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, to defense entrepreneurs.
Dean Hullings is the Global Defense Solutions Strategist at Forescout Technologies where he helps counsel the company’s defense team navigate decision chains inside DoD to achieve customer success through enterprise deployments. He also assists Forescout’s global public sector engagement efforts by helping educate customers on best practices. Before joining Forescout, Hullings served in the U.S. Air Force for 26 years as a communications and cyber officer, reaching the rank of colonel.
How did you get involved in the defense industry or community?
In high school, a friend’s father who was in the Army, asked us, “How do you know you don’t like the military way of life if you’ve never tried it?”
I accepted his challenge and joined the Army Reserve Officer’s Training Corps (ROTC) and transitioned to the Air Force Reserve Officer’s Training Corps (AFROTC) after just one semester. 26 years after receiving my commission through AFROTC I retired from active duty, so I guess I kind of liked it!
What are some challenges you faced working through your career?
Military life presents various challenges. I experienced two significant ones that ultimately shaped my career. The first being my passion for technology versus my role as a leader. As someone passionate about communications and computers I was enamored by the latest and greatest advances in information technology and always wanted to learn more. However, as an officer, my primary role was leading my team and the mission. Balancing the two was difficult as I was expected to be technically sharp while remaining somewhat “hands-off” and objective. The second challenge was balancing my career and my family. My job was never truly finished and there was rarely a true end time. It was difficult to ensure that I was still a part of my wife and kid’s lives, especially around deployments.
Did you feel like you always had sufficient mentors and leaders to help guide you? Why/why not?
For me, the relationship between a mentor and mentee must come naturally and can’t be forced. I had plenty of leaders and peers who I would consider mentors having learned so much from them. One such mentor, a colonel, pulled together a group of us one day and spoke with us at length about his commitment to the Air Force, the mission and the people. While a dedicated military man, he hadn’t given the same dedication to his family. Eventually, he found himself standing in his front yard while his wife and children drove away for good. His experience was a very powerful lesson on the importance of work-life balance.
How do you work to be a mentor yourself to younger counterparts?
Very early on, I learned from a general that every moment is a teaching opportunity. As a result, I made a point to share my stories and experiences with those in my organization as a chance to reflect and identify lessons even when things look grim. Years later, I was made aware that my younger colleagues used the same reflection mentality in their leadership style.
What does it mean to be successful in your career field?
Success is what you make of it in both military and industry. I have always measured my success against mission or customer success, rather than a rank or arbitrary sales quota. After completing a project, I look back and ask, “did my team, organization, unit or company make a difference in the national security and defense of the nation?” If the answer is “yes,” the mission was successful.
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?
The cyber industry has evolved significantly in the past 10 years. Today, there is an emphasis on hacking and the subsequent defense in our networks. The unsung heroes are those behind the scenes keeping the network pieces operating so the necessary connectivity remains in place. Of course, defending against hackers is critical in today’s connected world, but I think we owe a lot to those who are quietly making those connections a reality.
How has the culture changed around diversity within your career?
While the defense industry still needs to make significant advancements in diversity, equity and inclusion, I was fortunate to have served alongside many diverse Airmen—men and women all of whom brought unique perspectives to our mission and helped our team solve complex challenges. I am pleased to see diversity emerge as a priority for the defense industry as we need many differing perspectives for a democracy like ours to survive.
What is your advice for new entrants to the defense/military community?
Make sure you do it for the right reason—service to your country. If your only aim is to be the best pilot, mechanic, ship driver or doctor, the military’s mission-over-individual mindset might not be the best fit for you. But, if you want to serve your county and make a difference in the lives of 330 million Americans, the military will be rewarding whatever your assignment–whether it’s stateside in an office, in a tent in combat, or in a humanitarian relief zone.
What do you see as the future of your sector in national defense?
Cyber is a dynamic environment both in military and industry. I think we are going to see two major trends over the next three to five years. The first is a need for cybersecurity professionals to have greater flexibility in their skillset. Previously, it was acceptable to have one or two areas of expertise. Now, with cyberspace being so dynamic, I think we are going to see more of a “Jack or Jill of all trades” mentality as a driver of success. The second trend is an increased focus on security automation. Relying on an individual to constantly defend a platform is unsustainable. While creating policy boundaries will always require human interaction, the actual actions necessary to perform these actions need to be automated.
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