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.


Jonas Lazo is Vice President of Digital Engineering at Sev1Tech. A cleared IT/Software Engineer and registered Agile Coach, he was formerly the Navy Technical Warrant Holder for Cloud Computing as a Navy civilian, where he authored the Naval Cloud Playbook and Cloud Reference Architecture engineering/cybersecurity standards for cloud migration. Lazo has also deployed enterprise-level applications for Navy and Marine Corps operations and led DevSecOps design-thinking workshops with the Navy, USMC, Army and USCG. 

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

My first duty station as active duty was the Navy Fighter Weapons School, which is popularly known as “TOPGUN,” also known as Navy Fighter Weapons School. I did not fly, but I was their Supply Contracting Officer and worked to modernize their IT infrastructure. That experience opened my eyes to the entire ecosystem of the supply chain supporting the warfighting units at the elite levels with high visibility, premium budgets and the latest innovative industry technology.

Since then, I have spent 23 exciting and professionally fulfilling years developing Cloud DevSecOps strategy and promoting digital agility for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. My journey has led me to the role of Vice President of Digital Engineering at Sev1Tech, an IT modernization, cybersecurity and advanced engineering services provider.

What are some challenges you faced working through your career?

Unsurprisingly, bureaucracy has been a constant challenge, whether regarding career advancements, inter-service communications or capability deployment to the fleet. There has been a lot of red tape that I’ve had to endure throughout my career, but learning to navigate this has made me more adaptable in my current position.

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

I have been fortunate enough to have mentors and leaders guide me throughout my career. These individuals varied in terms of their strengths as role models, but both good and bad leaders have taught me to recognize and appreciate the qualities that do make a good leader.

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I personally work to pursue leadership programs that I believe in and utilize opportunities I have to bring in younger technicians to provide them with valuable experience. I am a registered coach and mentor with the Office of Naval Research’s HBCU/MI Internship Program, where I helped scholars — in collaboration with Reservists — to develop the U.S. Navy’s Innovative Cloud Playbook. This program highlights the importance of mentorship and diversity in the field of IT, pairing up-and-coming scholars with industry leaders to gain real-world experience and hands-on training. Today, I continue to mentor both current and former students of the program, preparing them to solve the future challenges of the defense industry with innovative solutions.

Additionally, I initiated the NavalX Innovation mentor pilot program, which set the precedent for bringing in HBCU/MI and STEM scholars as interns in the computer science, cybersecurity and engineering disciplines. Initially, I mentored seven interns through this program. To date, I’ve mentored over 20 interns. As a part of this program, I taught them Agile Scrum practice in an actual real-life DoD Software application project, through a full software development lifecycle (SDLC) pushed and accredited for production deployment. This not only provided additional support for the project but provided the interns with real-life, valuable experience they could learn from.

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

My role and my work at Sev1Tech are in service of the U.S. Department of Defense. As such, success means being able to effectively support the warfighter, in the most efficient and innovative way. We want to ensure mission success and tap the best technology available in a safe and secure way.

Given the ever-evolving nature of technology and the adversary landscape, success also means being able to repeat that success and improve on it as needed — whether that means creating more efficiencies, incorporating emerging technologies or increasing security.

To achieve success on the battlefront, agile design is key. Agility is the foundation of IT modernization and digital transformation. In my experience, the challenges of IT modernization aren’t necessarily related to the talent of developers, the scope of the service to be provided or the complexity of the product to be deployed — instead, they are driven by a lack of effective collaboration, which nearly always results in waste, inefficiency and delay. An agile mindset, both within a company and among customers, encourages a culture of collaboration to ensure that warfighters have the proper resources and information to be as successful as possible.

How can the industry improve in promoting these individuals and building them up?

Some of the most under-appreciated defense positions are the logisticians and the contracting and financial management personnel, who work largely behind the scenes. These individuals are crucial links in the whole supply chain effort by bringing in capability to the fleet and supporting the warfighters. Due to the nature of their roles, they do not receive the same recognition or prominence that they deserve. However, their jobs are just as critical to mission success.

It would be beneficial to bring the warfighters into the contracting process of acquisition, finance, engineering and logistics. Full immersion of the operational warfighters would help to streamline the bureaucratic process through agile process improvement and design thinking workshops. Also, bringing the non-warfighting units to the field to understand the warfighter’s perspective in operating in theater would be equally beneficial. By placing each in the other’s environment, both will improve end-to-end awareness and recognize each other’s perspectives and therefore each other.

How has the culture changed around diversity within your career?

I think one of the larger changes I’ve seen in my career is around the diversity of ideas — that is, when an organization transcends beyond race, rank, or creed into the open and unbiased exchange of ideas, voices and perspectives toward achieving innovative solutions. I have seen this happen several times in the design thinking workshops I run for the Navy and DoD. In these workshops, there is an open exchange between executives and entry-level employees, as well as high ranking officials and officers, to develop the best solutions possible for our warfighters.

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

Be agile and innovative. Allow yourself to fail to aid in learning from others and from your own mistakes.  Team members must feel that it is okay to fail and know that those failures help progress toward achieving project goals. This builds trust, which encourages collaboration and, in turn, promotes innovation. There is great power in cooperation and knowledge-sharing. Remember, you are a part of a larger community — mentor others when you can, lead to the best of your ability, and be a servant to support others on your team.

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

For the future of the defense sector, I believe innovative leaders will seek each other out and collaborate for a common cause — a warfighter-centered solution that should serve as a path for others. New entrants will hopefully resonate with this and then move the path forward with increased innovation to evolve and continue supporting the national defense mission.

As a committed practitioner and certified coach of Agile design, I know agility is essential to effective IT modernization. It will take the adoption of agile mindset to enable scalable and resilient IT modernization so customers can successfully address emerging digital demands and overcome ever-changing threats.

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