In this monthly column, Defense Daily highlights individuals from across the government, industry and academia whose efforts contribute daily to national defense, from the program managers to the human resource leaders, to the engineers and logistics officers.
Felipe Fernandez is Fortinet Federal’s Director of Systems Engineering. In this role he works with Federal Civilian agencies, the Department of Defense, and intelligence community organizations to identify and help implement cybersecurity and IT solutions that achieve mission-critical objectives. In addition to his role as a team manager, Felipe also oversees the U.S. Federal product strategy and certification process at Fortinet.
How did you get involved in the defense industry or community?
I was a security ops manager for the Marine Corps, using different products to manage security across the enterprise. Moving from that to advocating for the adoption of modern technologies was a personal mission—it wasn’t about a paycheck. Understanding the operators who we affect, and how positively we could affect them, drives me to continue getting the message out to organizations we haven’t reached yet.
Over the past eight years I have worked to be a leader at Fortinet, coordinating both internally and with customers to deliver innovative and pertinent technology. For me, it’s about helping everyone understand the value of integrating institutional risk management into converged, automated capabilities that are needed to successfully combat today’s network and data security threats.
How do you work to be a mentor to younger counterparts?
Mentoring is important especially for a field like cybersecurity where many aspiring students feel the career may be too challenging to crack or they don’t know the exact path to get where they want to be. Cybersecurity is still new compared to other careers. As a result, I focus on reaching out to students and new cybersecurity professionals to talk about the career whenever possible to help others learn and hear about working in cybersecurity. I am also very passionate about training and helping others upskill or learn the basics of cybersecurity. I am a big fan of our free cybersecurity training from Fortinet’s NSE Training Institute.
What does it mean to be successful in your career field?
Being successful in my career field means learning to understand the language and where the reservations are, the customers’ true needs, and advocating for capabilities that benefit the mission in so many different ways. It’s also important to keep fostering more opportunities to help promote the next generation of cyber defenders. Whether it’s becoming more involved in training for new skills, mentoring, interview preparation, soft skills coaching, and building connections— getting more involved throughout the industry will always be a priority for me throughout my career.
What are some of the under-appreciated positions in the defense field, the unsung heroes or essential cogs in the machine that help the job get done with less recognition?
Everyone serves a mission-critical role. However, if there was a trend to be noticed, those working on the cyber defense front lines definitely are seeing the volume of work increasing. Cyber threats are constantly evolving, and their impacts are intensifying across various industries. That means that it’s more critical than ever to maintain the ability to pivot quickly, fight the mission by leveraging some of the latest technologies, and recruit talented cyber-warriors as reinforcements.
How can the industry improve in promoting these individuals and building them up?
First and foremost, we need to offer our veterans more support to ease into a transition from the military. Companies need to provide retired military employees more opportunities to mentor and be mentored, encourage strengthening veteran camaraderie within the company, and offer regular assistance to newly hired veterans to create a smoother transition into the civilian workforce. Additional measures can center on cultivating an inclusive environment that supports and encourages veterans to advance their skills and leadership potential through connection, mentorship, collaboration and discussion.
How has the culture changed around diversity within your career?
Diversity in cybersecurity has evolved during my career and I see it being a positive outcome. For example, there many are initiatives to help foster more diverse entrants into the field of cybersecurity and attract diverse talent. In addition, smart organizations are also considering diversity beyond the traditional definition to also include perspective and experience. This will not just help close the cyber skills gap but also make the profession stronger.
What is your advice for new entrants to the defense/military community?
For new entrants, I would say don’t be afraid to reach out. I was able to transition successfully thanks to my network and access to mentorship. Being in the military, it’s an insular environment; many times, you don’t necessarily know many people outside who can provide a referral or write a letter of recommendation.
One of the key things we do at Fortinet is assess the candidate and provide that feedback, those key recommendations, those crucial tips that help them transition—and that’s what a transitioning service member really needs, people in their corner who understand their value. If you come across any opportunities to make a connection like that, jump on them.
What do you see as the future of your sector in national defense?
I look forward to the prospect of helping government agencies automate rote, redundant tasks that require manual, human input and freeing up the workforce to do important things faster. I also see the value and potential of each human in the workforce—and I know organizations can do so much better to make the most of their intellect and judgment moving forward into the future.
Our sector will continue to help agency officials establish a clear baseline of where technology is today and where it’s heading. In doing so, agencies can see how they can be more operationally efficient, more agile in acquisition and more cost-effective while also implementing greater protection.
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