A Passion for Problem Solving Fuels Career Success

June 2013
Cassandra Holley
Cassandra Holley

Cassandra Holley's engineering career has taken her across the country and halfway around the world, working for companies that support the U.S. government or private enterprises. In her current role as a principal information systems engineer at MITRE, she draws on the lessons learned from those experiences.

As an adviser to the Operations and Maintenance and Systems Engineering managers within the Information Technology Management (ITM) division of the US-VISIT Program at the Department of Homeland Security, Holley works in the areas of IT service management and program management. She helped build the case for establishing an IT service management organization in the division by researching and providing a construct for the new organization and the processes and technology necessary to make it a success. She also supported an acquisition that transitioned the execution of IT Service Management (ITSM) from one service provider to another. [ITSM is a business practice that aims to align the delivery of IT services with needs of the enterprise, emphasizing benefits to customers.]

Holley is part of the Homeland Security Systems Engineering and Development Institute (HSSEDI™), the federally funded research and development center MITRE operates for DHS. She primarily supports the DHS's US-VISIT Information Technology Management Division, which is responsible for operating and maintaining the US-VISIT program's biometrics and biographic information systems. She works on-site with our federal government customers "99.9 percent of the time."

"Why do I like working at MITRE? Because in many ways this is my ideal job. I get to use my analytical skills to help our customers solve complex problems," she says. "I can apply my knowledge, experience, and research skills to recommend solutions."

Taking the Long View

Holley says she finds the work rewarding because it helps DHS carry out its vital identity verification and validation mission. Also, it gives her the opportunity to take the long view of the department's challenges and how MITRE's guidance should evolve over time.

"In my work, I focus on the big picture of user needs and system requirements, as well as providing technical advice on oversight for specific ITM initiatives."

Holley's tasks include translating sponsor needs into acquisition requirements and providing IT project management advice and business-process analysis research. The job requires a deep knowledge of how US-VISIT uses its IT tools to support mission goals. This means advising US VISIT ITM on concepts of operation before and after tools are implemented.

Holley also advises the division on how to work most effectively with outside contractors implementing and operating ITSM tools. She is particularly proud of her work helping ITM create and deploy an updated, more structured IT asset management program. It resulted in the successful implementation of new tools for sharing critical asset data. Additionally, she worked with US-VISIT officials to improve the knowledge management capabilities of the division's help desk. This effort focused on implementing knowledge management tools and establishing new processes for ITSM.

When asked what to expect when you join MITRE, Holley replies, "You work hard, side by side with your sponsor, as a partner in achieving the mission. Ultimately, being a trusted adviser means telling the truth based on the facts even if it is a tough message for your sponsor to hear."

(Editor's note: since this story was written, Holley has moved on from her US-VISIT work to bring her program and service management expertise to MITRE's Center for Veterans Enterprise Transformation.)

Managing Change in the Enterprise

Holley notes that her MITRE work, though different in many ways from her earlier endeavors, also focuses on managing change in the business enterprise.

Her experience includes working in the consulting industry and implementing customer-relationship management systems for AT&T and the U.S. Postal Service. In addition, she assisted the state of Virginia's IT agency in establishing change management and communication capabilities for its new data center for Booz Allen Hamilton. She also established a project service management office for an outsourcing project in Bangalore, India, for Accenture. In all these projects, she helped manage the impact of change on organizations—an area that's become a central theme of her career.

She always finds getting to the root of a problem and designing a solution particularly satisfying. She feels the same about the volunteering efforts she undertakes in her spare time.

"I was raised in a household where you knew you had to help others," Holley says. "I've done volunteer work for a variety of organizations since I was 15 years old. Currently, I serve on the board of an international organization that serves the interests of women worldwide."

—by Maria S. Lee

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