Civilian leads by example, draws from past experience

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Martha L. Petersante-Gioia
  • 66th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
Editor's Note: This is the first article in a series highlighting Hanscom women and their accomplishments during National Women's History Month. 

Parents teach their children to strive for excellence in their endeavors and to learn from every experience they may have, good or bad. One woman here has taken that advice and used it to fuel her passion for government service. 

Ann Markman, Electronic Systems Center deputy chief information officer, believes that one can succeed in the world by drawing from what they've learned and embracing the mission of the organization or company they're working for; both are points she discovered while serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa and civil servant at the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Service-Oriented Mindset
After completing her undergraduate degree in the 1980s, Ms. Markman volunteered for the Peace Corps for three years. 

She was sent to Benin, Africa, a "small country in western Africa about the size of Pennsylvania," she said. "I went into it thinking, 'I'll help a third-world country,' but I came home realizing how much I had learned and grown. 

"It was a truly self-motivating program," Ms. Markman said, as she recalled how her bags and a motorcycle were dropped off the side of a truck in the west African countryside with no phones or electricity. She was told to make her way back to [the city] for her next series of shots about four months later. "It was my job to find a place to live and work it all out." 

With a mission of implementing "appropriate technology," she discovered a program, run by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization that took food to schools. However, the schools in her village did not receive any deliveries. "The school did not meet the minimum requirements of shaded places to eat, clean water and someone to cook the food for the children," she said. 

Exhibiting leadership, she sought out a Dutch volunteer specializing in wells, another volunteer with construction expertise and brought in a Beninese social worker to assist in the building effort. "We went in and built about 10 school-food programs. The food followed, the school population increased and the sheltered areas turned into community centers where women's programs focusing on health services, taking care of their children and other health topics met," she said. 

"This experience allowed me to gain a tremendous amount of appreciation for how lucky we are in this country," she said.

IT implementation
After returning to the U.S. and completing her graduate work, she drew on her service-oriented focus and an interest in the information technology field, which she discovered with the advent of the office personal computer and seeing first-hand what it could do for the business model. "I became interested in how to apply IT to help our businesses become leaner," she said. 

She stressed that the IT career field is more than just ensuring that an organization has the correct PCs and laptops. During her 15 years working for the DoT, Ms. Markman helped to turn around a project instituted by the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation Act of 2000, which was created out of the Ford Explorer and Firestone Tire incidents. "The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration collected data from the major auto and tire companies, child-safety seat manufacturers, and any add-ons to cars and trailers. However, when I came onto the project, the development of an application to collect the data was behind schedule and over budget. 

"After bringing it back on track, the Tread Act data was obtained ahead of schedule, analyzed and a trend was found -- again in tires. The tire company was notified and actually self-recalled the tires. Based on our efforts, I know we actually saved lives," she said. 

"Now, what I focus on [at Hanscom] is how to bring a more business-oriented perspective to our information systems and make sure they are really focused on the mission and mission capabilities. I ensure we make sound investments in our IT portfolios: what we buy, what the business cases are, examine the risks and ensure a focus on strategic planning. 

"Basically that means, let's make sure that what we are doing with IT is about serving our warfighters currently in Iraq and Afghanistan, supporting our weapons systems and buying things that will make a difference for them." 

Throughout the IT career field, she has observed that many people rush to the "newest and greatest" technology. However, Ms. Markman said, that "isn't always what the job is about. Technology can be fun, but having the latest and greatest tools doesn't always make you the most efficient; it's about having the right tools and applying them in the correct way for the job." 

The principles of Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century and Lean, which support her view of creating an IT tool to make users more efficient, already existed with the business mindset of Total Quality Management, she said. These thought processes allowed her to explore IT as a work tool in the business process rather than just the business process itself.

Mentors showing inspiration
None of her success in a predominately male field would have been possible without the inspiration of her immigrant grandmother, who experienced first-hand the Great Depression, Ms. Markman said. 

"She talked about never giving up, especially through the Great Depression, and became an Avon lady. She went out on her route every single day, and on the day she died [at 82], she had gotten dressed to walk her route," she said. 

"Today, I have five silver dollars from that era in her life and they remind me of her message of perseverance I received from watching her," she said. 

Ms. Markman believes her mission is to serve the American people. Her federal career enabled her to meet and work with another leader who has motivated her -- Coast Guard Admiral Burt Kinghorn, who commanded East Coast operations on Sept. 11, 2001. 

"He was incredible [to watch]; he was so focused on the mission first, serving the American public. One thing I remember is that he always said yes, there wasn't anything the Coast Guard couldn't do, and I find a lot of that attitude within the [Department of Defense].

Future, U.S. Air Force Cyber command
When looking to the future, Ms. Markman sees the Internet as the new battleground of information. "That is the new frontier; we have the ability now to instantly send and receive information." However, so do "the bad guys." 

Cyber attacks occur on numerous Web sites daily. "We have become heavily reliant on software and IT applications, even in our homes and cars. The wrong kind of tools in the wrong hands can really put us in a world of hurt." 

Ms. Markman views the Air Force's new Cyber Command as a way to "get ahead of that and assist DoD in dealing with the use of information management to our advantage."
She also offers simple advice for those looking to enter the IT career field, and the federal service. "It isn't about the technology; it's really about the mission. IT is a tool to help us do our jobs better. We need to ensure that what we're getting focuses on the mission. 

"When you work for the federal government, it all comes back to serving the American people. Each day when I leave my home I think, 'what am I doing for my neighbors?,' because their money pays our bill."