Take risks. Network outside of your field. Spend time doing something that has no connection to your job.
Lindy Bersack, quality management team lead with Blue Canopy, is big on note-taking, so when she attends USGIF events, she jots down these snippets of advice, which aid in her professional and personal growth. Bersack even added a new acronym to her lexicon: PIC. That’s Professionalism, Integrity, and Character. She first heard PIC in a talk given by retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Michael Lee, national security partner at Blue Canopy, who initially encouraged Bersack’s involvement with USGIF’s Young Professionals Group (YPG).
“I can’t begin to tell you how much I’ve learned,” Bersack said. Through various YPG events, she’s attended training sessions for Esri and OpenStreetMap, networking happy hours, speed mentoring sessions, and service projects such as the International Spy Museum’s SpyFest, where the YPG helped children build model satellites out of household items.
From Lee’s perspective, Bersack is gaining confidence, thanks largely to her YPG participation.
“Lindy was almost a little timid,” said Lee, a member of the USGIF Board of Directors. “YPG has forced her to the next level. She’s poised, professional, and she is a much more valued asset for us.”
Lee added that Bersack’s increased involvement gives her visibility within the company—and among Intelligence Community seniors—that otherwise might have been unattainable.
Lee, a skilled networker who actively mentors about a half-dozen people at any given time, said he teaches young professionals communication skills and stresses the importance of “knowing how to walk up, look someone in the eye, and make small talk as you get to know them.” He’s set a personal goal to get at least one junior intelligence professional involved with YPG each year.
However, not enough senior leaders follow Lee’s example: YPG has around 400 individuals on its listserv, even though USGIF has more than 240 member companies and organizations, employing hundreds of thousands of highly skilled workers. So, where are all the young GEOINT professionals?
“Companies have to understand the value of having young people involved in an organization [such as YPG],” Lee said. “It’s good for professional growth, but personal growth as well.”
Often, young professionals aren’t sure where to find networking opportunities.
“I wanted to be involved with the Community, but I had no idea where to look,” said Mike Campanelli, a senior systems engineer with RadiantBlue Technologies, and a member of the USGIF Board of Directors. “I would have had no idea to Google ‘USGIF YPG.’”
Fortunately, Campanelli’s supervisor, Todd Ham, told him about USGIF and encouraged him to develop a strong network—recognizing that his own mentors have been tremendous assets throughout his career, and wanting to do the same for the next generation.
Sam Unger is the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency account program performance manager at TASC, and also serves on the YPG Working Group (YPGWG), which plans YPG initiatives and events.
“If I’m giving my time, I want to know what it’s going toward,” Unger said. He added that the YPGWG is discussing longer-term projects with definitive goals that appeal to the next generation, but getting the word out and helping managers and executives recognize the value of YPG participation is equally important, he said.
“It’s a bonus for management, because they are always trying to figure out, ‘How do I keep my Millennials engaged?’” Unger said. “YPG is a great channel for opportunity and innovation. It’s a feedback mechanism for management, because the young professionals come back to the office talking about new ideas.”
Shay Har-Noy, founder of TomNod, which was acquired last year by DigitalGlobe, is active with YPG and says networking needs to be a higher priority for his peers. He likes
to say that people at all career levels should have mentors, and everybody should print their own business cards—without a company logo—and market themselves with an eye on their future.
And that future means the time when today’s GEOINT Community leaders will retire. Bersack understands that she and her contemporaries will eventually take charge, relying on the relationships they are forging today.
“The more mentoring and exposure we get now,” she said, “the better off we’ll be when we have to step into those positions.”