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Invictus
on hold February 07, 2022

Ebony Pierce

I was born and raised in Washington, DC – a place that I was proud of and have seen change over the years. I attended private school through high school, and this would impact many different parts of my life. I would forego a military career because I had already spent most of my life wearing a uniform and didn’t want to commit to any more time wearing one. I became acutely aware of the cost of education along with its benefits and drawbacks. I would eventually discover that my husband and I attended the same high school, despite me not knowing he existed while we were there. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves…

When I was younger, I found a passion for discovery, adventure, and traveling. I was a voracious reader, and I would walk all over DC for hours just looking at the buildings, people watching, and observing the city. I would think of a question, find a library somewhere on a Metro line, and that would my adventure for the weekend. I would ride the metro for hours and just randomly choose a stop to get off and explore. This allowed me to experience new places and people, but it also helped me to develop efficient ways to engage with a wide variety of people.

From elementary to high school, I had no idea of what I wanted to do…besides get out of my parents’ house and go to college as far away as possible. In my sophomore year of high school, my mom enrolled me in a summer robotics and computer science program at the University of the District of Columbia (UDC). We built motherboards and soldered capacitors, then wrote the programming to operate the machines that we built. I loved every moment of it. I went straight home and purchased several more kits and downloaded the JDE to continue my endeavors. I would take apart anything that was broken just to understand how it worked and to see if I could fix it (although I also broke plenty of things from overconfidence). The next summer I attended a summer computer science program at Tuskegee University, and I was hooked on computer science from then on out. I would challenge myself to write the most efficient programs…syntactically correct, simple as possible, and complex as necessary. I would rewrite assignments to see if I could reduce the number of lines, reduce the number of cycles, leverage more object-oriented functions, etc. I knew then that my college major would be Computer Science.

After graduating high school as valedictorian, I started my college studies in New Jersey. One day, I was strolling along, late to a computer science class when the plane hit the Pentagon on 9/11/01. I was physically so far removed that I don’t think I really felt the impact of what had happened. My mom was working at the Pentagon at the time, and I was from DC, but I didn’t really have a connection that inspired me to do more at the time. The world felt very unfamiliar. I was on a college campus filled with people from all over who each had very different reactions to the attack, but it didn’t feel real to me.

I graduated from college with a major in Computer Science and minors in Jewish Studies and Mathematics. One may ask how I came to have a minor like Jewish studies… At one point while attending college in New Jersey, I was working overnight in a casino, going to school during the day, and living in my car while I was between residences. Although I was able to eat in the cafeteria of the casino, I didn’t have much time in between for meals or cooking, so I would often go to the grocery store and find snacks that I could keep with me like peanut butter crackers, almonds, etc. One day as I was in the grocery store loading up on peanut butter crackers a woman came to get in line behind me. She had fewer items, so I allowed her to go first, and then she commented on my ‘grocery list’. I explained my situation and why I was buying these items. We had a full conversation and she explained that she was a chair for the Jewish Studies Department, and she taught several classes and recommended that I join one – I did and shortly after, picked up an entire minor in Jewish Studies with a focus on the Holocaust. My life is filled with unusual moments like this.

By this time, I had worked as an Office Manager, Project Coordinator, Afternoon Tea Attendant, Bus Marketing Supervisor, Slot Host, Promotions Specialist, Customer Account Executive, Computer Operator, Cocktail Waitress, Instructor, and Overnight Stocker.

After graduation, I was offered an opportunity to work for Lockheed Martin. This was my first job that allowed me the opportunity to use my software development degree. It was also in this job that I started working for the Department of Homeland Security. Working on that contract instilled in me the importance of serving out of uniform – a term I adopted as an indication of my appreciation, admiration, and inspiration for the sacrifice that servicemembers make, while never actually serving in a branch myself.

This was my first introduction to working with the government. I worked on a contract that specialized in complete training solutions for the TSA. We were responsible for testing new Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) and developing the risk criteria that would eventually become TSA PreCheck. Working there at that time really helped me to make sense of 9/11 and made me feel like a contributor in a small way. I enjoyed the variety on the contract and was granted multiple opportunities to grow and learn many different skills. During this time, my amazing manager taught me a great deal about the workforce, and I also gained a true appreciation for the Department of Defense and their numerous missions across the services.

While working at Lockheed Martin, my soon-to-be husband found me via social media, and we started to date. His first message was a picture of me in high school with one line of text “I do know you, I’m not a stalker” As it turns out, that’s kind of a stalkerish thing to do. Despite this, we did start dating and we married 11 months later in a small ceremony. We were both successful in our careers – he, an Electrical Engineer that specialized in FPGAs (programmable chips) for satellites, and I, leading a software development team. Just shy of five years of marriage, my husband died in a car accident on his way to work. This was a devastating time, and I was extremely appreciative of the support that my Lockheed Martin team provided me. They really solidified the importance of having a team that appreciates work-life and operates as a true team, if not a little like a family. I’ve taken that requirement with me to all my successive jobs.

By this time, I had worked as a Technical Writer, ISSO, ISSM, Technical Auditor, Instructor, Cyber Security Engineer, Software Developer, Policy Writer, Office Admin, Incident Response Reviewer, Policy Validator, and IT Security Manager. A coworker at the Department of State and I used to joke that we wanted the distinction of having held every job except President.

After some time, I decided to accept a job with the Inspector General at DIA. I loved every moment. I was able to interact with people from all different backgrounds, explore the missions across the Agency, identify efficiencies and make recommendations for improvements. Everything was up my alley. I was assigned to IT inspections or any inspections that had an IT component. I looked at not only the controls but also the context of the system and overall efficiency. I created a Cyber Risk Evaluation Working Group. In this group, we identified areas that we didn’t have much knowledge on in the IG’s office and we had monthly meetings where we would invite experts from around the Agency to give us an overview and answer questions. This was my first introduction to Invictus. The Lead Technical Engineer, Chris, worked for them. He came in to discuss cloud, and some of the cloud initiatives. He and I had a conversation, and I immediately liked his passion for the subject and his dedication to the work.

A couple of months after my leaving DIA, Chris reached out and asked if I might be interested in joining Invictus. I showed up for the interview, explained that I likely wouldn’t be able to do anything that they needed, but that I’d try…and they offered me the job anyway. I accepted and started in February 2020. I left for vacation to Morocco in March (to start the year right) and when I returned, we were in a full-blown pandemic. I was told to go home and await instructions. The instructions that followed were to stay home for the rest of year along with everyone else in the world.

During the pandemic, I and everyone else in the world had a LOAD of personal things to deal with while also trying to balance work. Racial injustice, protests, quarantines, anxiety, depression, gas shortages, Lysol shortages, toilet paper searches, and so much death plagued every one of us.  But the Invictus team really made it easy for me. They were in constant communication and there was never a time where I felt like I was being excluded, left behind, or ignored.  Jim Kelly, the CEO, put up with every email I sent and took the time to respond. In the past when I started to feel disconnected from my work, I would usually quit to find something new, but the connection that I made with the Invictus team was so impactful that I decided to reach out to see if there was anything we could work out internally. Everyone went to work for me – through all their other daily responsibilities, personal lives, deadlines, etc. I’ve only ever had one other organization do that for me. Jim and the Invictus team might have to put up with me for several more years.  Coming to Invictus has been one of my better life choices.