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Some Things Never Change October 22, 2011

Posted by Peter Varhol in Uncategorized.
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I spent the first six years after college as an Air Force officer (circa early to mid 1980s), in weapons systems acquisition and as an ROTC
instructor.  After separating as a captain, I did another three years with one of the service and support contractors working at Hanscom AFB.  Except for a small consulting gig shortly after that (with a couple of good stories to go with it), I was done with defense contracting.  My life, and my careers, went in a different direction.

A point of order.  Despite the fact that I flew a desk, and was not a particularly good fit for military service, I was proud of that service.
I’m especially proud when I hear misconceptions of the military by others, and have the ability to correct them.  I was not a “Yes, Sir” kind of person, so I say this with some measure of emotional detachment.

This past week I got to relive much of that, at the TechNet Aero conference in Dayton, Ohio, where I spoke and did booth duty.  Much of my time in the past was with the Electronic Systems, now Electronic Systems Center (ESD versus ESC), while the featured program offices here were a part of the Aeronautical Systems Division, now Aeronautical Systems Center (ASD versus ASC).  But I could recognize the organizations and their acronyms.  It was almost as though I had never left, and a little bit scary.

I had forgotten just how insular that world was, and how much relationships count in that world.

I want to emphasize that point.  I don’t have good social skills.  I’m self-aware enough so that I know it, and I’m able to compensate with
a certain amount of effort and experience, but it doesn’t come at all naturally.  I probably didn’t realize it at the time, but I didn’t do as well as I was capable in the military precisely because I lacked those skills (well, to be fair, there were probably other reasons, too).

Defense software and systems contracting is a boom-and-bust industry, and it’s about to fall into a bust.  Thousands of engineers and production workers from the likes of Lockheed Martin and Northrup Grumman are going to get the boot over the next several
years.  But those individuals who recognize that the number of people they know, and who might be willing to do something for them, is by far the most important qualification they possess, will continue to press on successfully.

It’s like real life in private industry, only much more so.

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