Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory Reviews | Glassdoor

Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory Reviews

Updated September 15, 2017
275 reviews

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4.3
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Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory Director Dr. Ralph Semmel
Dr. Ralph Semmel
137 Ratings

275 Employee Reviews

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Pros
  • Work life balance is impressive compared to other companies (in 25 reviews)

  • Great benefits - flexible hours - good staff resources (in 25 reviews)

Cons
  • Matrix organization can be difficult to create a vertical career path (in 8 reviews)

  • At least in AMDS the line management tries to focus on project management tasks more than they should and doesn't spend enough time focusing on staff (in 6 reviews)

More Pros and Cons

  1. Featured Review

    Helpful (1)

    "Great Organization!"

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Current Employee - Senior Staff II in Laurel, MD
    Current Employee - Senior Staff II in Laurel, MD
    Recommends
    Positive Outlook
    Approves of CEO

    I have been working at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory full-time (More than 10 years)

    Pros

    I have been with four organizations in my professional career since college and this is by far the best. In addition to great programs, diversity and inclusion are highly valued; in fact, many of the top executives are now women including half the sector heads. Innovation is highly valued and the director has put in place a number of initiatives that are really exciting and forward leaning.

    Cons

    Middle management can be overly cautious at times.

    Advice to Management

    Keep up the push on innovation and inclusion. I have seen an amazing transformation of the Lab in the past several years, and the future looks bright.


  2. "Great benefits, bright people, comfortable place to work"

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Former Employee - Anonymous Employee in Laurel, MD
    Former Employee - Anonymous Employee in Laurel, MD
    Recommends

    Pros

    The management is very well educated on how to manage engineers. They dont hound you and understand the need for quiet time to do analysis. Great place to work, has a cafeteria so you don't have to bring a lunch or go out, and great benefits.

    Cons

    Sometimes the work can be dry and theoretical, but that's just the nature of the institution. You tend to feel like you're still in college. At the same time, you know you are working with bright people and no jabronees.

    Advice to Management

    Keep doing what you're doing. Good raises, frequent and organized reviews/feedback. I can't say enough about how well they treat engineers.

  3. Helpful (2)

    "A fantastic place to work, with only some minor issues"

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Current Employee - Project Manager in Laurel, MD
    Current Employee - Project Manager in Laurel, MD
    Recommends
    Approves of CEO

    Pros

    You have complete choice in an extremely wide range of assignments, most of which is world class cutting edge work. Transferring between groups or even working in several is not discouraged. While actual policies are set at the group level, most groups are very tolerant of individual preferences for start times, schedule, time off, etc., making APL feel like a really easy going place. The corporate feel is in between a university and a large corporate company. Most of the work produced by APL is top notch so you can stand up and give that sales pitch without feeling that you are going to need an auxiliary closet for all of the skeletons. One of the biggest pros of APL is the lack of idiots. You know what I mean, every company has them. They start speaking in a meeting and you start to cringe and squirm in your seat. I have worked for and with a large number of companies, and APL has by far the lowest percentage of incompetence which is quite refreshing. And yet, this doesn't come with the "I'm better than you," attitude that can happen when to many brains are in one place.

    Cons

    Well not all is perfect in paradise. Management, just like management elsewhere, can still make themselves part of a good idea and screw it up. Luckily, this isn't overly prevalent, but it still happens. APL is a great place to advance oneself technically, unfortunately, career wise APL is a bit slower to advance. Leadership positions take longer to earn and come slower than in the corporate world. Pay is also slightly down from equivalent corporate positions, but on the other side of that, job security is very good. Unfortunately or fortunately depending on your point of view, the disparity in salary between the 10th and 90th percentile employee is not great enough in my opinion. Like many places, the best way to move up is to shift jobs/companies and then come back.

    Advice to Management

    Find some new ways to let employees creatively pursue new ideas. The current IR&D process is a bit too driven on perceived ROI. Unfortunately since management is doing the perceiving, it's hardly infallible. If management took up a few ideas from Jack Welch I think that would be a good start. I would like to see some invigoration into our slightly stuffy management structure.


  4. Helpful (4)

    "Dad is proud"

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Current Employee - Crypto Engineer in Columbia, MD
    Current Employee - Crypto Engineer in Columbia, MD
    Recommends
    Approves of CEO

    Pros

    JHUAPL has perhaps the vastest collection of geeky projects available to work on collected into one campus. Walking from building to building through the habitrail tubes is a source of private amusement. Quality computer equipment provided upon arrival with a 3-year upgrade replacement policy and special requirements for non-standard hardware get handled promptly. No pay scales so no way to top out. Lots of odd little talks about techy/sciency subjects going on all the time that employees can go to (some are open to the public). Lots of educational opportunities that management encourages employees to take advantage of when not actively charging a to a project. And, finally, my dad, who toured the facility back in the late fifties or early sixties and was very impressed, is proud that I got a job there :-)

    Cons

    Bureaucracy and more bureaucracy. I guess this can be expected in a management heavy group of 4800 in a research organization. This means more non-project related meetings then in normal companies.

    The JHUAPL internal network is in the dark ages (the 1990s) - I have had to type my password over 30 times a day because of the lack of single sign-on and the multiple "central" repositories of information that cannot be searched easily or at all.

    The amount of nanny type programs running on the Windows boxes noticeably hurt performance or deny the ability to perform ones job (hint: get in the "bit9 developer" group so you can install the software you need). Or, you can get a MacBook pro with a Cinema Display which is much less encumbered (I went with a Dell because of the ability to have multiple displays).

    Advice to Management

    Get the internal network fixed.


  5. Helpful (1)

    "Good place to work."

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Former Employee - Electrical Engineer in Laurel, MD
    Former Employee - Electrical Engineer in Laurel, MD
    Recommends
    No opinion of CEO

    Pros

    1. Good place to start career
    2. You can take classes for free, take advantage of that
    3. Friendly atmosphere, plenty of young professionals
    4. Cool projects, group dependent.

    Cons

    1. Living is very expensive

    Advice to Management

    As long as the military machine keeps on going you'll be ok at APL.
    Never really dealt with senior management.


  6. Helpful (7)

    "This is where the really important stuff happens."

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Current Employee - Senior Professional Staff II in Laurel, MD
    Current Employee - Senior Professional Staff II in Laurel, MD
    Recommends
    Approves of CEO

    Pros

    Lots of critically important, truly meaningful work happens here. We build spacecraft bound for Mercury and Pluto. We build gadgets that are taken to war zones as soon as we finish a prototype, with troops clamoring for more as fast as we can make them. We invented satellite navigation. And, of course, the coolest and most important stuff can't be described on an open web site.

    Very good job security; the defense budget may go up and down, but classified work can never be moved overseas.

    Excellent blend of the intellectual stimulation of academia with the immediate, real-world impact of a high-tech defense contractor.

    True geniuses work here by the dozens.

    In a few departments (though not all), you have shocking freedom to work on whatever you find interesting and can get funding for. It's almost like being a freelancer, but with much better benefits.

    Free Master's degrees! Collect the whole set! And the classrooms are just steps from your office.

    Overall quality of life is very good. There are lots of clubs and intramural sports. It's super easy to switch from full-time to part-time and back again. The facilities are fairly new, with two cafeterias, a gym, tennis and basketball courts, softball fields, and a fishing pond. It's near cosmopolitan DC and Baltimore, but still out in the sparse suburbs where trees are plentiful, housing lots are big, and schools are good.

    Cons

    The good projects are not evenly spread. There is really important work going on, but not everyone is on such a project. Some departments have a large burden of routine, crank-turning work that is frankly not worthy of this organization.

    Talented junior people will not rocket to the top, especially not without a Master's degree or PhD. It is possible for recent grads with a BS to advance, but it takes a lot longer than at, say, an internet startup. We lose too many good associates because they get impatient with the pace of advancement. The situation is better for those in mid-career with advanced degrees.

    APL has historically been very technically driven, heavy on engineering and light on management, but this has been changing recently. It is still possible to have a decades-long career as a pure techie with steady advancement and plenty of recognition and respect, but it isn't as commonplace as it used to be. We need to halt the slide.

    In the departments where you have freedom to work on what you want, you have a corresponding responsibility to find the money for it. If you can find a sugar daddy, this is an awesome situation. If you can't, it can be supremely stressful to come to work each day not knowing where your coverage is going to come from.

    Advice to Management

    We're always seeking out new, high-impact work, but we do a poor job of jettisoning work that has become old and routine. Breaking up is hard to do, but it has to be done.

    Don't reward program managers on the basis of the quantity of work they bring in. Reward them on the quality of the work.

    When it's time for someone in the higher ranks to move on, tell them so. We can't afford keep making up silly positions for people that have been moved out of high-profile jobs, continuing to pay them upper-management salaries while they contemplate their navels.


  7. "Great Place To Work"

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Current Employee - Human Resources in Laurel, MD
    Current Employee - Human Resources in Laurel, MD
    Recommends
    Neutral Outlook
    Approves of CEO

    I have been working at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory full-time (More than 10 years)

    Pros

    Co-workers are truly focused on solving challenging technical issues. This means that there is a culture of teamwork, challenge and interesting work.
    Location in Howard County means a great commute and the work environment is positive.

    Cons

    The volume of work is high and at times finding ways to "get it all done" is difficult

    Advice to Management

    Keep encouraging innovative and impactful solutions for our sponsors.

  8. "A stable place with a great variety of technical work"

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Current Employee - Senior Professional Staff I in Laurel, MD
    Current Employee - Senior Professional Staff I in Laurel, MD
    Recommends
    Neutral Outlook
    Approves of CEO

    I have been working at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory full-time (More than 5 years)

    Pros

    I feel very stable here, and I sleep well knowing that if my current project isn't a good fit, it's very likely I can find something that fits my needs and future goals. Technical employees are encouraged, but not forced, to take on leadership and management roles. Recently, APL has pushed for more innovation by providing actual funding for ideas and building a "maker space" lab to help build more of an innovation-oriented community. Job stability is very high.

    Cons

    As with any large company, you have to put up with irritating policies: for example, buying software, even the smallest productivity-enhancing tool, takes way more effort and time than you'd expect (government regulations, apparently?). Your computer will feel like it's four years old even when it's fresh out-of-the-box because of the security-related stuff on it - fine if you're a PowerPoint jockey, but terrible if you need to do anything that requires more horsepower.

    Advice to Management

    Continue to trust your scientists technical people and keep up the innovation efforts.


  9. "Probably the best place to work for Aerospace Engineers"

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Current Employee - Associate Professional Staff II in Washington, DC
    Current Employee - Associate Professional Staff II in Washington, DC
    Recommends
    Positive Outlook
    Approves of CEO

    I have been working at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory full-time (More than 3 years)

    Pros

    All the fun parts of the field, not too many of the boring parts. Work is highly specialized at the associate level and you don't often find yourself bogged down with paperwork. Much more powerpoint than word processing, so presenting your indepth analysis is not a soul-destroying essay.

    Hours are great; rarely work over 40/week, and if you do wind up doing overtime, half of that is available as bonus leave the next pay period.

    Did I mention they pay pretty well?

    Cons

    You're not paid like you're on wall street working a ninety hour week. Because you don't work a ninety hour week.

    So don't expect a bonus, or a huge raise each year.

    Advice to Management

    Get Dr. Semmel out more to interact with us on an individual level. He's great.


  10. Helpful (2)

    "Great employer with some really neat opportunities."

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Former Employee - Senior Professional Staff I in Laurel, MD
    Former Employee - Senior Professional Staff I in Laurel, MD
    Recommends
    Negative Outlook

    I worked at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory full-time (More than 3 years)

    Pros

    Work life balance, retirement contribution matching, health benefits are great.

    Cons

    Compensation is ok, but not stellar - that's why I left. There seems to almost be a requirement to leave and come back to get a good raise. Otherwise your salary stays fairly flat from year to year.

    Advice to Management

    Recognize that pay increases are needed (especially with the rising costs of living). Find other ways to cut costs besides choking salaries.


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