The finalists for WashingtonExec’s Pinnacle Awards were announced Oct. 11, and we’ll be highlighting some of them until the event takes place live, in-person Nov. 30.
Next is Alan Hendricks, senior director of DMI’s cybersecurity practice, on behalf of Government Teams Project of the Year finalist, the National Institutes of Health’s Cybersecurity Modernization Initiative. Here, he talks key achievements, primary focus areas going forward, learning from failures and more.
What key achievements did you have in 2021 / 2022?
Although DMI has provided our customers with cybersecurity services since our inception, we’ve made cybersecurity a priority focus for the company over the past year. A few of our significant achievements in cybersecurity include:
- Established a functional cybersecurity practice area to support cybersecurity solutioning and delivery across our federal, state and local, and commercial business units.
- Formalized our cybersecurity service offerings and updated our corporate website to reflect our capabilities.
- Awarded over $60 million in new work to provide a variety of cybersecurity services.
- Awarded our largest pure cybersecurity contract on which we have 60 subject matter experts providing a variety of cybersecurity modernization services to the National Institutes of Health.
- Expanded our Industrial control systems and operational technology security capabilities to become one of the greatest-resourced federal contractors in this unique functional area.
- Earned the Highly Adaptive Cybersecurity Services Special Item Number on the IT70 GS Schedule.
What has made you successful in your current role?
I have always received incredible support from above and below. No one succeeds alone.
What was a turning point or inflection point in your career?
I’ve been blessed in that I have never had an inflection point. My career has taken a gradual but positive path. It’s true that there have been bumps in the road just like everyone else, but I have yet to face a true point where my career turned.
What are you most proud of having been a part of in your current organization?
I first joined DMI almost a decade ago and immediately became part of a large family. DMI is more than just a company with employees. Our founder and CEO, Sunny Bajaj, has built a corporate culture that people embrace.
Over these many years, I have had the pleasure of being part of many incredible corporate successes. But I am most proud of a simple interaction with one employee. Some time ago, one of my team members came to me with a personal crisis. The specifics are unimportant, but I was able to connect the person with resources and contacts to help.
I thought little of it at the time, but later, that person came to thank me for essentially turning their life around. For them, the crisis was the most formidable, overwhelming and terrifying thing they had ever faced, and they stated that my willingness to listen and connect them with help meant the world to them.
What I thought was a relatively innocuous interaction had an immeasurably positive outcome for this individual. I am prouder to have been a small part of that employee’s success than for any other activity I’ve been a part of at DMI.
What are your primary focus areas going forward, and why are those so important to the future of the nation?
We all live and operate in an increasingly connected world. The more interconnected we become, the more challenging it becomes to protect critical systems and data. Our federal clients are struggling with three particularly daunting areas impacted by this increasing reliance on interconnectivity: Secure cloud adoption; third-party vendor management, particularly as it relates to supply chain risk; and Industrial Control Systems security where efforts must go beyond the traditional focus on IT to address the unique challenges of protecting operational technology. These three focus areas are priorities for the immediate future.
How do you help shape the next generation of government leaders/industry leaders?
I am an advocate for public/private partnerships for education and training. There continues to be a critical shortage of talented cybersecurity professionals, particularly in crucial leadership roles. Historically, cybersecurity leaders were born from non-cybersecurity career paths (e.g., information technologists, risk managers, compliance auditors, etc.).
Now, college students are graduating with cybersecurity degrees and entering the workforce as cybersecurity professionals. We must better define and formalize cybersecurity career paths, expand foundational educational opportunities, and improve professional development quality.
Both government and industry would benefit by working collaboratively to establish career development programs that will spawn our future cybersecurity leaders.
What’s one key thing you learned from a failure you had?
Your people come first! There are two inviable precepts tied to this concept:
- Take ownership of failures: I am responsible for the failures of my subordinates.
- Share success: My subordinates are responsible for my success and deserve recognition.
Failures can lead to opportunities, but you cannot pursue opportunities if you alienate those that work for you.
Which rules do you think you should break more as a government/industry leader?
I believe both government and industry leaders would benefit by establishing more collegial relationships. There are many rules formalizing organizational relationships, particularly as it relates to procurement. These compliance requirements result in establishing a formality and distance between federal and private organizations (and appropriately so).
Unfortunately, this same distancing often extends to individual professional relationships. Government leaders are encouraged to keep industry leaders at arm’s length. This “us vs. them” mentality is pervasive and impedes the many benefits to be won from more collaborative engagement.
What’s the biggest professional risk you’ve ever taken?
Some time ago, I left the relatively secure environs of corporate employment to take on the challenges of self-employment. Building a new business from the ground floor is incredibly enlightening (to put it mildly). I ultimately returned to the nice safe corporate world and the experience I gained from taking that professional risk has proven extremely beneficial.
Looking back at your career, what are you most proud of?
As a former career Army officer, I had the privilege to dedicate a significant portion of my life to the defense of our country and the principles upon which it was founded. I am proud to have worn the uniform that represents that service.
What was your biggest career struggle and how did you overcome it?
Transitioning from military service to the corporate world was challenging. Priorities seemed different. Professional relationships seemed different. Even selecting clothes to wear is initially daunting when you have been wearing a uniform every day.
However, it eventually dawned on me that, through my efforts as a federal contractor, I could still make a difference supporting the defense of our nation through the protection of our nation’s critical cyber infrastructure. My mission, as it were, could remain the same.
Once that realization set in, I was soon able to adapt to a new personal operating model and adjust my career to the corporate environment. I learned that I could continue to apply the foundational principles I had internalized while in uniform: Mission-first, integrity always, and protect and defend even as my day-to-day focus changed to solutions development, service delivery and customer satisfaction.
I also found that the leadership and management skills I developed in the Army translated well to the corporate world. People are people after all.
What’s your best career advice for those who want to follow in your footsteps?
Don’t! Anyone following in my footsteps is destined to get lost and maybe pull a hamstring. My best advice is to ignore the footsteps in front of you. Take risks. Blaze new trails. Find what interests you and go that direction. If you discover that you’ve gone the wrong way, change course. Make your own path and create your own footsteps!