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 the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at Fortinet Federal, Inc (FFI), where he leads a team of security architects and engineers to provide mission-critical cybersecurity solutions for Federal Civilian, Department of Defense, and Intelligence Community applications. He also oversees the U.S. Federal product strategy and certification process for the Department of Defense Information Network Approved Products List (DoDIN APL) and the National Security Agency’s Commercial Solutions for Classified (NSA CSfC) program.

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

I began my career in the defense industry with the Marine Corps as a Cybersecurity Engineer where I spent 12 years cultivating my passion for technology and learning how innovative technologies affect the security aspect of operations.

Being able to experience first-hand the power of technology to make an impact has transferred directly to my role at Fortinet Federal, where I work with government agencies to identify the proper cybersecurity solutions to achieve their mission objectives.

What are some challenges you faced working through your career?

As most service members can attest, a transition out of the military can be a jarring adjustment. It’s not so much what needs to be done, but how. In the military, relationships between stakeholders are well-defined and detailed processes exist for even the smallest activities; that is not always the case in the private sector. Nevertheless, it is the same results-driven mindset cultivated in the military that has helped me successfully build connections with like-minded people, continue to achieve business objectives and overcome new challenges.

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

Those leaving the military can feel like a fish out of water since they must become accustomed to civilian life again while trying to figure out their next steps. For this reason, I make it my personal mission to help others in my field expand their skillsets and prepare them for a fast-paced career. With the current skills gap in cybersecurity, there is a huge opportunity for others’ careers, and I want to help them find it.

In cybersecurity, threats are changing and arising every day. I am a huge advocate for certification courses in cybersecurity and I urge anyone interested to pursue them to stand out to employers. Whether it is utilizing Fortinet’s Training Institute courses or others, this is always my piece of advice.

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

As previously mentioned, cybersecurity is a constantly evolving landscape. To be successful in this industry, you must stay up to date on the most innovative technologies, trends, attacks, solutions and for government specifically, guidance and regulations.

This allows employees and companies to provide the best insight and recommendations to their customers, protecting networks and national security, which is the goal.

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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?

While every individual in the defense industry is invaluable, those in the forefront of operations, whether on land or behind a computer, hold the most perspective. I began learning on my first day in the field and it was those foundational skills that allowed me to successfully progress in my career.

Veterans across all defense departments hold significant technical training and experience, as they have always been hands-on. The employees experiencing the threats as they arise are critical to success.

How has the culture changed around diversity within your career?

The current cyber skills gap in the industry proves there is significant need for recruitment and, in tandem, there has been less emphasis on certain job requirements. For example, the White House recently released the Cyber Workforce and Education Strategy, which emphasized the possibility of alternative/multiple paths to a career in cybersecurity. Other government leaders have also been promoting the diversification of the workforce to utilize the unique skills that are not always learned in a classroom.

A notable example of this is the Training Institute at Fortinet – while we provide training services to all individuals, we specifically developed our Veterans Program to help the transition of military service members, veterans and spouses to the cybersecurity industry. With our program alone, we have been able to help 3,000+ veterans and military spouses transition into a career outside of the military.

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

I suggest new service members take full advantage of the tremendous opportunity before them. Few occupations provide earlier exposure to a greater variety of use cases, stakeholders, and technology than the military. In addition, the military has invested in incredible resources in making both commercial and customized training available to service members free of charge.

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

My role and Fortinet Federal’s role in national cyber defense will only become more important moving toward the future. My team and I are constantly looking to automate, secure and improve government networks because there is always room to refine. With the state of the threat landscape today, industry partnerships and cybersecurity will only continue to rise in value.

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