Career Notes 7.2.23
Ep 156 | 7.2.23

Liji Samuel: Leaping beyond the barrier. [Certification]


Liji Samuel: Hi, I'm Liji Samuel, I'm the Chief of Standards and Certification at NSA's Cyber Collaboration Center.

Liji Samuel: So as I was growing up, I've often changed, uh, what I wanted to be. Sometimes it was a teacher, sometimes a doctor, a researcher, but I often leaned towards STEM specific careers. I was surrounded with older cousins who were choosing STEM careers, and it was interesting how each of our holiday conversations or gatherings would be around what's the latest and what's the greatest, additionally, as I was growing up, my dad who has an electrical background, he worked on space and maritime research, so as a side hustle, he would like be fixing radios and like sewing boards were always on his table. So just walking around that I felt I was leaning towards STEM careers from a very young like age.

Liji Samuel: So I have a bachelor's and master's in electrical prior to coming to University of Maryland and an additional master's in telecommunications engineering from College Park. And, uh, the reason I was immigrating and, uh, it was. It was still like a study was still something that I was pursuing, and so I decided to look at, uh, colleges that were good at telecommunications and had some business flavor to it, and UMD telecommunications program did stand out. So when it comes to my career, um, progression, I will say that I've had four technically diverse jobs. Um, I can say that I'm uncomfortable being comfortable in a certain position, right? So if, uh, my learning stops, I will want to move. So my very first job was with corporate. It was in. Uh, a private company that deploy telematics and internet solutions over satellites. As a very naive employee, I did not even know how to maneuver the career path, didn't know the concept of mentors, and truly learned a lot from watching my peers and colleagues and how they progressed. So I knew I had to use the skills that I learned at another organization and was ready to move to, uh, a position and being in the Maryland, DC, Virginia area, federal careers was an option. And, uh, that's when I started with NSA in Jan of 2013. My next job was with High Performance Computing Office, a completely different technology, and I've held both management and technical positions there. 

Liji Samuel: After about five to six years there, I was like, cyber is the buzzword, let me see what I can do. So combining it with just stepping out of the agency into US cyber command took up a management position for architecture and engineering division there, which helped me to see the enterprise at large and get that big picture. From there, I continued my cybersecurity journey first as the exploration director, uh, overseeing about 13 innovative efforts. And now in my current position as the standards and certification chief.

Liji Samuel: So there are challenges and barriers that come across constantly with our work. Um, one just has to pause and reflect on how we can work with it around it or influence like our stakeholders and jointly create a vision around it. So if I had to use a specific example about barrier, more than in my current job, since we are also talking about career path, I would like to focus on that where, specifically I'm, as I'm mentoring like young undergrad students, I recognize that they are, having a lot of online schools and now are in a market where they are not finding jobs. And I will want to focus a period in my life, which I often quote as my null period where, uh, where whatever I did nothing was working out. And this was after my master's degree in India and I was waiting for my immigration paperworks to complete and I was also trying to volunteer, do some jobs, but nothing was like, called as true accomplishments, right? And I saw my peers like progressing, finding jobs, you know, moving on to their next face in life. And it's kind of, it adds to the pressure. But honestly today when I look back and reflect, that was the time when my character was built to be, uh, and which, which is helping me to take up leadership position. It helped build my perseverance, resilience, patience, you name it. And that phase of life taught me a lot.

Liji Samuel: So when it comes to legacy, I'm a true believer of the word that there is nothing that'll last. Some efforts are honestly, 5 years impact, 10 years and 100 years, right? Uh, it just depends on where you are and what you do. But having moved about four different jobs, I will say that everything I have worked on has left an impact in every organization and it has helped me scale and, um, I have helped scale and scope the initiatives. Additionally working at the National Security Agency, one gets to frequently hear how our collective efforts are keeping the nation secure and how we have saved lives. So it's pretty exciting to know that there is an impact. When it comes to people, I really think, um, my investment and focus is on the next generation of tech technical SMEs that are coming up both inside the agency and outside. And I do invest my time, uh, working with them. 

Liji Samuel: There is an aspect of accomplishment when it comes to private, where at the end of it, it's money that matters. There has to be a profit factor when it comes to, uh, our federal government, we are, we value every bit of money that is taxpayers. And so it is, uh, well planned and the resource is carefully executed. But I'll say like the, the true goal and mission is, especially at NSA, is to keep our nation secure. So the whole, the goal, the main goal agenda is different. So that kind of translates down in how the policies are and how the leadership, uh, responds. And so I do think, uh, personally, like there is an advantage pro and con to, uh, both organizations. Like when it comes to money, there's of course private sector giving a lot more. But when it comes to the benefits, when it comes to the accomplishments and feeling, uh, that you've met some purpose in life. Uh, I do think working at an IC community has helped me with that.