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.

Srini Iyer is senior vice president of ManTech’s new Innovation and Capabilities Office, which the company stood up in June to strengthen its leadership in innovative technology solutions. Iyer was chief technology officer of ManTech’s defense group before being promoted to the new company-wide role.

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

Right after 9/11, I was sought out by a Business Unit Director, a retired Navy captain from a Tier 1 Systems Integrator who was looking for a change agent on his team. He was looking for a catalyst to infuse new mission-critical concepts and approaches to solve their tough challenges. For someone who had spent most of his time in the commercial sector, this was a huge change.

What are some challenges you faced working through your career?

It’s not enough to Think Big – you have to Produce Big, too. In the fast-paced realm of technology innovation, the challenge of staying ahead ramps up every second of the day. To the uninformed, tech innovation might seem easy to do, but Bringing Digital to the Mission® as ManTech does is no simple matter. ManTech’s use of innovative open architectures is one example. Proprietary software locks a vendor or integrator with the customer, increasing cost and complexity. ManTech’s alternative is far better: a modular and flexible architecture where we go to the effort of creating cloud native applications that keep development and O&M costs down significantly.

Automation is another classic example. To many, automation still means software. But wise minds know Artificial Intelligence has changed the field top to bottom with approaches that range from machine learning to deep learning, cognitive computing, neural networks and others. When you do have great solutions, getting everyone to buy into your vision can be a challenge. To get that done, you must be a tech visionary, an implementer/doer and an evangelist. Convincing people to “make the jump” hinges on your ability to show them the value and benefits of stepping up and doing things differently.

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

Yes, I have been fortunate to have excellent mentors and leaders to guide me. First and foremost, they taught me to begin by focusing on the customer need – the tough challenges that have not been addressed by prior or current attempts at resolution.  No less importantly, they encouraged me to aim high and never settle for anything less than the very finest solutions to those challenges. They also instilled in me the understanding that technology never stands still. To keep pace with its rapid evolution you must work at speed and continuously think ahead to plan for the next world-changing innovation. Synergy is another important factor. Granted, people including top performers are often willing to coach and teach, but the key to success is finding mentors who embrace those four qualities. Fortunately, finding the right mentor is much easier these days with the availability of numerous online professional networking groups.

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

It is a personal commitment. I like to give back and replicate what others have done for me in the areas of customer focus, insistence on the highest standards of solution performance, and staying one step ahead in the technology innovation race. I believe in being open-minded and available, and leading by example. Again, professional networks are a readily available source for mentors – You don’t even have to be in the same company or office location. But never settle for easy and quick. Pick the mentor who makes it her or his mission to transform you into the very best in your field.

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

To me, being successful means that you are able to make a difference, whether it is at work, in the local community, or for our great nation. At ManTech, success equals going above and beyond to protect our war fighters, and helping safeguard national and homeland security while also supporting our local and global communities. For example, in order to support our warfighters at the tactical edge, ManTech came up with a solution to run complex analytics in a limited bandwidth environment. By helping them make real-time decision making, we could be saving lives of our war fighters who put themselves at risk in these situations.

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?

There can never be enough appreciation for our warfighters. These incredible individuals sacrifice a lot to protect and defend our country. They are on call 24x7x365 – weekends and holidays.

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

One very important way: Industry must make it a priority to hire veterans. At ManTech we are very proud that veterans comprise nearly half of our employees. ManTech begins this process early, meeting first-hand with members of the military who are contemplating this change. Our Veterans Resource Group helps them transition to commercial/civilian life. When veterans join our company, we train them on the latest technologies, offer apprenticeship programs and, as for all ManTech employees, provide tuition-free degree programs in exciting areas such as Cyber, Cloud, Analytics & AI.

How has the culture changed around diversity within your career?

As a first-generation immigrant, I have experienced much more inclusiveness and diversity of thoughts and ideas. At ManTech, our teams are extremely diverse, and that encourages creativity and fosters a culture of innovation.

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

I went through this process myself many years ago. Be patient and persistent. Learn the lingo. Understand the mission. Find a functional and domain expert who can help you. Find a mentor who can guide and support you.

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

For more than 52 years we have stood out in the government services contracting sector because of our 100 percent dedication to the customer mission. I can tell you right now that the future is already here – but it’s unevenly distributed. Rapid technology advancement will continue apace, and it is up to us in the industry to bring automation and acceleration to support this transition.

I foresee broader acceptance of non-traditional sources of innovation, adoption of commercial technologies and interagency partnerships to develop capabilities. ManTech will continue to be a powerful force driving this transformation. Our new Innovation and Capability Office builds on this platform by continuously developing technology solutions, Bringing Digital to the Mission® in novel and transformational ways. Like every one of our 9,000+ employees, the thought leadership for ManTech’s Innovation and Capability Office know that to help ensure our customers’ success, it is essential to Think Big, and Produce Big.

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