The finalists for WashingtonExec’s Pinnacle Awards were announced Oct. 13, and we’ll be highlighting some of them until the event takes place virtually Dec. 8.
Next is Cloud Industry Executive of the Year (Private Company) finalist Seth Moore, who’s president and CEO of T-Rex Solutions, LLC. Here, he talks key achievements, learning from failures, career advice and more.
What key achievements did you have in 2020/2021?
Two of our achievements stand out above the rest. Both are team efforts and are certainly not mine alone. In 2020, the Census Bureau undertook a digital Decennial Census for the first time in U.S. history. T-Rex was the technical integrator for the 2020 Census, helping the bureau implement and leverage the next-generation technology that successfully enabled the first U.S. internet channel to collect Census responses.
To facilitate the transition from paper to digital, the bureau implemented four major innovations:
- In 2010, the Census Bureau hired tens of thousands of employees to validate its Master Address File in the field. For 2020, the bureau completed a significant portion of that work in office, utilizing geospatial imagery to reduce the workload in the field, resulting in cost savings and a considerably smaller workforce.
- For the first time in U.S. history, respondents were able to complete their census questionnaire online. Nearly 90 million households chose this new option.
- Enumerators used smart phones to complete Census questionaries in the field during the Non-Response Follow Up operation, replacing pencil and paper in the field, too.
- Also for the 2020 Census, the bureau leveraged existing administrative records to increase the accuracy of the decennial count.
I am extremely proud of our team who designed, implemented, operated and secured the hybrid/multicloud infrastructure that hosted the 52 IT Systems used to execute the Census. We had development responsibilities for three of the 52 systems and were responsible for integrating and testing the 52 systems as a system of systems. The 2020 Census hosted in our cloud environment didn’t experience a second of downtime across an extended operational timeframe due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The second achievement was the success of our T-Rex Cares Program, where we donated $1.7 million to charitable causes in 2020. Within that $1.7 million, T-Rex donated $200k to COVID-19 causes in the local communities where we operate. We also continued our support to many important causes supporting STEM, veterans and at-risk children.
Dream Big, an organization founded and led by T-Rex executive and shareholder, Sean Murphy, offers a placed-based approach to co-develop, resource and deliver a high-quality continuum of educational services, which enable young people to choose with dignity their own path toward success.
It works with a community mandate to coordinate, fund and deliver best-practice, place-based pre-K through young adult learning that enables under-resourced young people to choose with dignity their own path to healthy, happy lives.
What was a turning point or inflection point in your career?
There have been three inflections points in my career. In 2007, I was approached to take on a stretch assignment on a large development program. The role was a stretch, because it was my first leadership role and because I was asked to lead a function that I had no previous experience with.
It was the most difficult three years of my career, but I learned more about how to be a leader in those three years than I have in all of the other years of my career combined.
The second inflection point was in 2012 when I was provided the opportunity to move to Australia to help recover a distressed program. Moving outside of the country with my wife and 18-month old son, away from the support system we had built for our family, was way outside of my comfort zone. I learned so much about myself personally during that experience.
I also proved myself professionally under difficult circumstances and expanded my network significantly, which ultimately led me to the role I currently hold.
The third inflection point was leaving the largest defense and government contractor in the world to join a small business that was facing a significant scalability challenge. It was a difficult decision I struggled with. Even after making the move, I worried that I had made a mistake.
In the end, it was the best decision I ever made. The common theme across each of these inflection points is that when faced with getting out of my comfort zone, I accepted the challenge even when I was sure I would fail. The lesson I’ve taken from those experiences is that the minute you feel comfortable in a role is the minute you should start looking for the next challenge. Getting out of your comfort zone is a great thing.
What’s one key thing you learned from a failure you had?
Own your failures. No one is perfect; we all make mistakes and bad news doesn’t age well. This lesson was reinforced to me a few years back when I made a significant error in the financial analysis I was presenting to a division president. It was my first opportunity to work with the president, and I wanted to make a great first impression.
Unfortunately, within an hour of making the presentation, I discovered the error in my analysis. As I was trying to decide my next course of action, I had two clear choices: March into the president’s office and transparently explain the error and its impact, or do nothing and hope not to get burned by the error down the road.
The president was known for his temper and for being particularly hard on those delivering bad news. I knew disclosing the error was going to be a difficult conversation, maybe one that would risk the upward mobility in my career.
After a little internal deliberation, I knocked on the president’s door. To my surprise and relief, the president thanked me for admitting my error, for quickly identifying it and for bringing it to his attention along with the corrected analysis. The interaction that I feared would set my career back actually accelerated a positive relationship between me and the president.
Also, fail fast and take calculated risks. With risk comes reward and you can’t be afraid of failure. There is a certain stigma to the word “failure.” By failing fast and embracing failure, you’re able to overcome the stigma and create a culture of innovation.
Accepting failure as an outcome incentivizes teams to test ideas they otherwise would have passed over, which often results in new and better solutions to the challenges facing our customers.
What’s your best career advice for those who want to follow in your footsteps?
Surround yourself with good people. Find folks who are great at what they do, but also have the intangibles: team players who put collective success in front of individual success. Elevate people who genuinely care about others and want what’s best for their teammates and customers. Recruit with succession in mind.
So often I see leaders pass on candidates because they are afraid. Afraid the candidate will ultimately take their job or that the candidate will overshadow them. Those are the exact type of candidates you should be looking for.
I’ve been really fortunate to work with a group of leaders who are experts in their field, who care about one another and their teams and have a passion for helping our customers achieve their mission objectives.
What are your primary focuses going forward, and why are those so important to the future of the nation?
Our primary focus area is always how to best help our customers succeed. IT plays such a vital role in enabling mission success for our customers. When we look into the future, we see emerging technologies (artificial intelligence machine learning, blockchain, etc.) providing our customers the opportunity to improve efficiency, reduce cost and increase security.
We want to be an industry-leading IT solution provider, helping our clients adopt these new technologies to securely enable their missions. Whether that is in improving federal civilian services or increasing security in the defense and intelligence markets, it’s critically important to the future of our nation.