I got into the technology and software business by accident. I had my sights set on becoming an economics professor — that is, until the Vietnam War hit.
I had the option of being drafted or going to Navy Officer Candidate School. The latter seemed like a good choice to me.
Toward the end of my time at the Navy school, we filled out a green sheet that guided our vocational placement. As we were filling it out, the chief who was administering the forms asked if anyone had any computer training and education. I had actually done a bit in college, so I raised my hand. Then he told me to write ‘computer programming expert’ on line five. I said, ‘but Chief . . . ” He said, “Do what I tell you.”
That’s how I wound up in technology.
In the last 20 years, I went from engineering to systems integration to management consulting and lastly to software, which is where I’ve been for the last 15 years, working with a few different companies — all of which have been doing cutting-edge work.
When I first started out, I found that I was an okay programmer but I was a really good project program manager.
I enjoyed working with people more than I did interacting with computers. So I transitioned from writing code to writing projects and programs. I wrote some really large projects and programs where, frankly, I was in way over my head but some people had a lot of confidence in me and as a result gave me the opportunity. And I was successful.
For example, at AT&T, we were developing the largest implementation of a software project that would be run across all 22 system entities. There were hundreds of people involved in the project across the entire U.S. geography, and I was accountable for running and managing it.
Then during my systems-integration stage, I was doing projects and selling work to clients across a broad spectrum of industry. I started out leading one office, and I wound up within 18 months leading the whole company.
That was because I had grown the business to become the largest business unit.
Eventually, I transitioned to consulting because I felt that I knew a lot on the technology side but I wanted a broader perspective on the sort of issues that business people, who weren’t necessarily technologists, were struggling with.
I did work for a major university to help completely re-engineer all their accounting and financial management processes. We ended up saving them $100 million a year — money that was better directed into educating students.
When the opportunity at Chiliad came up, I wasn’t even looking for it, but what attracted me was that the technology is disruptive, breakthrough and really works.
I also liked that they are solving very real problems in the government that results in literally saving lives and money. It’s getting data to the analyst when they need it to make their mission requirements.
It’s a place where I feel I could actually make a difference, here and in the world.
— Interview with Vanessa Small
Position: President and chief executive of Chiliad, a software company based in Herndon.
Career highlights: Oughtobe Consulting; chief executive, Attensity; executive vice president, Ion Systems; chief executive, Connect.
Education: BA, economics, Macalester College; MBA, Fairleigh Dickinson University.
Personal: Lives in Burke. He and his wife, Heather, have three grown children.