In this new 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.

Egon Rinderer serves as Shift5’s Chief Technology Officer where he focuses on growing a world-class field engineering team to drive rapid growth across the federal and commercial sectors. Rinderer has over 30 years of federal and private sector industry experience, having previously served in the U.S. military and throughout the intelligence community both domestically and abroad in an operational capacity. 

How did you get involved in the defense industry or community?

I was ingrained with a very strong sense of duty from a young age. I was taught that you work for the lifestyle you have, and you owe it to those around you to try to improve the status quo. Completely coincidentally, I was OCONUS on 9/11 on business at my second startup, and while I was able to get my wife and kids home, I got stuck where I was. While watching the news from a hotel TV, I looked out my window and saw troops coming to guard the largest oil refinery in the area. In a matter of hours, my admittedly very small world suddenly changed. At 30 years old, I realized just how fragile everything was at that moment. So, when I returned home, I started looking around and discovered that the Navy had a post-9/11 program through which they were recruiting very specific skill sets, and I got connected with the right person. One thing led to another, and—in my thirties—I headed off to boot camp. I had a very specific plan and figured out how I could work my way through the system to get to a place where I’d enjoy my time and the Navy would also get what they needed. In the end, both worked out quite well. 

What are some challenges you faced working through your career?

Institutional inertia. The politics, the pain—simply trying to do the very obvious right thing only to be met with stonewalling. I was an enlisted guy, so I could get away with a lot more than the officers, and I did. One thing that inspired me was a story I heard when I went to my commanding officer’s retirement ceremony. He spoke about something I did not know had taken place. I knew my side of it, but I had no idea about the pain he’d absorbed because of it, purely for the benefit of our unit. It was eye opening for me, but it also tells the story of the sort of hoops one must jump through to move the ball down the field. It can be tough, sometimes painful, and can even mean risking one’s career, but someone has to be willing to do the hardest things when the stakes are so high.

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Did you feel like you always had sufficient mentors and leaders to help guide you? Why/why not?

1,000% yes—and I can’t say this emphatically enough. I had a Chief when I was in the Navy who took very good care of me. I wouldn’t be where I am today without him. I’d have gotten disgusted and given up. Mentorship can be a mixed bag in the Navy—some good, some bad. Having a good Chief mentoring you is really a godsend. 

How do you work to be a mentor yourself to younger counterparts?

I have taken to heart the time and energy others have invested in me over the years. It’s a huge sacrifice. Imagine being on deployment and getting three or four hours of sleep a night for a year—if you’re lucky. Now, imagine you have someone that’s willing to spare one of those hours every night to spend it helping you. That’s such a sacrifice that it’s difficult to put a price on. And all the while, they’re ingraining in you the commitment to pay it forward—so much so that it becomes a part of you. In the end, I take seriously the requirement to do the same for those under my charge. If I’m not willing to lead by example and make those same sacrifices, I’m no leader.

What does it mean to be successful in your career field?

Simple: It means that I can replace myself at a moment’s notice. I’m fortunate to be surrounded by a cadre of talented people who, should the need arise, can step in and fill my role. It’s a hard pill to swallow sometimes, but no one is irreplaceable. If you’ve surrounded yourself with those who can’t replace you, simply put—you’ve failed. It’s not easy to think about things this way, but it’s the reality that life foists on us, and we need to deal with it rationally. 

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?

Program Managers. Those unsung heroes who herd the cats and keep things on time and on target. A world full of specialists is of little use if they aren’t wielded with surgical accuracy and that’s precisely what PMs do. 

What is your advice for new entrants to the defense/military community?

You are owed nothing. Period. Truth doesn’t care about your rank. It doesn’t care about your feelings or sensitivities. That’s not to say that we should dehumanize things. It’s your job to learn to balance that. It’s very, very difficult for most; for some, it’s too much, and that’s alright. Don’t judge anyone for that. At the end of the day, you’re accountable to those you’ve been given charge over and you owe it to those given charge over you. It’s a precarious situation of the human condition. Do your best, remain humble, seek help from those who’ve gone before you and not left collateral damage in their wake. And again, humility is your friend.

What do you see as the future of your sector in national defense?

We’re moving into a future that will ‘de-monetize’ humanity. Not intentionally, but it’s a byproduct of the current and ongoing technological advances. Your single greatest struggle will be to maintain your humanity—to understand that not everything can be reduced to an algorithm. Always read, learn, and absorb. Most of all, assess and reject that which is cheap. There’s no shortage of charlatans who’ll gain traction and absorb attention and funding—that’s always been the case and will remain a constant. Be that calm voice of reason in the milieux of opinions. Don’t be a millstone. Don’t be a Luddite. Be the balanced, reasonable voice in the room who seeks first to understand, who educates themself before speaking, and who sincerely drives all to the best logical end. 

Who are the Force Multipliers in your community? Let us know at [email protected].