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Alumni Profile: Jerry Davis

A 2003 graduate of Capitol College’s master’s program in network security, Jerry Davis has channeled his lifelong love of technology into professional achievement, becoming a thought leader in his field.

As chief information officer and head of the Information Technology Directorate at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, Davis helps keep the center at the cutting edge while providing vital support to NASA missions.

Davis, who served in the Marines, also worked as chief information security officer for the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to that, he served as NASA’s chief information security officer and deputy chief information officer for IT security.

Davis spoke with the Capitol Chronicle about his career path and how his Capitol College experience helped in achieving his goals. 

What initially attracted you to the field of network security? 

As a kid growing up, I always had an interest in technology, and I gravitated over the years to computer sciences. Right after high school, I joined the Marine Corps, and after that I ended up in the intelligence community as a private investigator. I worked in personnel security, went to physical security school, and eventually all that rolled into IT security. 

What drew you to Capitol College to pursue your graduate studies? 

One of the biggest things is that the network security program was a National Security Agency (NSA) Center of Excellence for Information Assurance – that was a big draw for me.

My feeling was that if you really wanted to move up in the world of security, having the Center of Excellence credentials behind your name was key.

What were some of the most useful things that you gained? 

One of the things I love about Capitol – and which I put to use during both the time I was at Capitol and afterwards – was the handson experience. It’s not just writing papers.  Actually going out and building networks and then building the security aspects, documenting your work, and doing research on that and then turning it in – this was of phenomenal help. Especially after I graduated because you have practical experience at that point, and you know it’s not just something you’re theorizing about. Also, from an economic standpoint, Capitol was very reasonable in cost. I found it was one of the best values for a master’s degree especially from an organization with that relationship with the NSA.  The economic standpoint is one of the things about Capitol that I push people to look at.  It’s just a great value.

What’s it like being at NASA? What do you find particularly rewarding? 

NASA is known for a lot of different things.  Here at the Ames Research Center, in particular, we’re in the heart of Silicon Valley.  One of the things that I love about being on the West Coast is that you have access to some of the technology giants. You can share ideas and develop partnerships with them, solutions that are five or ten years out … and you just don’t get that anywhere else in the United States. And having that NASA brand, with all that it’s known for in the different areas of technology, will open a lot of doors and enable you to really accomplish some good things.

So my job here working in technology, supporting the different space activities that we do, the different missions – it really is a dream come true.

This is my second rodeo through NASA, so to speak. In 2003, I applied to the astronaut program. I tell people I didn’t make it, and the consolation prize was that they let me run security.

It’s every kid’s dream to be able to work at NASA. To be here at the Ames Research Center, to be on the cutting edge of technology… you just can’t beat it.

Do you stay in touch with other Capitol alums?

I stay close to friends on the East Coast, who are now working for the big integration companies out there. The folks at NASA who are on the East Coast include adjunct professors at Capitol, so we have some conversations from time to time.

What advice do you have for young people, who are interested in technology and network security or who dream of working at NASA? 

When I mentor different groups, I always say that number one, you should have a plan for what you want to do. Sit down and think about it and talk to different folks and lay out a plan. The second part, which tends to get missed, is execution, doing everything you can to develop your skill set so you can take it to the job market.

How did I get to NASA? I hear that question a lot, and I say “I applied.” I filled out an application and I applied for the job. But I think I came to the table with skill sets and capabilities that worked in my favor. So I always tell folks to have a plan and execute it.  If you don’t execute your plan, then it’s just simply a dream.

I think folks also have to work on the soft skills: being able to communicate, being able to articulate clearly, and being able to get along with others. It’s important to look at organizations, organizational management and behavior, and to learn about things like finances – these are transportable skills that you can take with you to wherever you want to go.