’s ships and ship systems. They talked about their paths to engineering in the Navy and how HACKtheMACHINE Seattle is opening up even more doors for solving the Navy’s critical technology challenges.

Meet Karen Burrows

Burrows’ team at NAVSEA ensures warfare systems for naval platforms meet all technical and operational requirements and specs.  

Her career path started in high school with a Carnegie Mellon University summer engineering program targeted to minority students. “That experience was transformative! I never knew there were so many different areas of engineering one could study. I was always pretty good in math and science growing up, and I loved to experiment and fix things.”

After college, she got a job in the Navy as an engineer, formulating and processing new high explosive compositions for weapons. “I got to see my work move from R&D to full-scale testing to actual use by our military servicemen.”

After building her technical, management and leadership skills, she moved to the Research and Engineering organization of the DoD where she spent seven years. “These experiences prepared me for my executive career today.”

Meet Capt. Seiko Okano

“Since I was a kid, I always wanted to be involved in space, whether as an actual astronaut or developing the vehicles that launch people into space,” said Capt. Okano. When she researched colleges with the most astronauts, the United States Naval Academy was at the top of the list. It was there that she earned a degree in aerospace engineering.

In the Navy, Capt. Okano became an engineering duty officer to learn how to design space, systems, “and just work on hard problems in general.” She’s worked on satellite systems, missile defense systems, radars, electronic warfare systems and lasers. “It’s been pretty awesome! Studying engineering in college really gave me these opportunities to work on some of the coolest challenges in the Navy.”

Women in Tech

According to Capt. Okano, getting more women into engineering in the Navy isn’t just a nice goal to reach for. It’s a mission imperative. “We’ve got some pretty daunting technology challenges in the future, and we have to make sure that we have the best and brightest to tackle them.”

In Burrows opinion, the gender gap is already closing. “Women are increasingly present and performing the same roles in many cases as our male counterparts. It’s finally not such a novelty anymore.”


By lowering barriers to participation and bringing in innovators from diverse populations, HACKtheMACHINE is helping to make engineering even more inclusive. “Many of the participants are not your typical DoD contractor types,” said Burrows.

And this is a good thing. “They bring unique and novel approaches to solving problems.”

“HACKtheMACHINE is a brilliant way for the U.S. Navy to get the most creative thinkers to solve our hardest problems,” Capt. Okano agreed. “With tech changing faster than experts predicted, Naval systems will have to incorporate advances in artificial intelligence, robotics, material sciences, quantum computing, and more. The Navy has to find ways to keep up with the pace.”

Join NAVSEA at HACKtheMACHINE – the Blue Angels for Geeks – from Sept. 21-23 at Galvanize Pioneer Square.