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.
Dominique Cooper, Maxar serves as Director of Business Development for the Intelligence Programs division at Maxar, where she has served since December 2022. Previously, she was the founder and chief product officer at Style Digital LLC and director of strategic programs at Tanzle. She previously served in several program manager government positions with the Navy, Marine Corps, and National Geospatial Intelligence Agency
How did you get involved in the defense industry or community?
I became involved in the defense and intelligence community through a combination of my experience as a nuclear engineer and program manager, and my desire to make a real difference. I started my government career working for the Naval Sea Systems Command and later, was presented an opportunity to join the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. Then I took a leap of faith and entered the world of Silicon Valley startups. I quickly discovered the joy of juggling various roles and responsibilities. Although the experience was exciting, I realized I missed the sense of mission that comes with working in the public sector. This realization led me to Maxar, a geospatial giant that makes a difference every day supporting defense and intelligence organizations.
What are some challenges you faced working through your career?
As a female nuclear engineer, a better question would be ‘what hasn’t been a challenge?’ Perhaps that just makes it more fun, though. I have encountered complex technical problems that required innovative “solutioning” to achieve mission success—i.e., what can we do with what we have that will add immediate impact. Tackling these challenges required the will to deepen my knowledge and build a team of mission-focused out-of-the-box thinkers and finishers.
Did you feel like you always had sufficient mentors and leaders to help guide you? Why/why not?
I don’t believe you can have too many mentors. I have been fortunate to have spectacular mentors who are givers throughout my journey, and I am immensely grateful for their guidance and support. For me, the core focus of my journey has always been about the mission. Why are we doing what we are doing, and where do I fit in? This endeavor calls for a blend of hard skills and soft skills. While hard skills can be learned through education and experience, strengthening soft skills can often be hard. These skills, which involve communication, adaptability, and leadership, often emanate from wisdom and are shaped by mentorship.
How do you work to be a mentor yourself to younger counterparts?
I believe in the power of transparency and openness, so I share career-related strategies that have proven effective as well as lessons learned from my own failures. One mentee who stands out in my mind was a brilliant young female engineer fresh out of college, contemplating a career with the Department of Defense. Together, we dedicated our time to uncover her strengths and passions and to identify areas of interest and available opportunities. We then aligned this information with her long-term career aspirations, creating a visual representation that illuminated existing pathways to success and uncovered potential new routes to forge. The impact of this visual was profound. She pursued the path that resonated most with her, and today she is a Senior Principal Systems Engineer at a top defense contractor.
Having received immense wisdom from my own mentors, I hold a responsibility to contribute to the growth and development of others. This journey has a power that extends far beyond the confines of mentor and mentee—it creates a ripple effect that shapes industries and communities.
What does it mean to be successful in your career field?
I have consistently emphasized the significance of the mission and prioritizing its importance, and there’s a profound reason behind it – valuing service to others above oneself. In my career field, there isn’t a single recipe for success, but there are fundamental principles that one must embody in pursuit of a meaningful career. Among those I hold dear are:
- Never Stop Learning: Develop a mindset of continuous learning. Invest in expanding your knowledge and skills and stay curious.
- Embrace Change: Become comfortable with evolving environments and ambiguity. Control is limited, so focus on what you can influence and apply wisdom to navigate the rest.
- Favor Teamwork: As Helen Keller said, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” Collaboration and effective teamwork drive success.
- Be Honest: Honesty and integrity should be non-negotiable. Upholding ethical conduct builds trust and establishes a solid foundation for the professional journey.
- Lead Without Limits: Leadership is not limited to titles; it’s about influencing others positively and driving impactful change.
- Cultivate Resilience: There is no problem that can withstand perseverance and positive thinking.
- Master the Art of Negotiation: Effective negotiation can help you navigate conflicts, reach win-win solutions, and advance your 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?
Behind every prominent figure or icon, there are countless individuals who often go unrecognized. From the dedicated support staff, such as administrative executives, enterprise IT technicians, and travel assistants, to the intelligence analysts who analyze data to inform decision-makers about national security threats, these unsung heroes work diligently in the background. These quiet professionals deserve our gratitude. Their hard work and support are crucial for the success of any endeavor.
How can the industry improve in promoting these individuals and building them up?
Always explain the “why” first, don’t start with or fixate on the task. Spend time elevating peoples’ perspectives with the purpose so they can make micro decisions in their everyday work. This approach results in better products and outcomes and strengthens the bonds within teams.
What is your advice for new entrants to the defense/military community?
The future belongs to the curious. As you embark on your career in defense and intelligence, embrace curiosity as a fundamental element of growth. Be curious about the mission and how to provide better support. Be curious about technical workflows and iterate on how these processes can be improved. Be curious about customer satisfaction and create new ways to ensure long term success.
My curiosity would often manifest itself with the question “why”, which could lead to deeper insights about the subject matter. But during the early stages of my career, I used to hesitate, worried that my questions or comments might come across as limiting. I discovered that many others in the room shared similar thoughts or sought the same clarifications. Surprisingly, someone else would often end up asking the very question I had in mind. So, don’t hold back—ask away! It’s intriguing how as engineers, we are taught to provide answers without emphasizing the importance of finding the right questions.
Above all, prioritize the integrity of the mission, even if it means making unpopular choices. Surround yourself with individuals who share this principle. Practice active listening and thoughtful communication; we have two ears and only one mouth, so I encourage you to listen more than you talk.
What do you see as the future of your sector in national defense?
I believe the key differentiators in the future will derive from greater leverage of technology. At Maxar, we are helping our customers move from sensing to sense-making by building the globe in 3D, offering multi-source solutions, and embracing AI/ML innovations. This will enable more context and data at the speed of mission, and help our customers evolve from seeing, to understanding, to being empowered to act because of the data, tools and insights we provide.
Who are the Force Multipliers in your community? Let us know at [email protected].