Making the Move from the Private Sector to NSA
NSA project director says soft skills can help you get ahead
September 2, 2021
Like most recent college graduates, Tesheya W. started her career in the private sector. But the desire to do something that she can be proud of led her to NSA, where she is now immersed in cybersecurity as an NSA project director, working with other intelligence agencies and traveling the world to harden America’s cyber defenses.
Tesheya credits the agency with giving her opportunities to grow, both professional and interpersonal, and she credits her soft skills for helping her make a successful leap from the private sector to the tip of the national security spear.
From the Private Sector to NSA
The New York native began her career as a consultant in the private sector, burning the candle at both ends.
“I traveled a lot and spent many nights on a red-eye from California,” she says. “The private sector hours were longer and had less work-life balance. That probably was more on me and my personal expectations than some of the jobs themselves.”
One thing led to another, and the consulting company asked her if she’d be interested in getting a security clearance and joining NSA as a contractor.
“I had no perception of NSA at all,” she says. “I had never even heard of it. I had no clue what to expect.”
She took a leap of faith, joined the agency as a contractor and quickly found her way. “I started focused on customer engagement, impressed leadership in the operations area and was nudged toward a leadership role within operations.”
Within a few years she resigned her contracting role and became an official NSA employee, where the opportunities unfolded in front of her.
“The opportunities are endless with the right reputation, mentors and advocates,” she says.
Seeing the Real NSA
Now that she has seven years of experience under her belt, the University of Maryland graduate sees how NSA is portrayed in popular culture and laughs.
”Honestly, it’s so inaccurate it’s hilarious,” she says. “I wish we could do all the ridiculous things the movies think we do. And they have us looking like stiff robotic people. We are regular folks just like everyone else.”
As an agency leader and minority, Tesheya takes full advantage of the agency’s Employee Resource Groups, participating in six, including Women’s, African Americans and Hispanic Latino Americans.
“They are all helpful in various ways, such as opportunities to receive mentorship and be a mentor, understanding challenges within the subgroups, and they are a wealth of information to pass on to my mentees and my teams.”
Soft Skills and Interpersonal Growth
The diversity at NSA, she says, can extend beyond gender and race, and that offers an opportunity for interpersonal growth.
“I recently worked with someone who has the exact opposite political ideals than I,” she explains. “We also differed on our thoughts about the past, police brutality, and a host of other issues. At one point in my life this might have affected our working relationship. But not anymore. We were able to have dialogues with polar-opposite views and move on as adults to get our work done.”
Tesheya says those soft skills have helped her be successful in both her career and life.
“Emotional intelligence is big one. In a role when you’re not in charge, those skills can make life easier for you and get the mission done.”
What really keeps her going, however, is the larger goal of the agency.
“Dedication to the mission and national security is what keeps me coming in every day,” she says. “Knowing that what we do keeps my loved ones safe makes me proud to come into work.”