Have you ever wondered if it was possible to combine two very different interests, like a passion for the environment and a strong computer background, to create your ideal career? In this career interview, an enterprise team leader for the Forest Service shares how he has combined his thirty-three years of experience in information technology in a career working for the government Forest Service.
What is your job title and what industry do you work in? How many years of experience do you have in this field?
Enterprise Team Lead for the Forest Service. I have over thirty-three years of information technology experience, with twenty-three being in a military environment.
What’s your ethnicity and gender? How has it hurt or helped you? If you ever experienced discrimination, how have you responded and what worked best? Do you speak another language, and has it been helpful in your career?
I am a Mexican-Italian male. For senior-level positions even in the government, I think ethnicity and gender are directly related, and the issues are very evident on the discrimination. Through my network of friends, I have seen who gets interviewed and who gets hired. My background, experience, skills, and—most importantly in today’s world—education are double or even triple that of the people who get the promoted. Unfortunately (unless it is brought out directly) I do not see any changes coming, and I believe a person’s ethnicity will continue to be a factor in their success. I dealt with this issue by mentioning it, but nothing really changed or was addressed because their documentation was in order.
How would you describe what you do? What does your work entail? Are there any common misunderstandings you want to correct about what you do?
I am the day-to-day coordinator for the Forest Service in networking operations. Anything that deals with routers and switches or communications will be handled by our team. Last year we spent over twenty-four million dollars, but because of budget cuts, this number will be drastically cut to well under the ten million dollar area this year.
I think the government spends too much money when a better planned process would drastically reduce their expenditures. Everything is political, and this has been a stumbling block to getting our work done in the information technology department. Also, the government should implement a more integrated system that would save billions in the duplication of process costs. But, more directed influence must happen before this can truly take place.
On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate your job satisfaction? What might need to change about your job to unleash your full enthusiasm?
Three. I love the job, but promotions should be based on experience, skills, and education instead of promoting employees with the most seniority who just do their job and always have a «yes» answer. I’m not saying that «yes» is bad, but sometimes the best thing for the project and the budget is to say «no.» A «yes» environment leads to stress and low morale.
If this job moves your heart – how so? Ever feel like you found your calling or sweet spot in life? If not, what might do it for you?
There are no better employees than Forest Service workers. I have been associated with the government for over thirty-three years, and this group works like you would not believe. The problem is that they work too many hours, and managers and supervisors know that they go beyond the forty-hour work week and do not charge for that work. To me, this issue is unethical. But still, this «yes» environment exists, and unless folks are kept accountable, nothing will change. Sad but true.
How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and do it differently, what would you change?
I got started in this line of work when I was in the military. With my upbringing, the military was my best option for job training and a lucrative career. Now, kids have tons of options, and this is GREAT!!!
If I had to do it over, I would put more effort into making friends at every opportunity given and focus on building a strong business network throughout my career. That saying of «Never burn bridges,» is a true statement. I never burnt bridges, but I also never built bridges like I should have been at every opportunity, and I regret it.
What did you learn the hard way in this job and what happened specifically that led up to this lesson?
I think the most important thing I have seen and learned from experience is to remember where you came from, and know who you are. All the time I hear people say, «This or that will change if I go to a new position,» then they go to that position, and nothing changes. No matter where you go, there you are, and you are likely to take your strengths, weaknesses, and character flaws with you. A change in job alone will not change who you are.
Honor, truth, and respect is what I live and will die by. It is on my MBA ring (never had a high school or Bachelor ring, couldn’t afford it then).
What is the single most important thing you have learned outside of school about the working world?
Networking, networking, networking… Build your network early and expand it often.
Why do you get up and go to work each day? Can you give an example of something that really made you feel good or proud?
To support my family and only this reason.
It makes me feel good when someone comes up to me and thanks me personally for something I have done. Awards and accolades mean nothing to me, but when I receive heartfelt personal recognition for my work, it makes me very proud. In my job, people trust my abilities and count on me to fight for their wants and needs; I am their voice.
What kind of challenges do you face and what makes you just want to quit?
Bureaucracy is the challenge: I would like to get that promotion to show folks that you do not have to be a «yes» person to be successful; keeping people as a priority should be the daily priority.
How stressful is your job? Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance? How?
VERY stressful. Yes, I am able to maintain a comfortable balance. I spend my time off with family and also occasionally take a day off for myself.
How much vacation do you take? Is it enough?
I probably take a week every two years, but I do take off to take care of home issues and appointments. But going on a real vacation, I’d say I take one every two years. Certainly, it is not enough, but that is my fault and nobody else’s.
What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?
If they are interested in going into government work, I would tell them that you might not get the salary like you would in the commercial world, but it is much more concrete and stable than the commercial world. If they were just generically entering the field of Information Technology, I would recommend getting certifications before a college degree. Sad but true.
I went the route of the degree, but should have gone the certification route; I probably would have advanced more quickly.
If you could write your own ticket, what would you like to be doing in five years?
I would like to be a CIO for a Government agency or department. I know that I could make a difference if given an opportunity.