Never a Doubt: How John E. Set His Sights on an NSA Data Science Career Right After College

May 21, 2021

Often, people don’t pursue a data science National Security Agency (NSA) career until after years of grinding away in the private sector for profits and clicks.

Not John E.

“After college, I chose NSA over the private sector to contribute to national security,” he says. “That’s what I hang my hat on and why I stay. The mission is among the best aspects of the job and I cannot overstate how important that is to me.”

Growing up in Florida, John E’s hobbies were outdoorsy: riding bikes and climbing trees. However, in school he found himself having a high aptitude for the hard sciences, especially math. Those subjects just weren’t initially where his heart was.

“At the beginning of college, I was a political science major,” he says. “I wanted to be a lawyer.”

The values of seeking justice and fighting for fairness is what led him to that conclusion, but instead of law, he found a different avenue of pursuit.

“I took a calculus course with a great professor, and it opened my eyes to things I hadn’t thought of before. I realized my true love was math, so I became a math major.”

John E’s enthusiasm for his math studies translated into academic success, which in turn translated into being recruited by NSA. He jumped at the chance to combine the values that made him want to pursue a law career with his love and aptitude for math. The rest is history and John E. has now been working at NSA for almost six years.

Once hired, he entered NSA’s development program and took further academic classes, as well as rotational tours which exposed him to different departments and missions within NSA.

“One of my first tours was in a department doing data science and machine learning, I immediately loved the research aspect of the work mixed with a mission focus,” he says.

John credits the many mentors he had during the three-year development program with helping him to find his place within NSA. At the end of the program, he chose to work in the department he initially loved: data science.

“I conduct research at the intersection of artificial intelligence/machine learning and cybersecurity to help develop the next generation of cybersecurity systems,” he says. “These will seek to leverage greater degrees of autonomy and automation in order to better defend the computer networks on which our nation relies.”

In other words, he helps computer networks help themselves by letting us know when they are being attacked. It’s challenging work and John doesn’t do it alone. He credits his colleagues, who come from different educational backgrounds and experiences, with bringing out the best in him.

He credits his colleagues, who come from different educational backgrounds and experiences, with bringing out the best in him.

“The people I get to work and interact with have some of our nation’s most brilliant minds,” he says. “I get to have in-depth conversations with them on some important technical subjects and get to benefit from their experiences and perspectives. My colleagues – to include our partners in government, academia and industry – are deeply passionate about their work and it is so inspiring to work with such an amazing cadre of people.”

He also praises NSA’s commitment to work-life balance, a thought that crossed his mind when deciding on what type of career to pursue after college.

“As a father of two young children, I highly value that I can very easily balance my work with my obligations and interests outside of work,” he says. “My supervisors understand this and empower me to be devoted to my family in ways I believe the private sector would never allow.”

John says it is always gratifying to wake up, go to work and contribute to solutions for challenging problems facing our national security.

He acknowledges that even though he personally had no doubts pursuing an NSA career over the private sector right out of college, others in his field may be more hesitant

So what would his advice be to those interested in pursuing an NSA data science career? “Simply put, you cannot do the cool work we do anywhere else,” he says. “The ability to do the kind of data science that has direct positive impacts on our national security. If you are even remotely interested in what we do, come try it out,” he says.

“I guarantee that you will not find a work environment with more challenging and intellectually stimulating work.”