How did you get started in the IC/what inspired you to build a career in national security?
I got my start in the IC right out of college, in 2001, joining up with a large consulting firm. The timing, so close to the events of 9/11, was compelling to me. With my country literally under attack, I wanted to support the fight, and the best way I could personally have impact was—and still is—to support the national security mission. Over the last 20+ years, I’ve supported many different IC clients, helping to drive solutions and lead teams that are having real impact on our clients’ missions. Perhaps I could ‘have it all’ with a lucrative commercial career, but I would argue that I do have it all because I get to support missions that are critical to the security and stability of this nation. My parents chose to live in this country, and I can’t think of a more appropriate way to honor their sacrifice of leaving their home country than to support the Intelligence Community.
What excites you the most about your job?
In addition to supporting client missions, one of the best parts of my career is growing the next generation of mission support. We have worked hard over the last several years to really expand our data science community in support of the IC. Data science wasn’t necessarily a client need when we started to create our cadre of experts. Leading the clients on the journey toward understanding how this capability could apply to their missions, how to apply the new capability without interrupting current delivery, and ultimately achieving client adoption, that’s what gets me excited about my role supporting the IC.
In the next two-to-three years, what do you think will be the top IC issue/focus/trend?
Technology evolves so quickly, it’s hard to predict what our focus will be in the next two to three years. Our biggest threat hasn’t even been invented yet. I do think it’s safe to say that Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning will play an important role, regardless of what the emerging threat may be. Multi-cloud and hybrid cloud architectures will also play into future concerns, there is a lot of infrastructure that is not currently designed to operate optimally in cloud environments. Pushing and pulling large amounts of data across different providers will result in huge increases in operational costs, could potentially have speeding performance impacts—delaying mission outcomes—could create stability issues, and will eventually lead to a general degradation of capabilities—all of which will severely impact the client mission.
What one piece of advice would you offer a student considering a career in the IC?
A few pieces of advice I like to share with colleagues just starting out in their careers are invest in yourself, build new skills, don’t be afraid to reinvent yourself, and don’t be afraid to question something. Don’t feel like you must stick with the skills you learned in college. Each job you have, every mission you support, keep growing and learning. Capitalize on your fresh perspective and ask why things are done a certain way. You could be the catalyst for change.
In one sentence, what is your leadership philosophy?
As leaders, it is our responsibility to model curiosity, creativity, innovative thinking, and how to take informed/calculated risks.
What is your favorite movie/book/TV show/podcast?
My absolute favorite book is “The Infinite Game” by Simon Sinek. Getting to the Why of what you do, and why you do it the way you do it is a core element that we often overlook. If you don’t have the time to read the entire book, I recommend you check out some of his videos. How and why we connect with others is integral to just being human.
"A few pieces of advice I like to share with colleagues just starting out in their careers are invest in yourself, build new skills, don’t be afraid to reinvent yourself, and don’t be afraid to question something. Don’t feel like you must stick with the skills you learned in college."Saurin Shah