A Day in the Life – Drew
What is your title? Describe what you do.
Technical Solutions Group Engineering Team Leader
I manage a team of eight systems and security engineers who provide onsite and remote support for CSCI customers and internal networks. Projects I work on directly are infrastructure support for email, application, and web servers. I work on various accreditation efforts for client systems needing IATT and ATO certifications, and any other projects that come to me and my team. I am a flex-player who can drop in on efforts, gather requirements, organize and execute a technical course of action.
What drew you to CSCI? Why did you choose to work here? How was the switch for you?
Twenty one years ago, I began a career transition into information technology by taking classes in systems administration. A friend of a friend gave me a referral for an entry level opening at CSCI and I applied. My interview went well, and it seemed like a good fit for me. I interviewed with the group lead, and the IT support techs, and it seemed like a small team of comrades who did the best they could with the challenges they faced. They were warm, interesting, humble, and open about their company. That seemed like a good place to start, and worth commuting from Maryland to Virginia for. Twenty one years later, here I am.
The switch of careers from professional chef to IT was relatively easy. Primarily it was easy because the regular business hours were an absolute luxury. The learning curve was steep, but it was a natural fit for the way which my mind works; logically structured, ordered, and concisely documented. The more I learned, the more it made sense to me, and thus the faster I learned.
What makes CSCI different than your previous workplaces?
From the outside, pretty much everything is different between a kitchen and a LAN room besides electricity. The things in common are teamwork, schedule and time management, and rolling with the punches that inevitably come your way.
What do you like best about working at CSCI?
The thing I like most about working at CSCI is the relationships with my co-workers that I have developed over many years. There are so many long-term employees here that when you invest time and energy getting to know people and working with them, it is rewarded rather than lost when people leave. Not everyone loves each other, and that is normal, but what is great is that everyone who has worked together for many years trusts, understands, and knows what to expect from one another. That creates a general harmony that spans day-to-day spats, power struggles, and bumps along the way. There is also a sense of belonging that comes to many employees, giving you a degree of security.
What is an example of a success story you have had at CSCI? How did you achieve success on that project or endeavor?
One of my first client projects was to chase down an idea and opportunity that the company president initiated. Collect, store, and exploit the metadata from UAS (drones) in real-time for the USMC. Some of my colleagues had made an initial testing effort and met some success. Another engineer and I took the ball and ran with it. Every year, we spent months in Yuma, AZ, at UMSC exercises developing, integrating, and engineering solutions that turned into a product line for CSCI. We went from being internal IT guys to leading a team of subject matter experts in UAS data flows and exploitation for the USMC. We developed and deployed systems to various USMC units, US Army, and US Navy; systems placed in labs, field, and even shipboard. Since then, technology has evolved, and the need for our systems has waned. However, we parlayed the skills we gained from those experiences into several other lines of work providing systems engineering, integration, and software development for DoD systems.
What advice would you give to someone looking to pursue a role like yours? Are there specific character traits or skills/certifications you should possess?
Listen, understand, learn, communicate, plan, execute. Listen to what people are saying, but also try to understand the subtext. What they are not saying can be just as important as what they are saying. Understand people, their motivations, goals, and needs. Learn from your mistakes and successes. You will have many of both. Communicate with your leadership, your peers, and your team, and your customers. Generate a quality flow of information and build trust amongst your connections. Communicate your needs, intentions, and goals to those around you. Plan for every contingency, expect the unexpected, roll with the punches. Execute your plans with confidence and trust that failures, problems, bugs, and setbacks will occur and learn from them. Do not be deterred or lose confidence.
What’s on your playlist when you’re focusing on a project at work and when you travel?
When I absolutely must tune out any distractions, Pink Floyd: Meddle.
What has helped you stay focused during this pandemic remote work situation? How have you adapted professionally?
Initially, when the technical group began working remotely, I had a new project to work on, and my team still was fully tasked, and we were all prospering professionally. Since that time, there have been many ebbs and flows of client work. During busy times, I find it very nice to be a remote employee. I am at work 15 minutes after waking up; I can prepare a meal between meetings or tasks. As an onsite employee, when I went home, I felt after-hours work was more of an intrusion on my personal life. As a remote employee, I really don’t mind ‘working late’ because I’m already home, and there is no time clock or whistle that says, work is over. In those ways, the flexibility really works well. As an onsite employee, I personally found it very hard to concentrate with many conversations and activities around me. It’s just too hard not to want to listen to everything. At home, it is quiet, and all conversations are the ones I choose, and that is very beneficial to my concentration. Working from home does come with different distractions. Instead of water-cooler conversations, it might be a conversation with my wife at home or social media. Overall, I would say my productivity for my position has greatly improved by becoming a remote employee.
When things get closer to normal, what is the first thing you want to do that you cannot do right now?
What started as abnormal is already our new normal. There was already a slow drift towards remote employees. Before the pandemic, I had pitched a plan to CSCI corporate to become a remote employee myself. The pandemic caused the entire Technical Solutions Group to become remote employees in one fell swoop before I could execute my plan. The pandemic did cause a one-year delay in my move from Virginia to Alaska, but now that move is complete. Working from Alaska does create a challenge in that I maintain east coast hours, working from 0500 until whenever. As far as Alaska is concerned, the pandemic has been over since June of 2021, and life is back to normal.
How will this unprecedented time change your perspective?
The pandemic had changed many people in many ways, but personally I do not feel very changed. The most important impact that I believe will last is the impact on remote/telework. I think remote / telework will become much more prevalent as businesses reduce their expensive floor space. Similar to the efficiencies of online retailers achieved by divesting from brick and mortar, businesses can divest themselves from office space. Employees will have a higher quality of life by living where they most want to live and work longer hours in exchange for commuting time. Employees will enjoy expense savings by living in lower-cost areas and eliminating the costs of commuting. My perspective has changed in what I would have seen as primarily an employee benefit; I now see it as a win-win scenario for both the employee and employer.