A Technology Evangelist Brings the Future into MITRE's WorkplaceSeptember 2016
Doug Phair has a really cool job. As a technology evangelist, he helps MITRE’s staff be more effective. Just as important, he enables them to solve important problems for MITRE’s sponsors.
His team identifies and adapts new technology that improve the way MITRE does business. Some technologies his team explores are disruptive, transforming how we support the government. We often help transition those breakthroughs into our sponsors' operations for their use.
But whether small changes or large, Phair and his team serve as a bridge between our workforce and our sponsors' missions. It's a role he values, and one he's spent a lifetime preparing for. How did he get there?
From his perspective, the primary requirement of a successful tech evangelist is to love technology. "I've always been passionate about new technology. My house is filled with the Internet of Things, and I own just about every wearable device there is."
This love for all aspects of tech isn't new. Phair started at MITRE 30 years ago as a co-op student. Now, one of his roles is to look at the readiness of emerging IT tools and services to solve important problems. He also manages a large group of co-ops and interns for MITRE’s Center for Information & Technology internal innovation program. Lately, he's focused on future collaborative systems.
"I assess when emerging collaborative technologies are mature enough to be placed on our roadmap and help pave the path to our users. And we often brief our sponsors on our progress."
An Unbiased Approach to Technology Development
Phair does the initial evaluation of a new technology by creating proof-of-concept systems in his lab and gathers hands-on feedback from user groups.
"My title of evangelist is really just that," he says. "My goal is to get people motivated to try out these new technologies to solve MITRE and sponsor problems. Then we tackle the tough engineering."
His look into the future also includes engaging with universities, students, vendors, and other industry contacts. Phair and his team bring new products into the lab to evaluate. Since MITRE doesn't manufacture or sell products, the company has no financial stake in the outcome and provides an objective assessment. In fact, feedback given to a vendor often improves new technology and its usefulness to MITRE and the government.
An example is an electronic whiteboard copy system that uses an optical scanner to capture whiteboard writing. "We found that it didn't meet security needs, so we worked with the vendor to improve its security. Now, it's not just a capture board, but a secure capture board.
"By sharing our findings and concerns, we help influence the marketplace and add value to the vendor's product. It meets our sponsors' needs as well as our own."
Creativity Starts Early
With ever more advanced (and cool) technology to test, you might be surprised to hear what Phair likes most about his job.
"My favorite part is working with the colleges and students, building a talent pipeline into MITRE with co-ops and interns," he says. "They do some amazing stuff that directly supports sponsor missions.
"One of our recent co-ops transitioned to a full-time employee after he graduated from the Game Design and Development Program at Rochester Institute of Technology. He helped us develop a totally immersive virtual-reality model of new collaboration spaces. We’re now looking into how this technology can help the government.
"A few of our students looked at how the Internet of Things can be applied in an enterprise setting. Several of their prototypes, like the 'MITRE Now' app, show how sensors and advanced analytics produce useable knowledge."
Here's an example of a MITRE Now scenario: The app senses when an employee enters a MITRE building while on travel. A MITRE Now message pops up asking if the staffer needs a visitor's office for the day. The system then seeks out a room using MITRE's pilot office-reservation app, AirSpace, so the employee can reserve it. The aim is to simplify the traveler's day.
Working with Students to Build the Future
A passion for learning is the main requirement Phair uses in gauging talent.
Take computer languages. It’s not just about knowing a single programming language well. To Phair, the ability to learn something usable about a number of programming languages is more valuable than being an expert in one.
"It shows me they can learn," he says. "I hire people who can learn fast and want to show what the future could look like. You can sense early which student fits the category 'give me any problem, and I’ll go solve it.'
"I'm interested in the interns who go to the hackathons and are willing to look for creative solutions. Those are the types I want for the lab. Those are the types that can really help solve challenging sponsor problems."
—by David Van Cleave
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