The finalists for WashingtonExec’s Pinnacle Awards were announced Oct. 8, and we’ll be highlighting some of them until the event takes place virtually Nov. 12.
Next up is Artificial Intelligence Industry Executive of the Year finalist Todd Borkey, who’s chief technology officer at Alion Science and Technology. Here, he talks proud career moments, future focus areas and shaping the next generation of GovCon leaders.
What has made you successful in your current role?
Finding the right people and recognizing opportunity early. I was able to incubate an R&D program where we found and empowered the most entrepreneurial engineers and developers from across the company. Together, we designed projects targeting change and impact. Having spent three decades working on next-generation technologies across a range of domain areas in communications and defense, I was able to apply a framework for project selection.
It was also a cultural shift as we challenged new teams to think big. We saw the AI economy exploding in Silicon Valley back in 2017 and spent the last three years developing our analog interpretation for government clients. Therefore, success was a combination of seeing the massive gains in AI very early, acting promptly and empowering the right people.
What are you most proud of having been part of in your career?
I am blessed to have worked on a range of high-impact projects in great organizations during my career. Many of them stand out to me because of the learnings which came with them. I am both proud and lucky to have received the mentoring early in my career at both Sandia and AT&T Bell Labs.
However, my most proud moments are Alion’s recent achievements made with a group of young developers and data scientists in the Alion APEX program. The program is a paid internship that allows university students studying computer science and artificial intelligence to work on real solutions for current customers. I am continuously inspired by the capabilities and maturity of these young developers who contribute to our projects at levels far beyond their years of experience.
I am proud to have created the environment where this new kind of talent can thrive. This team, led by one of my directors, Brendan McElrone, embodies all Alion’s company values of inclusiveness, curiosity, agility, fearlessness and honesty.
What are your primary focus areas going forward, and why are those so important to the future of the nation?
We have developed a pipeline of R&D initiatives which will help transform our customers’ organizations into data exploitation enterprises. We have developed AI-powered sensors and mission control systems, which accelerate decision-making and reduce human error from fatigue. We have developed systems which use AI to distill massive amounts of data down to enriched data sets as humans can’t scale across the petabytes of information now available to us.
Our immediate goals include developing human machine teaming where AI can augment the human decision-making processes in or on the loop. Development and deployment of all these concepts are vital to the security of our nation.
The AI revolution is a massive technology inflection and it will affect every aspect of our customers operations. We are committed to lead it.
How do you help shape the next generation of industry leaders?
I try to lead by example as we plan and control a forward-leaning R&D focus around disruption. It is as much about culture as it is around technical decision-making. I try to facilitate both.
After three decades of calculated risk taking, I have learned a great deal about selecting and managing the teams where innovation can thrive. I have learned that a “make a difference” and “fail forward” culture is contagious and highly rewarding to those who embrace it. It cannot succeed, however, unless it is built entirely upon unsolved customer needs.
What is your best career advice for those who want to follow in your footsteps?
Run at the challenges. Take assignments along your career which force you to grow. Find a combination of mentorship and newly chartered assignments which you can make your own. Be sure to balance listening with the technical solutioning so that every aspect of adoption is thought through, including the business model.
Be a seeker of truths and make it the culture of your teams. Hire people with both “heart” and knowledge. You will find that “heart” matters a great deal.