From Architecture to GEOINT

How the GEOINT Symposium helped CeCe Smith pursue a major career change


CeCe Smith, Orbital Insight

For about three years, CeCe Smith worked at Lake Flato Architects in San Antonio, Texas, involved in projects such as the Pearl Brewery Redevelopment, a multi-phase plan tied to the San Antonio River Walk expansion. Though she was contributing to local change, Smith sought to pursue a career in the geopolitical world.

“I looked for organizations I could get involved with, such as AFCEA,” Smith said. “Then learning about AFCEA led me to learn more about USGIF. I became a member of USGIF shortly before GEOINT 2017.”

Smith was concerned her experience and skillset wouldn’t necessarily translate well on paper to a new career in geospatial intelligence. So, in 2017, she attended the GEOINT Symposium in San Antonio with the goal to network as much as possible. Smith now works in technical documentation for USGIF Member Orbital Insight—hers is a true GEOINT Symposium success story.

Why did you decide to switch careers?

It was a huge life decision to transition away from a career that I had spent a lot of time in, and I knew I would have to move. It took me over a year to decide. By the time GEOINT 2017 came around, I was 70 percent sure I was ready to make the leap. People from my AFCEA chapter who had participated or were going to the GEOINT Symposium encouraged me to attend. They said the conference would either make or break my decision.

How did your background in architecture prepare you for a career in GEOINT?

In architecture, I conducted spatial analysis to predict which residents would vote for county bonds proposing new construction. I developed spatial interaction models to make design decisions about visitor circulation throughout a mixed-use building or to facilitate pedestrian and traffic flow in urban centers. I actively incorporated data collection sensors into building designs to empower energy efficient and high-performance buildings, foster occupant and environmental wellness, and create data-rich, smart cities. There are many parallels between geodesign, data and sensor-based design, and their connections to the problem-solving and data-driven decisions that are prevalent in GEOINT.

What was your career transition strategy?

My strategy for getting a job in the Intelligence Community was attending the GEOINT Symposium. I took the week off from work and self-funded my attendance. I spoke with private companies, a systems integrator, and employees from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the National Reconnaissance Office. I wanted to make sure I spoke with a wide variety of people. By the time the event ended, I figured I would either have a new job or have planted the seeds to get one.

How did you arrive in your current position?

Christopher Incardona, a former Orbital Insight employee, recruited me. He posted on LinkedIn that he was attending GEOINT 2017 and looking to fill a client success manager position. I reached out and we scheduled a time to meet. I was able to get an offer shortly after that, and I moved my life from San Antonio to D.C. I am now the technical writer for Orbital Insight, where I develop intelligence reports for government programs and product education materials for customers.

What USGIF groups are you involved with?

I have attended several gatherings with USGIF’s Young Professionals Group (YPG). At GEOINT 2017, I made sure to attend several YPG networking opportunities. I am also an active member of USGIF’s Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence Working Group and am co-leading the AI Lexicon Subgroup with Peter Morosoff. This year, we are focused on developing an ontological framework the GEOINT community can use for communicating about AI.

What advice would you give other young professionals who want to switch careers?

If you’re not in the Intelligence Community, the field may feel out of the realm of possibility. It’s not—the community is full of people who are doing a lot of different things such as architecture and engineering. People cared more about the passion that I had to produce great work. Also, I can’t reiterate how important it is to be there and be present. We foster relationships online, and though that was part of my strategy, it was even more important to network in person.

Headline Image: CeCe Smith at the Orbital Insight booth during GEOINT 2018. Smith used her architectural skills to help design the booth.

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