The Owl Cyber Defense Employee Spotlight is our way of highlighting some of the incredibly talented individuals that we’re lucky enough to have on our team. At Owl, we recognize our people are our most valuable assets, we strive to bring together candidates who have a wide range of backgrounds and experiences onboard. This month we are recognizing those who have served our country for National Military Appreciation Month.
Which branch of the military did you serve in?
I served for 3.5 years in the United States Air Force and an additional 4.5 years in the Connecticut Air National Guard.
In the Air Force, I was Security Policeman and fortunate enough to serve in a unique unit, whose responsibilities were providing protection for Air Force One, the President, Vice President, and visiting foreign dignitaries. Because of those roles, I got to work with a broad group of people from various agencies such as the Secret Service, State Department, FBI, CIA, DIA, and others. Turns out, those connections would play a role in why I took the opportunity to transfer to the Air National Guard.
After the Gulf War, the military started downsizing and I had the opportunity to transfer to the Connecticut Air National Guard. I took that opportunity to attend college full time rather than wait until my normal separation and start a year later. Why the rush? Talking to the folks in all those agencies convinced me that one of those was where I wanted to go next. However, they all said the same thing – get your degree and come back. So when the opportunity to start college a year earlier than I anticipated, I took it.
My Guard unit was a mobile air control squadron and I did computer communications. The job is basically what it sounds like – I programmed and monitored the computers that ran the radars as well as managed the encrypted communications. Due to the military downsizing, Guard and Reserve units took on many more missions and ours was no different. We were primarily busy with deployments to Italy for the Bosnian War as well as anti-drug operations in the Caribbean.
What are some of the things you remember about adapting to military life?
I adapted quite easily it turned out. The structure, instilled responsibility, and opportunity to do something very few people get to do, was everything I wanted at that time – even if I didn’t know it yet. It was a place I excelled at and really enjoyed. I’m sure my job had something to do with that, but it really was the best decision for me after high school.
When did you leave the military? What were your first few months out of the service like?
In a way, I left twice. The first was going from active duty the Guard unit. This wasn’t a huge change as I continued to work on promotions and learn the new skills required for the new job. I was very busy, working, focusing on college, and of course, doing my duties for the unit. So really, the change was rather minimal.
After my 2nd enlistment in the Guard was up, I had made the decision to leave because as previously mentioned, we were deploying a lot and I really wanted to focus on my new career at IBM. It was a difficult decision though as I really loved the military. The sense of purpose, the comradery, the chance to see and do unique things, and the excellent training would all be things I would miss. But it was time to start the next chapter in my life.
How would you describe the work you do at Owl Cyber Defense and the impact it is making?
I’m a senior software engineer in the Government Products Group. Since I’ve been here, I’ve primarily been working on the XD Bridge ST product. While this type of product and the requirements it needs to meet are new to me, I like to think my years of experience working in the IBM CIO Innovation Lab will bring benefits in terms of architecture, design, maintainability, and security to the code in this and other products. It’s been a steep learning curve, but that is what makes it interesting. In a way, it feels a little bit like it did in the military – knowing you’re working on something that helps national defense.
What is your proudest career moment?
It’s difficult to say as I got to see and do some very interesting things while in the Air Force and Guard. But I have to say my proudest moments were my Air Force One missions. Who knew some kid from rural northwest Connecticut would get the opportunity to fly on Air Force One, meet people you only read about in the newspaper, and be an integral part of their personal safety? I felt an immense sense of pride and duty with every mission and I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity I was given.
Richard Alther, Senior Software Engineer at Owl Cyber Defense