David Pizzano was an undergraduate at George Mason University when his mentor said something that ultimately shifted Pizzano’s career path away from engineering.
“You’re really an economist, not an engineer,” the mentor said.
Pizzano, a Northern Virginia native who’s an executive at Amazon Web Services, said as he looks back at his 30-year career, “that man was absolutely right.”
His mentor had discovered Pizzano was a budding economist with a knack for total systems and lifecycles. He graduated from GMU with a Bachelor of Science in Economics, and later received his MBA from Averett University when position requirements in federal contracting changed and required a master’s degree.
The MBA was meant to prepare Pizzano for the next steps in his career.
He also continued higher education with a strategy-driven approach called balanced scorecard, and quantitative studies in customer analytics.
A self-proclaimed business technologist, Pizzano looks at problems from a business perspective and finds ways to implement technology to enhance those business processes. He finds he best impacts his customers by leading large programs, and has done so throughout his career.
But his career development was much like his college experience — a period of discovery.
Getting on the Right Track
Pizzano’s first professional role in the early 1990s was in finance, tracking revenue for United Services Life Insurance Corp.
At that time, the marketing campaign to insurance premium collections and analysis cycles lasted four to six months, using city blocks of mainframes and microfiche. Pizzano built a data warehouse with batch updates from the mainframe to provide updates on marketing effectiveness and allow daily course correction.
Building a user interface allowed the entire group to see results on demand and implement immediate product marketing changes.
“And a business technologist was born,” Pizzano said. “That company became a market leader in the use of technology, in an industry characterized by four-column ledger paper and green visors.”
Pizzano quickly developed a passion for defining new products and improving performance. That led him to become an internal consultant implementing technology solutions to gain real-time insights.
In fact, Pizzano jokes that he ran away and joined the circus — and in a way, he did.
“My professional friends thought I had lost my mind and wondered if I had the talent to perform in any of the acts,” Pizzano joked.
In reality, he was working for live show production company Feld Entertainment as manager of planning and analysis. The company owns traveling shows including the now-defunct Ringling Bros., Barnum & Bailey Circus and Disney on Ice.
Pizzano was on the team getting the company ready to go public, streamlining financial models and building solid revenue predictions in the global enterprise.
“When I built financial models and solutions for each unique brand, property and global tour, my professional friends started talking to me again,” Pizzano said. Those friends convinced him to join USinternetworking, the first Application Service Provider building out best practices and 90-day customer relationship management, enterprise resource planning and supply chain management solution implementations for Fortune 500 and public sector customers.
Pizzano was a managing consultant with USinternetworking from 2000–2001, running large programs in the commercial and public sectors.
“I found the more customers I worked with, the more opportunities I had to innovate for them and build reusable component solutions,” Pizzano said. He witnessed the company grow to 2,000 employees, and the public sector welcome as-a-service solutions.
Pizzano went on to hold several managerial and executive positions with Creative Information Technology, Inc., from 2003–2007. He was vice president of engineering and technology solutions and chief technology officer of Vangent, Inc., from 2011– 2013, and served as VP of solutions and CTO for GDIT from 2013–2016.
“Elevating to CTO across commercial, health, civilian, defense and national security customers drove me to build a reusable platform balanced between bleeding edge and proven high-volume solutions,” Pizzano said. “As general manager, I am able to develop not only the technology components, but all elements of a solution.”
He found his way to AWS in 2017, where his customer segments have included the General Services Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Office of Personnel Management and the departments of Agriculture, Interior and State, to name a few.
While Pizzano’s career has circled around consulting, technology and adapting to different market conditions in both government and industry, these days, he works more with public sector customers.
“I love the mission, and I love the challenge,” Pizzano said. “I work in public sector, and I still drive innovation for companies inside to offer to public sector. I enjoy making a difference for them there.”
Working for AWS has allowed Pizzano to innovate, create products and work with customers to implement emerging technologies that result in real, business-value impact.
“I’m able to work within to build things, and take them to customers,” he said. “Then you’re really creating a new market or creating a new opportunity.”
Plus, the opportunities in government contracting lead to enhancing constituent-facing services that could potentially have a global impact, and federal customers are constantly seeking innovation.
Leading Transformational Change
It was the ability to lead transformational change that led Pizzano to GovCon. It’s also what keeps him there.
“The pace of change in IT services is massive, with bleeding-edge technologies constantly arriving, but in need of proof of scale and value,” Pizzano said. “With each new technology arrives an opportunity to examine how it can or will impact the way we do business today. Each day, I have more opportunities to apply new technologies than time.”
For example, Pizzano led the contractor team that built the 10-print Live Scan solution that reduced six weeks of process time for fingerprint identification to milliseconds for a foreign affairs customer. These biometric fingerprint scanners are used to assess eligibility for a student, work or immigrant visa, or simply for identity verification.
But the solution had to be adaptable. His team worked with manufacturers to swap out the color of the laser to adapt to certain international standards. A red laser was well-received in the U.S., but others didn’t feel comfortable setting their fingers on top of a red shining light. Instead, they had to swap the red for green or white lights.
The technology behind that process is transformative, receiving fingerprint verifications back in milliseconds, rather than weeks.
“We built a system that wasn’t just specific to that particular use case,” Pizzano said. “We built a system that was reusable. This was so much more than technology, bridging multiple public sector agencies and working with them to hone alternatives into a global system that could be reused anywhere.”
That system was also recognized by the Executive Office of the President for best practice for biometrics.
But accolades aside, the opportunity to make those kinds of substantive transformative changes, improve processes and solve important constituent-facing problems gets Pizzano out of bed every morning.
“That’s what motivates me to work with my customers every single day,” he said.
Looking ahead, those types of universal solutions are Pizzano’s priority, especially as he works with global customers. He’s working to build a mesh architecture that would allow users to deliver business functions from anywhere, anytime and using any device.
“Technology may be the easier part of this system, as disparate international, information security and privacy laws are much harder to satisfy,” Pizzano said, as proven by his experience implementing the fingerprint scanner.
Pizzano wants to ensure he provides the right kinds of technologies, architectures, secure networks and solutions to his customers deploying people across the globe, or remotely.
Outcome-Driven Leadership and Mentorship
Pizzano has had several leaders and mentors who helped him realize and prioritize the end goal of an organization: to provide better services for his customers.
“To do those things, I’m going to build an organization, I’m going to build people, I’m going to build competencies, but the end goal is always to provide that customer outcome,” Pizzano said. And he’s always been on the leading edge of running teams and building large organizations, while continuing to learn how to make them better.
He’s also been taught to be ready for change, and view it as an opportunity to do something better, rather than as a setback.
“We cannot ignore, control or prevent change, rather plan for it, embrace it and use it as a competitive advantage while it lasts and prepare for the next,” Pizzano said.
While he plans to continue working with public sector agencies to deliver transformative change, he’s also using what he’s learned to help develop the next generation of innovation partners and GovCon innovators.
Pizzano gives back, mentoring small systems engineering businesses to help them understand the federal marketplace, build out their business plans and align their work with appropriate customer sets and missions.
“Mentoring doesn’t come at a cost, I sit with them, refine start-up business plans, point them in the right direction to build relationships, and help them grow,” Pizzano said.
He also joined the GovCon Advisory Board at GMU to work with and guide aspiring students into the field, to help them understand the marketplace, opportunities and path to a career in the industry.
“If you look at how did I get where I am today, it was with really good, strong mentors,” he said. “We all have innate capabilities, but with our mentors, they’re able to help us shape and point in the right direction, and refine those skills.”
When Pizzano attended GMU, that opportunity to learn about the industry didn’t exist. His mentor helped shape his career path when he was a student, and as an alumn, “I want to be able to do the exact same thing for that next generation,” he said.