Dr. Rodrigo Fontecilla’s career began as a professor at University of Maryland’s computer science department. While teaching, he began consulting for clients such as National Research Lab. Discovering consulting was something he really enjoyed, Fontecilla decided to pursue that avenue and ended up working for a small 8(a) firm. Five years later, he decided to transition into a bigger organization and ended up at Booz Allen, where he became a principal. In his role there, Fontecilla was in charge of the law enforcement and homeland security-related law enforcement area, as well as some IT-related work. A little more than a year ago, Fontecilla ended up at Sevatec when CEO and President Sonny Kakar wanted to establish an IT practice to expand beyond the company’s strategic consulting, human capital and workforce management, e-learning and training mission. “The IT practice was very minimal, really,” Fontecilla said. “When Sonny brought me over, it was to beef up and start winning and selling IT services, solutions and innovation to the government.”
The New New Internet: What do your current duties entail?
Rodrigo Fontecilla: I’m not only the senior vice president – I run the IT practice as a whole, so I have under my purview many projects. Some of these projects are very high visibility. One is the DHS ICAM PMO, which we just won. However, we’ve been supporting DHS for about a couple of years. We started there a couple of years ago and we just won the ICAM Headquarters, but this is one of the high-priority items for Richard Spires at DHS. He wants to make sure the concept of One DHS is supported by a strong identity management solution for DHS, where you have one ID that allows you not only physical access to your buildings, but also allows you to get into applications and view the data you are allowed to see. The other contract we recently won is with the VA, and we are in the process of building an employee accountability system for them. This is a very high-visibility project, so we are in the middle of it–kind of in their crosshairs.
TNNI: I know VA had a couple of problems with its systems being breached in the past.
Fontecilla: To tell you the truth, everyone is being hit. Some have been more open than others to admit that they were targeted. It is very easy for the hackers to get into the government, because there are many different ways to get inside. I’m sure not only the VA, but DHS, DoD–everybody–have been compromised one way or another. The thing is, they don’t advertise it too much. It is like the banks losing millions of dollars over the years and keeping quiet about it. It is a loss and the banks write it off at the end of the year, and that is it. They try to solve the problem, but it is a tough problem to solve.
TNNI: As senior vice president and CTO, how do you keep up with technology trends and industry news?
Fontecilla: Reading and participating in many conferences and also having a very strong partnership with our vendor partners. We have a really good relationship with Oracle, Microsoft, CA, Pegasus Systems – you name it. Whatever we think the new technology is going to be, and we think there is a value for the government in certain technologies, we try to ensure we are knowledgeable about it. We build solutions internally, so we have an internal lab where we ask our vendors to share their software and their latest solutions. As an integrator, we put things together and we build solutions that can help our clients. Technology moves at the speed of light, and you have to be on top of it. It’s like dog years: Every year you spend in technology is like seven or eight years in normal life. For example, the cellphone; about eight years ago, who would have thought that everybody, even 5-years-olds, would have one to communicate, watch movies and keep track of all your friends? Things are going to move even faster in the future.
TNNI: What can a CTO in government or industry do better to protect their information assets?
Fontecilla: Intellectual capital and the protection of it are difficult, but at the end of the day, we can come up with a solution. We are essentially agnostic to the vendor at some point in time. We want to bring the right solution to the government. We definitely want the government to share that solution if it is usable. We are not in the private sector, we don’t sell software and we don’t necessarily sell specific solutions. Our intellectual capital from the IT solutions point of view – we’d like to share those with the government as long as it is useful for them and it is helping them solve their mission problems. From the more intellectual side, we come with methodologies for delivering solutions; we try to protect them and we use what we preach from the point of view of protecting our internal IT. As the CTO, I’m in charge of that, as well as taking care of the internal IT. Protecting our intellectual capital is part of my job.
TNNI: What is your best advice for a young up-and-coming IT professional who wants to excel in the field?
Fontecilla: I would say to work in a company that is growing and has very interesting projects with the government, like Sevatec. Any of these small businesses, where you have visibility and partake in building new solutions for the government, is great. The government is changing dramatically, embracing new technologies more now than a few years back. I think people like [Federal CIO] Vivek Kundra have injected the use of new technologies, and instead of accepting no for an answer, they say, ‘tell me how rather than no.’ For young professionals, to be on a team building one of these mission-critical solutions to the government will really open their eyes significantly and allow them to learn some of the new technologies. That will be really exciting for them.
TNNI: If you didn’t work in IT, what other career would you consider?
Fontecilla: I would say medicine. I always wanted to be a doctor. I don’t know why I ended up being an IT guy. I wanted to help people, and for whatever reason, I ended up doing a Ph.D. and went into teaching, which also reflects in helping people. I’ve always loved to teach people new things. If I had to change and do it all over again, perhaps, I would go into medicine.
TNNI: Why did you give up teaching?
Fontecilla: I also wanted to build things, and when you are a professor, essentially, what you do is you write research papers and those papers are very esoteric. At the end of the day, very few people read them. Although it’s nice and you get the accolades and all of that, I wanted to participate in something bigger. Working as a contractor for the government gave me the ability to teach people, to build things and to be a part of something really, really big.
TNNI: What’s something most people would be surprised to learn about you?
Fontecilla: I don’t know. I’m an open book. When you get to know me, that is what you get. I’m very easy to read. Chess is a hobby of mine. I used to be a really big guy in chess when I was young. I still play a little bit, but chess remains my passion.
TNNI: Did you do any tournaments?
Fontecilla: Yes, I was national champion. I was a masters. It was very serious when I was young. My brain functioned much better a few years back. I also build iPhone applications for a hobby. I have one that allows you to track your health conditions. I have another one that allows you to track your workouts. I have another one that helps you calculate your mortgage payments and your retirement savings that you need to have to retire. I have another one that, unfortunately, with the release of the brand-new system, didn’t sell very well because they fixed that problem. That last app allows you to combine a bunch of pictures into geo code and send it out to people.
TNNI: These applications are available to everyone?
Fontecilla: Yes. They are in the App Store. You can look them up with my name and you will see that there are five applications out there. Those are my hobbies. However, I also really love doing community service. I have been blessed with my life and what I have had over the years, and I really want to help others.
TNNI: What kind of community service?
Fontecilla: For a couple of years, I used to run a chess club for kids. We were state champions for about five years in a row. I was doing that, and at the end of the day, it was very rewarding. I was helping kids and teaching them to play chess. Nowadays, through Sevatec, we do a lot with the DC Central Kitchen. We go there once every month and we make sure the leadership and the executives from the firm participate. We also encourage our employees to participate. That is one of our core beliefs at Sevatec – giving back to the community.