Delivering innovation with speed, security, and scale with Jim Carlini
Who better to round out MindSET season one than the Chief Technology Officer at Leidos, Jim Carlini?
Jim first joined Leidos in the early 1990s, and in this episode he shares not only his career journey to date, but also what he’s seen over the last 30 years in terms of evolution of technology and innovation.
More specifically, Jim discusses overarching themes he sees on a daily basis from customer requirements and challenges and how Leidos is addressing these. He describes how Leidos is delivering innovation at speed, with security, and doing it at scale.
“Those problems really demand application of innovation at scale. And we need, all of our customers need, to do it very quickly and to do it with a high degree of security, because in our interconnected information fabric, everything is within reach and everything needs to be secured.”
On today’s podcast:
- Enduring technology challenges
- Technology requirements across markets
- Delivering innovation with speed, security, and scale
- Impact of COVID-19 from a technology perspective
Jim Carlini: We're excited about how well-positioned we are to really help our customers tackle these problems. And we think the 2020s are going to be a time when Leidos really shines because we are very well-positioned to cross those needs in these customer areas.
Bridget Bell: Welcome to MindSET, a Leidos Podcast. I'm your host, Bridget Bell.
Meghan Good: And I'm your host, Meghan Good. Join us as we talk with pioneers in science, engineering, and technology, to understand their creative mindset and share their stories of innovation.
Bridget Bell: Welcome to MindSET. After more than 15 episodes this season, we got the opportunity to speak with Leidos's Chief Technology Officer, Jim Carlini, to cover all about from his career journey, to what he's seeing in technology and innovation.
Meghan Good: And we recapped a lot of our MindSET episodes and the themes that we've seen, the customer needs, and the challenges that we're addressing, and we really hit on how Leidos is delivering innovation at speed, with security, and doing it at scale.
Bridget Bell: I think Jim really says it best so let's get started with this conversation.
Bridget Bell: Welcome to the final episode of our first season of MindSET. To wrap up the season, today we're speaking with Jim Carlini, Chief Technology Officer at Leidos. Welcome, Jim.
Jim Carlini: Thank you, Bridget and Meghan, it's great to be here.
Bridget Bell: Let's start with a little about your background. Can you tell us about your career journey and your role at Leidos?
Jim Carlini: Let me start by thanking both of you for doing such an extraordinary job with MindSET. You set a high bar for podcasts, and I really appreciate what you've done here, in making this a top-notch communications vehicle. With regard to my career journey and role at Leidos, in many ways I've come full circle. Although it wasn't my first job out of college, my career really took off at this company when we were SAIC. I joined way back in 1989. Yes, back in the eighties, believe it or not. And it was a wonderful ride. It was here that I really cut my teeth, so to speak, technically, working with some of the most brilliant sensor and signal processing people I've ever met. I spent six years here at that time, and then I went to DARPA where I held a variety of positions, everything from a program manager to the office director of one of the offices.
Jim Carlini: And that was a fantastic experience. DARPA is a very interesting place, one of the best places to work in the government in my view. And it was very much broadening. I was able to touch on so many different technologies, so many different mission areas. It was a fantastic experience. And when I left DARPA, I went back into industry. This time I went to Northrop Grumman and I spent almost four years there. And then between Northrop Grumman and coming back home to Leidos, I had my own consultancy, and I helped incubate some small companies. Again, very interesting portion of my career, learned a lot, and an opportunity to work with a lot of different companies. And then of course I came home, came back to Leidos. And about two years ago now, where as you said, I'm the Chief Technology Officer of the company, and it's been just fantastic, come home here.
Jim Carlini: A lot of things have changed since I was here back in the early nineties. However, some things have really remained, and what's really remained, is a tremendous focus on mission and solving some of the hardest problems that our country, our allies, our world, are really dealing with. And we still do that. We do it now, frankly, at scale, we're a big company and we have an extraordinary breadth of technology. I have this enviable position of being the CTO, where my job really is to make sure we remain on the cutting edge of technology, that we up our game, if you will, across all of the technologies needed to serve our markets, and make sure that we're bringing in the key technical staff, and organizing ourselves in a way that really bring the best to our customers.
Meghan Good: Well, really, as our CTO, you do have that broad insight into different technologies and different requirements across our customer base, which is really vast and diverse in lots of markets. Now, I wonder what have you seen as key customer needs this year, and even looking into the next five years?
Jim Carlini: As you said, our customer base is so vast and the technologies they need are so disparate, it's hard to give you a list of what they need. It really ranges from everything from AI/ML to space sensors, and we're involved in fulfilling those mission needs across the board. Instead of listing individual ones, what I think about is what are the big themes that come across in what our customers are asking for? And there's really a few things that really jump to mind. One is, given some of the challenges our customers face, they're really asking for speed in delivering innovation. There's a lot of modernization going on across our entire customer base from our civil customers, to our defense customers, and our healthcare customers. And that modernization needs to happen fast.
Jim Carlini: There's a real press for speed, there's also real press for security. Everything in our interconnected world, which is changing rapidly, really needs to be cyber secure. So security is a big deal for all of our customers. And the last theme that jumps to mind is scale. As we look across the problem sets that we're working, many of them are really national problems, or they're international problems, they're global problems. Some of the modernization efforts that we undertake and some of the missions that we support really have to be done at a national scale. We're really bringing solutions to very broad problems for customers across the entire government space, with speed, with security, with scale. And you could look at individual capability areas for us and you see these themes play out. If you think about digital modernization, which remains a very robust and growing market, our customers really are driving toward efficiency, cost reduction, enhancing the user experience, but really doing this quickly, really putting in automation and speed, in order to reduce costs, to be more efficient.
Jim Carlini: They're also asking, in particular, for increased security as cyber threats continue to evolve really unabated, and as our global interconnected world just becomes more and more of a contested environment. See the same thing in the defense world, the need to deliver military relevant capabilities quickly, to keep pace with what our near peers are doing, is crucially important. Everything from hypersonic weapons to space sensors, as well as software systems to do with command and control. The demand there is deliver them fast, modernize fast, and continue to keep our military war fighting capability ahead of our adversaries. And I'd say all of that has to be done in this environment of rapidly growing threats. Our customers are constantly pressing on securing everything that we provide, including everything from information to information networks, to platforms, to systems of systems. There's a security overlay to everything we do and it's crucial that we do that really well.
Jim Carlini: Also, across our customer base. We're seeing just this growing need for efficiency in automation, whether it be from RPA to harden machine learning models, we're developing and deploying these capabilities in every market segment, from commercial energy to healthcare, to a really wide array of defense application. And here again, even in all of these applications, security is a big issue. When we deploy AI/ML, we deployed what we call trusted resilient AI/ML. There's a whole cottage industry that's in its infancy that people call adversarial AI, where people in universities in particular are going back and forth between breaking AI algorithms and then patching them and hardening them. It's a fascinating area, but we're trying to stay on the cutting edge of that. So then what we deliver in AI/ML is trusted, is resilient. Our customers know it'll work, they know how it will behave, and they're able to upgrade it and know that it'll continue to work as it originally was specified.
Bridget Bell: And throughout this season, I think we've had conversations with experts across the company in various markets, and we've seen it again and again those themes, that the speed, security, scale, and also the drive for that efficiency in automation. It begs the question, what is driving those needs across customers?
Jim Carlini: Well, I think what's underlying all of this across all of our customer base is really a few enduring challenges that we and our allies are facing. Those challenges are things like great power competition. We're really in a new geo-political environment these days where we have our competitors like China are very strong, economically, militarily, and they also have access to all of the globalized technology that we have access to. It's a very different environment geo-politically. This great power competition is really an enduring driving need for our customer base, especially defense and intel, but it touches all of our customers. Also, another enduring challenge is just intense economic pressures. If you look at our aging infrastructure, for instance, there are other economic pressures just from national debt. These are demanding efficiency, demanding cost reduction, demanding doing more with less.
Jim Carlini: There's also healthcare stresses. Obviously, COVID jumps to mind immediately, but our healthcare stresses were mounting before COVID. If we just look at things like demographics, we have an aging population, and that's an enduring challenge, as we go forward into the twenties. And then of course, add on top of that COVID, and all the pandemic implications. And here we have a triad of important problems that are going to endure into the twenties, all of this also is unfolding on, call it a palette of technology that's really moving fast, that's accessible to everyone, and is really driving both the challenges in these areas and the potential answers. When you look at that future, what we're all going to be dealing with in the twenties here, it demands number one, that we move at speed because certainly in things like great power competition, our competition moves at speed, and we need to move faster.
Jim Carlini: It demands efficiency, it demands cost reduction, certainly from the economic pressures. And it demands scale because everything I mentioned here, they're not isolated problems. They're global problems, they're national problems. And those problems really demand application of innovation at scale. And we need all of our customers need to do it very quickly and to do it with a high degree of security, because in our interconnected information fabric, everything is within reach and everything needs to be secured. It's a fascinating landscape that we're looking at as we go into the 2020s. And I think those of us in this business are privileged to be able to try to tackle some of these problems. And we at Leidos are privileged to play on so many of these mission areas. We're excited about how well positioned we are to really help our customers tackle these problems. And we think the 2020s are going to be a time when Leidos really shines because we are very well positioned across those needs in these customer areas.
Meghan Good: Well, let's dig into that a little bit more about what we're going to do at Leidos. I mean, certainly those are some big enduring challenges that you list and ones with important implications, but what impacts do you see that those requirements have on our own innovation and technology here at Leidos?
Jim Carlini: Well, I think if you think about that speed, security and scale, what does that mean, technologically, when I get down to the base technology I want to exploit for solving these problems? And a few things jump to mind. And I've already mentioned AI/ML and the application of AI/ML, both for performance, but also for efficiency cost reduction. That's a particularly important area for us. And as I mentioned, we're looking at AI/ML across every market space. It's touching everything we do. We've actually organized ourselves to centralize our AI/ML senior staff and capabilities so that we're making sure we're touching everything across the enterprise with the best possible AI/ML we can bring. I also mentioned the particular focus we have on resilient and trusted AI/ML. If you look at the investment in the world or in the US, let's take that for starters, 80% of that investment is outside of the federal government. It's the commercial world that's driving a lot of this.
Jim Carlini: And we've positioned ourselves to be both someone who can harvest the best that's out there in the commercial world, but at the same time, adding on some of the resilience and trust that our customers demand that might not be there yet in the commercial world. We're very focused on that and that's something we've met a lot of progress on in the past year. And I couldn't be more pleased with where we are there. Other areas that jumped to mind, and we can harken back to Mike Raker's MindSET podcast, his software. Obviously, much of what's going on in the world is being software driven. So for us, and as Mike talked about, our focus in the software world really is twofold back to security and speed. We have put in the processes, built the culture to deliver software at a very rapid pace.
Jim Carlini: Doing turns on mission critical software, not in months, but in weeks and days, that's crucial. And when we deliver that software, making sure that it's secure, it's tested, it's secure, our customers can trust it. That's really our focus in the software world, again, to fulfill these key mission needs. Then a third of course, is cyber. Protection of information systems, information itself, physical platforms, systems of systems, all of these are key focus areas for us in the world of cyber. And there again, we're looking at ways to automate a lot of that cyber activity. This confluence of cyber and AI/ML is a really important area for us.
Jim Carlini: And finally, I'd say back to the speed and modernizing it speed, we're also delivering platforms and integrated systems at speed. One of the areas that's a big focus for us now, and it's especially a focus within Dynetics is rapid prototyping, and rapid prototyping technologies. Delivering things like hypersonic glide bodies at speed, and doing that with the latest and greatest technologies, whether they be materials technologies, additive manufacturing, all of that is another important area for us. And all of these things, as talked about, really do fulfill this mission need of delivering innovation at speed and with security, and doing it at scale.
Bridget Bell: And so looking into these, you've addressed already some of those enduring challenges, but I'm curious if there's any others that you've seen as customers look to fulfill these requirements and really, how do we, how does Leidos, overcome these challenges?
Jim Carlini: Well, I think there's a multiple ways to think about that question. What are some of the challenges our customers have in responding to this environment, and the particular technologies they need to solve their problems? And what jumps to mind to me is, things like just defining the requirements, understanding what you need. A lot of our customers, they know they have a very clear need to be more efficient, they may have some ideas or inklings about how to automate, how they could apply things like AI/ML. But frankly, mapping that into requirements and sorting the hype from the real, and figuring out how to test that and how to do O&M on systems that employ AI, it might be changing over time, all of these are big challenges for our customers and rightly so. It's a new world of systems that are learning on the fly, changing all the time.
Jim Carlini: How do you know that you're actually getting what you thought you were getting? Big challenge for them. And it's a similar challenge in autonomous platforms, that are applying these kinds of capabilities. They're learning in the field, they're changing all the time. How do I know when I deploy it tomorrow that is still does what I thought it was going to do yesterday, or it does it do it better? All of that is a big challenge for them. Similar challenges are in the cyber world. There's a lot of talk and there's a lot of movement to transition from conventional defensive cyber approaches, to things like zero trust architectures and solutions. And here we're going to run into very quickly, compliance challenges. How do I actually measure how well a zero trust architecture is doing and how do I actually, from a government perspective, ensure compliance with that?
Jim Carlini: All of these are really difficult things from a customer perspective to overcome. And these things jump to mind immediately with your question, and how do we help them in this? I would say simply put, and this is a focus of ours. In a way you just do it. You actually show what the art of the possible is, and what the art of the possible is at speed. One of the things that we were trying to do is a lot of what I would call pilots at scale. We're trying to build to capability so that customers can be part of the process of understanding what could be done at speed, of being part of the process of modifying that, figuring out how to create compliance regimes around it. It's really important and it's much easier when you have something you can put your hands on, so to speak. And tangibly try to come up with, "Okay, now I think I know what can be done. Here's how I want to spec that for the future."
Jim Carlini: Doing that, piloting at scale is I think a big part of what will help the community move forward, and it's something we're focused on going forward. And we're doing that in a number of areas, everywhere from cyber to security detection and automation. We had Bill McGann talk about what the airport of the future might look like. Well, we're piloting things at scale, so that customers can see it. And in a way, if you think about it, I mean, we had the software discussion about SecDevOps, and what we're really talking about here is having a DevOps environment for systems and systems of systems, where the customers are plugged in from the beginning and they co-evolve, and the customers learn what can be done, how to spec it, how to enforce compliance. And we, at the same time, are learning what the customers really need with something concrete.
Meghan Good: And I think that makes a lot of sense. And certainly is something that we've seen in themes, as you said, across lots of MindSET episodes, from even when we were talking about human factors integration with Kritina Holden, and beyond with the DevOps approaches, and so forth. Now Jim, we can't recap 2020 without talking about COVID-19. What implications have you seen or do you see even now from a technology perspective?
Jim Carlini: Well, I think we're going to see, and we are seeing, and have seen, a number of implications, both from how we operate as a company, and other companies are experiencing this as well, but more over what our customers need to respond. We have been on the front lines of helping a lot of our customers to transform, in some cases in days, into a virtual organization, when it comes to their digital infrastructure and applications, and their ability to work remotely. We're helping them figure out how to work remotely and to do that even when they might be dealing with data, that's a little bit sensitive. We heard from Bill McGann, as I mentioned earlier, about what air travel might look like in a post-COVID world. Where we're looking at touchless, frictionless capabilities with built-in self-decontamination for airports to really, really help our airlines and that whole community really stand back up in the wake of COVID.
Jim Carlini: We're also seeing obviously, ripple effects in the world of healthcare in general. We're doing some interesting research for things like PPE that might be self-decontaminating. This is long-term research, a little less mature, but really interesting work that we're doing. And lastly, I'd say in the healthcare world, one of the things we're looking hard at is, as we come out of COVID we hope shortly one of the things we expect that we'll need, at least in the US as a nation, and globally I think, is a more coherent national bio-surveillance capability. We're looking hard and bringing again, the scale that we can bring, as well as the technology that we can bring looking at where can we help our customers do a much better job and respond to the next pandemic a lot better.
Bridget Bell: Jim, looking back on 2020 and on all of the episodes that we've done on MindSET’s inaugural season, are there any themes that stand out to you?
Jim Carlini: Oh boy, there are so many themes that we can talk about. I've talked about some of them, the trends that we're seeing, the particular technologies that are important to us in accordance with those trends. But I guess one thing that we haven't talked about that I would draw out of the full body of MindSET episodes is really what I would consider to be our underlying engine, and that is our people. If you've listened to the full suite of episodes, what you've heard are innovative people who are really passionate about what they do, about pursuing missions that really matter. From start to finish of the season, you've heard from really genuine leaders who just love what they're doing, and that's absolutely critical. And another theme that jumps out to me is also just simply the breadth of what we do, the challenges we tackle, the technology we touch.
Jim Carlini: From getting back to the moon, to keeping the global information common safe in a cyber-vulnerable world, and everything in between. Even space sensors, it's just remarkable, the breadth that we have. We have this combination of breadth, many different technology areas, but most importantly, the innovative people who just love what they do, they love the missions, they know how to bring technology to hard problems. And that combination is just, I think, on display, when you look at the full set of MindSET podcasts.
Meghan Good: And now looking forward, and this is going to be a hard question, are there any technologies or areas of technology you are most excited about?
Jim Carlini: Yeah, that really is a hard question. To some degree, I'm a kid in the candy store, so to speak. We work on so many different technologies and it's moving so fast, there are just so many individual technology areas that I think are really exciting. But my mind goes though, immediately, to something else, which is in my experience and I think a lot of technologists would say the same thing, innovation, really breathtaking innovation, really happens at the intersection of different technology stovepipes, and sometimes really surprising things happen. That's where I think we're going to see things we didn't expect. Where AI/ML, and cyber, and software, and system engineering all come together, for instance, to really accelerate what we can do in digital modernization in a big way, as just an example. I think that convergence, that's really where I'm expecting to see some serious breakthroughs.
Jim Carlini: And we're organized here at Leidos to try to make sure we're on the forefront of that. We don't have stovepipe communities. Certainly like everybody else, we have disciplines and we have separate communities, but we make sure they're cross-fertilizing. It's really important to us that we have this convergence of all the different technology areas, whether it be for information systems or platforms and systems of systems. We're really pressing in, for instance, cyber-physical system security. And how do we bring that to all the products that we bring? How do we bring that to our autonomous systems? And how do we do that from an engineering perspective where that's just part of our DNA, and we're able to always maintain that cyber physical security capability as a system learns, as it evolves. It's a great challenge but I think that's where we're going to see really exciting advances in technologies is in those seams, as well as in the individual disciplines. Every one of them is in its own right, is really making tremendous strides.
Bridget Bell: As Leidos looks to really bring this innovation and solve these technology challenges for our customers, I want to go back to one of the themes that you mentioned of our innovative people and that really being the foundation for everything we're doing. And so I'm really curious, can you share more on the qualities that you look for on your team?
Jim Carlini: Sure. And based on what I said earlier, it wouldn't surprise you that innovation is certainly one of the things I look for. But I'd probably start with leadership skills because of the problems that we're looking to tackle, because we really seek to be leaders in our fields, and leaders in helping shape how our customers really attack some of these challenges. Leadership skills are critical, both so we can help our customers, so we can be thought leaders in the field, but also internally, we try very hard to make sure we're growing leaders internally as well. I look for those who have those leadership skills, who can be thought leaders, who can communicate the problems and solutions, and also have the management skills to help groom leaders internally here at Leidos. That's really important.
Jim Carlini: And of course, innovation, as I mentioned, is critical. And the ability to be a problem solver, the ability to identify and define problems. Defining the problem sometimes is half the battle or more. Innovation and those leadership skills, and last I'd say what I mentioned earlier, it's passion for the mission. Really, that's one of the things that, if you don't love what you're doing, you'll be suboptimal at it. When we get that wonderful combination of passion for the mission, innovation, the ability to bring technology to hard problems, and the experience in doing that well, and finally the leadership skills, to be able to think ahead of the challenges, to help our customers think ahead of them and to groom leaders internally in the company. That combination is just incredibly powerful and that's what I look for in leaders here in Leidos.
Meghan Good: Well, Jim, thank you so much for all that you've shared so far, and your thoughts and perspective, and really the big enduring challenges that we're dealing with as well as the technologies that we're hoping to apply and innovate. Any final words for our audience?
Jim Carlini: I think I would just wrap up and reiterate what I said earlier about the times we're in, and some of the challenges that we have. I think it's really a privileged time for us, those of us in this business, to help respond to the enduring challenges that are out there in the world. Our customers really need the help, they really need some of the capabilities that we talked about here in this podcast. We're privileged to have the opportunity to do it, here at Leidos, and frankly in our whole community. I would just encourage everybody to listen to the entire series of podcasts. I hope you'll draw the same conclusions that I drew out of what I talked about earlier, and join us in this mission that we all have, to really, really, really bring innovation to the 2020s, if you will. Our nation needs it, our world needs it, and we're very well positioned to help. Thank you.
Meghan Good: Well, and thank you, Jim, and thanks to our audience for listening to MindSET. If you enjoyed this episode and the whole podcast series, please share with your colleagues and visit leidos.com/MindSET.