Q&A with Andrea Keilholtz, vice president, Whiteboard Federal
Andrea Keilholtz has spent just more than a year as vice president of Whiteboard Federal, an analytic and software engineering firm focused on data science and cloud technology. After graduating from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, she found work supporting an Intelligence Community (IC) map library, where she helped manage the transition from hard copy maps to digital data as well as the creation of geospatial repositories. With nearly 30 years of experience in the geospatial field, she has gained expertise in geospatial engineering, project management, systems engineering, business development, government contracts, and more.
What is your advice for young, aspiring GEOINT professionals?
Find your passion. See if you can turn it into a viable opportunity. I went to college for landscape architecture. In my third year of design, we were introduced to GIS technology and I absolutely fell in love with it. Because my parents were in the IC, I spent 13 years living overseas. That experience developed my interest in geography, people, and cultures, and that integrated well with GIS.
My career was always about supporting the mission. Creating, searching, and retrieving geospatial data and creating actionable intelligence to support the mission was my way of contributing to the GEOINT discipline. Every day held a new challenge. Think about what aspect of the discipline related to geospatial science or intelligence is attractive to you, follow that, and see where it can lead.
How do you keep your team on pace with the industry’s constantly evolving IT and data needs?
Whiteboard Federal is great about providing training to individual employees. We have a lot of self-motivated people that train on their own through reading and online classes. We also have a significant annual training budget allocated to every single employee in the company, along with an additional 40 hours of chargeable training time. A huge percentage of this company takes advantage of that.
In addition, we have a bounty program for technical certification. We offer employees between $500 to $1,000 to obtain certifications in topics that are in high demand or are required for specific contracts. Quite a few of our people pursued certifications in 2017, so we’ll run the statistics and hopefully that will motivate even more people to do so next year.
What have you learned about being an effective, motivational leader?
The most important attribute is to listen. Listening applies to everyone: your employees, customers, and management. I place a great deal of value on people—your employees are your most valuable resource. I’ve had lots of employees follow me from one company to another and I take that as a compliment. Keeping employees happy and resolving issues immediately leads to a positive work environment.
What excites you most about the future of GEOINT?
In the last several years, the latest “big thing” is cloud technology. Really, that is just a mechanism for dissemination and storage of all the data we have managed to acquire or produce. As we’ve come to terms with moving our data to the cloud, I feel we are back at the point where the stall in geospatial technological development is about to end. Our attention is no longer diverted to solving the data management problem, so we can concentrate on exploring what fantastic new applications and analysis we can do with our data. I think we’re back on the upward slope of this roller coaster—it’s going to explode again.
How has USGIF membership helped your career?
I became involved with the Foundation in 2004, the first year of USGIF’s existence, and have attended all but two GEOINT Symposia. I’m a longtime member of the USGIF Planning Committee and was also the co-chair for the Interagency Working Group.
I find immense value in the convergence of like-minded people with the same passions into a forum where we can discuss industry trends and figure out how to disseminate geospatial information. Through USGIF working groups, the planning committee that organizes forums and meetings throughout the year, and certainly the Symposium itself, I was given the opportunity to connect with senior people at major intelligence organizations. I stay in contact with all the friends I’ve made through the network, and who I would’ve never met without USGIF.