John Koenig started his career at Harris Corporation in the mid-1980s, working in the government systems group. He left Harris briefly to pursue projects in telecommunications, only to return to a company whose environment he calls “challenging, demanding, fair, exciting.” In an interview with TheNewNewInternet, he talked about his work as vice president of operations for the new cyber business unit within Harris, how the company finds the next generation of cyber professionals and the advice he has for those who want to work in cyber.
TheNewNewInternet: Tell me a little bit about your background and how you got started in your career?
Koenig: I got started with Harris Corporation in the government systems group back in the mid-’80s, where I worked on some large multitechnology, multivendor, large networks for government customers. Shortly after, I got into some of the quasi-government jobs, primarily in telecommunications. I worked on a number of projects to design and install PBX“™s and telecommunication networks, including projects for the Tennessee Valley Authority“™s nuclear power plants, for Riker“™s Island Prison in New York. Shortly after that, I got into some telecom-service providing. I ran a very large project for the state of Georgia, where Harris provided collect-only calling out of correctional institutions for inmates. At that point in time, the government systems group was trying to get more diversified into more commercial telecommunications. The division I was in split up, and part of it was put into the commercial area of the company, Harris“™ commercial communications sector. I started up a little software business within Harris to provide network management solutions to telecom carriers. We grew that business domestically, primarily selling to the CLECs (Competitive Local Exchange Companies). The business grew very nicely, until the big dot-com fall in 2000 to 2001. I changed the strategy of the business, to go more towards international wireless carriers, as well as back into the government market. The business unit I was running was the NetBoss group, and this group was moved into our microwave communications division. I worked in the microwave communications businesses for four or five years, then the business was spun out as a merger with a company called Stratex Networks. A new company was formed from the merger of the Harris Microwave Communication Division and Stratex Networks. The new company was Harris Stratex Networks; recently the company changed its name to Aviat Networks. I had been there three years leading project line management, responsible for the project strategy with Profit and Loss responsibilities. I decided to come back here to Harris to lead the operations group for the new cyber initiative, and I am very excited about this new challenge. That is my career in a nutshell.
TNNI: What do your current duties entail?
Koenig: I am the vice president of operations for the new cyber business unit within Harris Corporation. We are just getting started; we are building the business with the right talent, tools, and processes to drive to significant revenue. The operations area provides everything from sales and sales support through solution delivery, all supported by our world-class client advocacy group. We understand that with cyber offerings, you have to have a really trusted environment number one, and number two, you have to also have very close customer intimacy so that customers are willing to take what usually is an internal IT function and outsource that to you. You have to be trusted from a technology standpoint, and you have to have very tight relationships with your customers. My responsibilities include customer advocacy, sales, solutions deployment and delivery, and operations for the cyber integration center itself.
TNNI: What are some of your greatest challenges you meet in your current role?
Koenig: Well, I am not sure I have seen all the challenges yet; this is the end of my fourth week. I think I have learned a lot in a short time to be able to drive our cyber initiative. It is interesting, because we see both the internal start-up challenges and external challenges with cyber. When people talk about cyber and cloud computing, there is not really any one definition around what that is. So one of the major external challenges is defining our solutions, packaging them in a way that they make sense to customers, in a way that they understand, and trust what is behind it. We need to educate the marketplace and create the understanding that these are the best solutions. This educational process with the cyber world will drive us to a common understanding and common lexicon to uncover what is really happening. That is a major challenge. I have all kinds of challenges internally with developing acceptable plans and getting staffed correctly ““ but this is all the typical start-up stuff. The real issue is the definition of cyber, the market“™s understanding of cyber, and the market“™s willingness to outsource what is traditionally core infrastructure. That is the real challenge here.
TNNI: You just talked about the demand for cyber professionals, how does Harris recruit top talent?
Koenig: Harris recruits for top talent in many ways. We have an active recruiting process worked through normal channels ““ advertising, Internet job boards, etc., etc. We also find quite a bit of talent through word of mouth, this is easy since Harris is a really great company to work for; it has been nationally ranked as a great company to work for. The third thing that Harris does pretty well is building close relationships colleges and universities; we have an active intern and co-op program that allows us to get great talent early in their career. Even so, obtaining top talent is a challenge, and it is particularly a challenge getting employees in specific areas. You look at cyber right now in the Northern Virginia, D.C. area, and it is difficult to recruit and find the right talent. It is interesting, because in much of the rest of the economy, partially in commercial telecommunications, it is much easier to find very good talent, because there has been a lot of downsizing recently. Particularly here, I think the unemployment rate in D.C. is quite low, and you start getting into these specialized areas like cyber, it is actually hard to find people.
TNNI: You said Harris is a great place to work, what is the culture like at the company, how would you describe it?
Koenig: I can describe the culture at Harris in a lot of ways. I have been a part of Harris for many years; I elected to come back, because I really enjoy the environment here. It is challenging, it is fair. If an individual wants to have a broad range of career selections, the company will absolutely broaden your experiences, as well as challenge you–and you will have fun along the way. This has been my experience at Harris, both in the government business and the commercial business. I have worked in many disciplines, everything from being a systems engineer, a program manager to being in sales and business development, as an individual contributor, a manager and an executive leader. I think the only areas I have not worked in have been in legal, and finance or accounting. I would say working at Harris is challenging, demanding, fair, exciting–all of those. It is really great to be a part of the Harris team. We pull together; we strive to do the right thing. The integrity of corporation is unquestioned, almost to a fault, we always do the right thing for customers, we always do the right thing internally. I don“™t think this describes the culture of Harris in total, but that has been my experience across a wide base of the company for a long time.
TNNI: What is your advice to someone who wants to get started in your field?
Koenig: My field is now cyber, I grew up first in specialized communications and then got into commercial telecommunications, and have ridden the telecommunications convergence with IP networks. Getting into cyber, I think it is best to come up through the technical ranks, either engineering or some technical degree, augment that with an MBA business application, and I think an individual could really dominate in this area.
TNNI: What is something most people would be surprised to hear about you?
Koenig: Three years ago, they would have been shocked that my family and I moved away from Florida where we lived for 20 years. We moved to Raleigh, about three years ago. Our close friends are surprised that we now moving again to Northern Virginia, or will at least split time here. I don“™t know what else would be surprising; I am a pretty open person. I have a woodworking shop where I spend a lot of my spare time building cabinets, jewelry boxes and other home projects–I love woodworking. I have a son that is at University of Illinois studying computer and electrical engineering. I have a daughter that is finishing her senior year of high school and will be going to be going to the University of North Carolina. We have a big yellow lab, about two years old, that we have worked to train correctly–this time. I have a wonderful wife; we have been married for almost 23 years. I guess, nothing real surprising to report.