Federal Spotlight: Isaac E. Hernandez
MC: How long have you been in Federal Service and what is your main responsibility in your role today?
IH: I’ve been in Federal service for six years and about 9 years in the Marines. In my current role I am the Director of IT Operations. That means… that I “keep the lights on.” I make sure that all the IT systems and services that we provide for our customers are up and running (from an employee calling the service desk for assistance to insuring that the network infrastructure is reliable and secure) all in support of FERC’s mission. I manage an IT workforce of about 12 Federal employees and approximately 90 contractors. With such a diverse workforce, I consistently work on a variety of IT and business issues. But I find as long as you make sure people know that you have confidence in what they’re doing it puts them more at ease to do their best. That’s one of the main things I emphasize with my teams and make sure that they understand that I have confidence in their ability to get the job done. That’s important not only from my customer’s standpoint in receiving our services, but also for my team’s continuous professional development as well.
MC: What keeps you motivated and passionate to stay in the public sector?
IH: What keeps me motivated and passionate to stay in the public sector is really my people. It’s the team that I’m working with. I have a really good team, some great leaders that I’ve worked with for the past six years. I tell them all the time, they’re the ones that keep me here. They’re the ones that keep me motivated to continue and I love watching them grow professionally.
Culture is also very important to me. I often talk about how people’s careers steps exposes them to different areas. For example, I’ve worked in different areas in my career including the airline industry, the telecommunications industry, and more. Each experience exposed me to various approaches and cultures that I have grasped over the years. I tell every team member, “Listen, we all bring something to the table and there’s always going to be something that you have done in some part of your career that you could bring to this team to help us move forward.” This is what I call your “work profile.” Every individual’s work profile can contribute to the workplace’s culture.
No idea should be automatically turned down; you have to least consider it. I always like to look for people with very diverse backgrounds to try to achieve that kind of environment. We should try to change stagnant culture and ask “Okay, why we always do it this way? Do we have to do it this way? What is there that we can do to progress? If something takes six steps, why can’t we do it in three?” It’s that type of thinking that brings progress and innovation.
MC: What is one of your biggest achievements?
IH: One would think that I would state a technical achievement like moving the agency to a cloud email service or something like that. We did it twice, which is very interesting. Not many agencies have done that before. We found out a lot through the whole transition, not only going from on premise to a cloud, but also migrating from a cloud to a cloud. Sure, I can say that is one of my accomplishments, but really the achievement that I’m really proud of is my team’s professional growth over the years. I think that, to me, is one of my biggest achievements especially in my Federal service. To help change the internal culture my IT Operations team from just being the “doers” to now the “thinkers,” “innovators,” and “leaders.” My team is willing to efficiently “Move Mountains” to help a customer and meet the division’s objectives. They strive to ask the right questions and understand the requirements to come up with innovated solutions that save the taxpayer’s dollars. Bottom line, my team cares.
MC: What advice would you share on making public service a career and not a pit stop?
IH: My advice would be to do your research. That’s very important. Just like you do for any job, when you’re looking at a potential company and you get called for an interview. They’re interviewing you but it’s just as important for you to be interviewing them. You want to do research about how the company is doing, what kind of market share they have, what kind of benefits they have, and all that good stuff. Similarly, you want to do your research about the public sector as well. Even though the government is the government and everyone knows its purpose, you have different agencies with its own cultures as well.
MC: What advice would you share with young people on entering government?
IH: Patience is one. Patience because there’s going to be times where there is bureaucracy that you have to deal with. You will not always have that “instant gratification” that you are accustomed too. My other advice is, once you get here “know the business.” Know the culture. Know who the big influencers are. I think those that are just now coming into government need to understand and know how to play by the rules. For Millennials, I think the ones that are going to be successful are those that are going to understand and adapt to how generation X’ers think, who by the way are really not much different than Millennials. Baby boomers said the same thing about us (Gen X’ers) as we are saying now about Millennials. In my opinion, the ones that will thrive are the ones that will know how to adjust to the way the Gen X’ers and the Baby Boomers think without compromising the value that they bring to the table. I think that’s the biggest advice I can give them.
MC: We’re going to ask you another question because we know you’re also passionate about mentoring younger people. Can you talk about that?
IH: I do have a real passion for mentoring. Growing up myself, I had a lot of mentors but not a lot from my background. I grew up in the Bronx and am a first generation Puerto Rican. I had a lot of mentors growing up from family to teachers, but not from the business world perspective. After I left the Marine Corps, I went into the private sector and I saw that there weren’t many Hispanics in leadership roles and not many people who looked like me. One of the things that I noticed from other cultures over the years is that they all help each other and they all look out for each other. Now, I’m not saying that you’re giving somebody a chance just because they are from your culture. I’m saying that whether you like it or not, you are a role model. You are just showing people that, “Hey, you can do this too.” I had that opportunity once I found others like me in positions which just motivated me to say, I can do that.
I think, just going back to my passion for mentoring – you need to show people that they can do what you can do. Just this opportunity alone of being interviewed, is an example. Some kid may do a search over the Internet and this interview comes up. They may say, “Oh, wait a minute. He was interviewed…he’s doing this? Let me find out more about this guy. I think I can do that too.” You don’t have to be famous to be successful. If I can effect one young person’s thinking from “I can’t” to “I can” then that’s worth every minute I spend mentoring.
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