South, then North and to Space

Posted on June 22, 2020
Thomas Becnel

Martavious Hails, a spring 2020 computer science graduate, works on a NASA team that uses satellite information to improve short-term weather forecasting.  data-lightbox='featured'
Martavious Hails, a spring 2020 computer science graduate, works on a NASA team that uses satellite information to improve short-term weather forecasting.

#MyFirstJob is a series focused on University of South Alabama Class of 2020 graduates who are beginning their careers.

Martavious Hails, a 2020 computer science graduate from the University of South Alabama, spent three summers interning with high-tech companies in Huntsville.

That’s where he’s starting his career, too, as a contractor with the Jacobs Space Exploration Group at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.

Hails works on a NASA team called SPoRT – Short-term Prediction, Research and Transition Center – which uses satellite information to improve short-term weather forecasting.

“Basically,” he explained, “we take weather data from the geostationary environmental satellite and figure out ways to transmit and display it.”

His plans for the future include a master’s degree in computer science. One day he’d like to work for Google. He thinks he would enjoy living in Atlanta or California.

Hails, 22, is from Montgomery, where his mother is director of education services for the state Department of Corrections. He attended Brewbaker Technology Magnet High School, where he studied graphic design and took a recruiting trip to the University of South Alabama.

“After that, I was hooked,” he said. “I liked the campus and the people were cool. I liked Mobile and the history of Mobile.”

At South, Hails lived on campus in the Delta Residence Hall. He was a resident assistant for two years.

“Sometimes it would get pretty hectic,” he said. “If you don’t like dealing with people, interacting with people, then you wouldn’t like that job.”

Hails minored in mathematics. He was active in the National Society of Black Engineers, where he was chapter vice president, and Collegiate 100, a 100 Black Men of America-supported program that focuses on the development of students through mentoring.

“Those were my two main organizations,” he said. “We’re still a minority in my field, there definitely needs to be improvement. But companies are opening up, things are getting better.”

In Huntsville, he’s still new, but a friend already found one place for him to volunteer.

“Right now, I’m working with a Boy Scout troop,” he said. “Just being a role model, giving them someone who’s kind of their age, doing the right thing.”

Hails remains a young gamer who can spend hours on his computer playing rocket League or Titanfall 2. Online, he’s always been “martydude15.” He enjoys competing and catching up with his friends.

In real-life Huntsville, he’s among thousands of young tech workers. Night life includes ax-throwing. Ax-throwing?

“Ax-throwing,” he said. “The secret is not throwing it too hard, and not throwing it too soft.”

His girlfriend is planning a move to Nashville, less than a two-hour drive from Huntsville. She’s also a 2020 graduate of South. They met through the Society for Black Engineers.

For now, Hails is on his own in north Alabama. His mom taught him at least one go-to recipe for meals at home.

“I make some great brown sugar glazed salmon with rice and green beans,” he said. “It hits every time.”

He stays away soft drinks and coffee.

“Water, juice and willpower,” he said. “I don’t want that caffeine addiction.”

During college, Hails enjoyed summer internships at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology in Huntsville. There was no pressure. He could imagine a bright future with a forward-thinking company.

“It was fun, the coolest thing ever,” he said. “Most of the people I worked with were awesome.”

Nearing graduation, he looked for employment in what became a challenging job market. It was frustrating. Her heard himself saying the same things in dozens of interviews.

Until everything came together with Jacobs and NASA in Huntsville.

“My best interview ever,” he said. “It was fantastic. I kind of knew the area, so I was able to drop some names, and some of the things going on.”

Hails got the job, graduated and moved north. He’s still adjusting to corporate life. The coronavirus pandemic hasn’t helped.

Like so many South graduates, Hails is working from home.

“It’s weird,” he said. “You just roll out of bed and you’re at work. I kind of have to force myself to stop at the end of the day. I’m the kind of person who, if I have a problem, I’m going to sit there and work until I solve it.”

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