HighlightCast Episode #1: The Pilot  

  • we@designindc.com
  • July 21, 2018


Adam McNair: Broadcasting from Fairfax, VA you are now tuned in to the highlight cast with your hosts Adam McNair and Kevin Long. Welcome to the highlight cast. This is the first episode of the podcast from Highlight Technologies. We are a small business here in Fairfax, VA and focused entirely on the federal government. So that’s what’s going to be the focus of this podcast. I’m Adam McNair, the Chief operating officer here at highlight technologies. I’m joined by Kevin Long. 

Kevin Long: What? 

Adam McNair: Yes, Kevin, tell everybody about what, what it is. You do here. 

Kevin Long: Sure, Kevin long. I’m the vice president for delivery at highlight. I make sure the government gets. 

Adam McNair: There you go. So the structure of this show, what we’re what we’re planning on is that we will talk a little bit each episode about updates of the community. 

Kevin Long: Yep. 

Adam McNair: Things happening in the government contracting the Gov Con spa. Base also some things that are small business trends. We are a small business. We have a few 100 people here at that highlight and there are some commonalities of that that that I think you’ll draw from all the different small businesses that support the federal government. So the the real intended audience for this for this podcast would be both our employees, so they can kind of get a. Look behind the curtain a little bit about some of the things that we that we are thinking about. Some of the things that we do to operate the company and some of the things that we face. But also for industry with maybe there are some some lessons learned or? Best practices that can be picked up or shared from from those of us in the community. So we’ll we’ll talk about that every episode and then there’ll be some topics either either challenges or strategies that that we’ve encountered or employ also maybe some insights and opinions as we have things that are. Either of interest to our employees, to the industry at large or perhaps to. Both. So the first topic that we were going to bring up, which is about. News in the industry and kind of happenings that are going on. This is essentially a summer of State department opportunities. Both Kevin and I have supported State Department a lot over the years and now Kevin, how when did you start supporting state

Kevin Long: Cash 00504. So it’s been been a while been all over. So HRSCADS it’s the whole alphabet salad. So it looks really exciting. I mean, it looks like the drought is finally over, right? 

Adam McNair: Yeah. So you know the the thing about State Department that has been interesting over the years aside from all of those letters, which are all the different bureaus inside of State Department that are sometimes they actually seem like an acronym and sometimes they have nothing to do with the name of it and they’ve just been assigned a letter and that’s what they use. But the thing that happened at State Department over the years you would hear about things that were supposed to be procurements coming out and. They would last literally almost for a decade without ever actually being procured, and so going back probably five or six years ago, their CIO with time, John Streufert, had this big conference where he announced that they were going to unify their central information technology requirements. They had this esoteric. Presentation about the phalanx and of Vanguard and all kinds of Roman soldier slides. And announced they were going to do 3 Vanguard procurements and they were going to do Vanguard one, which was supposed to be service desk Vanguard 2. That was going to be infrastructure and then Vanguard three that was going to unite them both. 

Kevin Long: What? 

Adam McNair: Exactly. Not all of that exactly happened and so ended up doing Vanguard one, which was their service desk, and then Vanguard two became a whole bunch of different things. And so we were involved, both Kevin and I and several of those vanguard programs over the years. Kevin, was there anything about the that whole vanguard process the first time that went around, was there anything that struck you about the way State Department approached all those procurements? 

Kevin Long: Yeah. Well, at least in terms of execution, it was a a change management challenge at a minimum for going through all of the independent areas of all the different bureaus that I listed off and. Saying, hey, Irma is now going to take your people, and we’re going to execute that. And it was really just, you know, grabbing pieces parts from all over the organization around the world, really and putting them all under a single umbrella to make sure that they would execute or try to execute with that. Yeah. I mean, I sat in meetings with different. Bureaus all over talking about how. No, no, we promise, you’re still gonna get the amount of service that you’re used to and then actually trying to deliver that. So honestly, that’s the the biggest, biggest thing I remember from swapping over to the vanguards, they still call it the consolidation. I believe, like with the capital T and capital. 

Adam McNair: See. Yeah. Yeah. And it was. I I know I had had meetings inside the State Department where every all of my customers told me that that consolidation will never happen. They can’t do this. I’m not giving up my funding. And then, interestingly enough, a couple of months later, they sat there and said we really didn’t think this would ever happen. 

Kevin Long: And here it. 

Adam McNair: And here it is. Another interesting thing to know about the vanguards is that most of them are small business and so on the face of it. Vanguard One, which became Vanguard 2.1 the Consolidated service desk for all of State Department. It’s hundreds of people and it’s a small business procurement. 

Kevin Long: Yeah. So large no small business can ever recompete it and and maintain their small business. 

Adam McNair: Yeah. And really the only reason that it actually was not an abject failure initially was that as the consolidation was happening, it really started as only about a fifty or sixty person project. And then every time they would consolidate a Bureau, you would add 10 or 12 people. So it was a staggered start. Then you had that turned into Vanguard 2.1 Vanguard 2.2 point one. It’s

Kevin Long: The best naming structure ever. 

Adam McNair: Is a billion dollar infrastructure contract that was awarded to SAIC. Then there was 2.3 dot one which is being re competed now which is application development inside of State Department. 2.3 point two was really more social media and some of that kind of diplomacy kind. Of work smart. Smart then their messaging program 2.3.3, which is also being recomputed now. Is what they call the ESOC. It’s the enterprise server operations center, and that’s a real ******** multi level security data center contract. 

Kevin Long: Yeah, supporting, I guess they’ve moved out of Terremark and are now up in Maryland and out at the the Southwest Colorado. Well. 

Adam McNair: And again, also small business, they did 2.3 dot four which was remedy if I recall correctly they also their global IT modernization effort the the get them program that was supposed to or maybe was a a vanguard but two 2-3, yeah

Kevin Long: 223223. 

Adam McNair: And so really, those were the only ones that were large business. And so all the rest of them were were small. Nobody thought anything was going to come out of State Department anytime soon. 

Kevin Long: Now, with all the turnover at the top and with Secretary Tillerson being there, I mean the word around. Because anything over $1,000,000 would need a serious sign off up the chain that people didn’t want to ask for, so it was just bridge after bridge after bridge for all of the existing contracts. And who knew that it was suddenly going to break loose. 

Adam McNair: Yeah. And so I think the interesting thing will be that this summer is very much about a bunch of. State Department procurements they came out earlier than that. We anybody thought that they really would. And so teams have formed and and people are participating. It will be interesting to see what happens. And really for me the next part that will be interesting is, can they actually get them awarded? There’s been a history at State Department massive protests. 

Kevin Long: How how long are they going to review protests for 2-3? The ones that are out now, the data center and the app Dev? I mean, there’s a lot of money tied up and to be made in that, whoever loses. That there will be a company that will protest the loss guarantee. 

Adam McNair: Absolutely. Yeah. So so they are, they are very robust procurements both 231 and 233 have have come out. They’re both 175 page technical approaches. Both of them have a, but one of them has 27 key personnel, which when you’re going in means you need actual named. People that are real, live humans that can theoretically show up and do the work with a bunch of clearances and certifications. You need 27 of them and then you’re going to have orals. You gotta go to an oral presentation and. 

Kevin Long: Certification. So. 

Adam McNair: I know I participated in in the presentation for one of them and the first go around and the question that they asked was. If if the main server data center caught on fire and the backup the backup data center didn’t immediately come online and you found out that your your night shift server operator had been involved in a car accident during a snowstorm in Denver. Which is where their backup site is. How would you go about resolving that situation from DC? You now have 10 minutes to caucus. And then come back in and. Answer. So those are the kind of questions they ask. So it’s not like what do you think about data centers? I mean it’s it’s ******** stuff. So that’s going to be a lot of a lot of companies working on those things this summer. And you know we’ll see. 

Kevin Long: It’s like a one month turn around on those too. So for 175 pages plus prep for orals, I mean it’s. These these are serious lifts. They’re they’re no joke. On these guys. 

Adam McNair: So that’s one thing that’s going on in the industry right now and it’ll be interesting to see how it plays out. And you know then on on to another topic, one of the things I think that ties into that finding talent in, in this business, it’s an art, not a science is what I usually. Tell people and I know Kevin has certainly been able to find. Very, very good people. And from a technical standpoint of leadership capacity in lots of ways. You know you. Have any particular thoughts on on that asset? 

Kevin Long: Yet never turned down an invitation to meet someone. I heard that once. So it’s a it’s a real it’s a it’s a it is an art and you never know who you’re going to meet. And one day that will be useful to you in the future. And. You know, every time someone who works with me takes another gig that’s better for their career. You wish them well and you tell them. You know, I look, I I don’t view this as goodbye. I view this as I look forward to next time I work with you. Right the some of the greatest success I’ve had is is being able to keep a a growing stable of folks. That you’ve worked with as a known quantity that you know keep an eye out for for the the next opportunity that they’ll be perfect for because you know, working for the government is is. Takes a special temperament, personality and skill set, and when you find good folks, you don’t let them. Go lightly right? 

Adam McNair: Yeah, and and I agree, one of the things that I you know that I I was explaining to somebody the other day is that. When you were. When you’re going to match somebody against requirements. At some point they go from being a resume to the actual person that has to do that job, and so. Yeah. You may say, OK, well, you know, I’ve got eight different requirements I want to match this person up against, but they have to actually show up and do the job so that that interpersonal decision of is this the right person that can do this or not? I I think is is an important step and and knowing the person is is a good. Yeah, a good part of that. And so I I agree with you that anytime you can meet some. Buddy. Keeping them in the back of your head for for future jobs is is important, and it’s also where and one of the things that we’ve done here is really try to push referrals. There’s been a lot of studies done that people that are referred to a job are happier with the job. They stay longer. There’s some tactical logical reasons why and if you know somebody when you get to a company. 

Kevin Long: Absolutely. 

Adam McNair: You at least have a person to ask, and right when you work on a project with somebody you know, you’re probably gonna be happier. 

Kevin Long: And you’re not gonna refer somebody that you think is a dud. So it’s. I mean, you’re only gonna get people that. I mean, ostensibly, you’ve hired someone you trust. They’re doing a good job. They refer someone. 

Adam McNair: Yeah

Kevin Long: To. You. You know that’s on their reputation too. So I mean it’s it. It is so valuable to have a great referral system. 

Adam McNair: Yeah. And we’ve some of the things that we do we in in the orientation session, we talk about the importance of referrals. That’s one of the the programs that I I personally tell everybody. About when they start. We also in our newsletter every month we we send out a list of jobs that we’re looking for specifically for referrals on and we have a contest annually that whoever submits the most successful referrals ends up getting to take a trip. And one of our employees, the employee that won that last year. She got three days of extra leave off as a grant so that she could take the vacation, so it’s not like, oh, here’s an airplane ticket, by the way. Go ahead and use. Leave and she went to Vegas. And so she went to Vegas and got to go to a Gordon Ramsay restaurant and got to go to shows. And the whole thing. Yeah. And that’s for successful referrals. So that’s that’s something that we’ve done that has helped to to drive referral traffic. 

Kevin Long: Had a great time. Yeah. I mean, and honestly, the price of a of a vacation to Vegas for for a. It it when compared against if you’re hiring somebody and you’re actually then making money on them as opposed to a as opposed to just having a docket sit empty. It’s easy, man. 

Adam McNair: Yeah, there’s a lot of other aspects to it. It it really is a complicated thing. It’s it’s where do you, where do you advertise your jobs, what recruiting services? Do you use and? I don’t think there’s one good answer for that, and any answer you come up with, I don’t think stays good for that long. You know, there was a time there were monster. We all had monster accounts. 

Kevin Long: Monster was it? 

Adam McNair: We don’t even have a monster account as a company anymore because you know, one of the exercises you do when you look at all of your job subscriptions, you got how many unique candidates are we getting from each one? And and we don’t

Kevin Long: Now we’re like on indeed. And and I mean, LinkedIn jobs is doing great class door. I mean it’s. There’s a big swath now, and eventually I think the the job hunt services are going to take over, but I. Don’t necessarily think they’re there yet. 

Adam McNair: Yeah. And and there are, there are still some you know some organizations you know like like a ZIP recruiter that their model is interesting in that it’s really a curated list. They are actively they are offshore paying people to go out and build. A list of potential candidates and send them to you with some better analytics behind it that might turn into something I think right now it’s kind of a brute force effort where they just have a zillion people in a room somewhere searching resumes and trying to send them out to companies. Better data analytics behind it where they can really find ways to match. People up. But there’s always that gap. Having people describe what they do and what they actually did are very different things. 

Kevin Long: This. Well, you’ll never replace, you know, talk, letting someone who’s actually doing the work on the ground talk with someone who you think might be good at doing the work on the ground, right. You can have the best referral on Earth. You know, still not have it be the right fit. I used to hear, you know, even Morgan Freeman isn’t right for every role. Right. Incredible actor. But so you can have incredible tech resource and really smart. Really hard. Working, you know, awesome. Not the right fit for office X, right? So. 

Adam McNair: So when you look at a resume, what do you try to look for or what speaks to you out of a resume that it really is somebody you think you might want? 

Kevin Long: To talk to absolutely step one, do they need the labor cat calls you know because that’s easy and you know, we’ve gotten really good with our recruiters, not. Like flag and say hey, we think this person looks really good but need waivers for XY and Z so that that that gets removed from my plate. But really, I look for people that don’t job hop, you know, at least not without good reason. That explains it, and I look for good punctuation, proper spelling, consistent formatting, right? Like, does somebody care enough to make sure their resume looks right? You know, because if they don’t care enough about that, why are they going to care about my customer? And then I look for people that when they describe what they’re doing, they they talk about what they do, they prove that they’ve done it and show that they. Care about the work they’ve been

Adam McNair: Doing I agree with you on that that format aspect, I think you know we just hired somebody to to join our proposal team here. And I looked at probably 50 or 60 resumes interviewed. Maybe 8 brought three or four people in for in person interviews, the number of resumes that were terrible was pretty amazing. I I also think that the tone with which somebody describes their accomplishments is a little bit of that window into. 

Kevin Long: Yeah. 

Adam McNair: Are they overly braggy? Do they sound like they’re taking credit for things they probably did not do, but also not all the way to the other end of the spectrum that it’s just almost a I went along with the flow and I was here as part of a team and there’s no actual real accomplishment described, I also think. That. People need to be mindful of what’s most important about them. I feel like I end up spending a lot of time trying to go through an individual resume trying to figure out what is special about a person because they followed the format that everybody thinks they’re supposed to follow on a resume, a resume. 


Kevin Long: A sales document. I mean, you’re a company of one and you are trying to convince someone to buy what you sell and if you don’t know what you’re selling, why is anybody gonna buy


Adam McNair: Then if you have a clearance, put it at the. Right. Bold it. If you have certifications, especially ones that are difficult to find, put it at the top. Do things like not just your summary and your objective of I’d like to have a job. Well, of course you do. That that’s why I have your resume. 


Kevin Long: That’s the point. 


Adam McNair: But things like my core skills are and bullet them out. If you were with multiple companies. 


Kevin Long: But. 


Adam McNair: But it was all really one job and we see this a lot in the contracting community. I was on site, I worked for three different companies over the course of six years on the same project. It can make it look like you hopped jobs. Yep, when in fact you were in the same chair. The government picked three different companies over six years. That’s no fault of your own. So right that you were a system. 


Kevin Long: Yeah


Adam McNair: Administrator for the Department of Justice from 2000 to 2010, and by the way, it was for eight different companies. 


Kevin Long: Right. 


Adam McNair: Same job. Your job didn’t change. Your company changed. That’s not the point of the resume. It’s a sales topic, yes. 


Kevin Long: Same thing noted if you’re getting promoted, you’re and doing stuff. If I was programmer A then got promoted to tech lead B and then promoted to deputy project Manager C to program manager, but it was all always with the same company with that and you’ve got different dates on it, you know, say hey was with. Company X and promoted through six different positions, and then you can put it out so it doesn’t look like you’re moving. From from place to place and doing all these different things. 


Adam McNair: Explaining something if it’s going to be out of the ordinary, positive or negative. Calling it to attention and explaining it, you know, I’ve had a lot of resumes where they show no job activity for the last four years, showing no job activity for four years with no explanation. I’m probably not gonna gonna follow up that person or call her if they say. Today I was with the Peace Corps doing charity work. I decided to stay home and raise kids


Kevin Long: I was writing a novel whatever. 


Adam McNair: Anything but some kind of this was a conscious choice. I was doing this. Go ahead and and explain that. 


Kevin Long: You got to make it easy for us because you’re not the only one. We’re. Looking at right? 


Adam McNair: Right. And and some metrics, some number that you know I I imaged 1000 workstations or I wrote 500 pages of something but it can’t be all that or or it feels like it’s going to be mind numbing to speak to that person at at some point. 


Kevin Long: You need to be able to figure out a way to show that you are a person, but also you’re a person that someone. ‘S going to want. To work with, right? Any other final? 


Adam McNair: Thoughts on that? 

Kevin Long: Nah, just looking forward to hearing more, more from the highlight cast in the. 

Adam McNair: Future same here. So we we will prioritize some some topics. We’ll continue to do this we will. Talk a little bit about things that are happening in the community. We will talk about as we go to events in the community. We’ll have some some out briefs on those. We as a company have projects all across the country. And so there’s always a unique nuance to supporting the federal government wherever you’re doing it. But each geographic area has its own personality at some level. 

Kevin Long: Georgia is different than Ohio is different than California, is different than DC, that’s for sure. 

Adam McNair: Yes, that is very true. And generally most of the places we support seem to be very difficult to get to and. Very, very hot and humid in the summer. Time but it. 

Kevin Long: Justine. 

Adam McNair: Does seem that way. I hear there’s government in San Diego, but we don’t seem to get to do work there for some reason. 

Kevin Long: We’ll we’ll put it. 

Adam McNair: On our list. Yeah. But so we’ll, we’ll continue to go through those kinds of topics and as we send this out, we’ll we’ll start to have some some mechanisms through our through our website and and through the podcast to either collect feedback or take questions. From highlight employees and so forth. So that’s our highlight cast and we thank you and we’ll see you next time. 

The the views and opinions expressed in this episode are those of the hosts and do not necessarily reflect highlight technologies and or any agency of the US government.