Careers: Interviews
Ingemar Flores, co-founder Lockheed Martin Shark Tank® Organization, Top International Software Engineer and Innovator

This week, Stephen Ibaraki has an exclusive interview with Ingemar Flores.

Ingemar FloresIngemar Flores is an intrapreneur at Lockheed Martin. He worked in cyber, software engineering and management, network architecture, satellite design and space hardware testing. His experience and education span mechanical, aerospace, software, and network engineering. His constant goal has been on launching initiatives for creative, talented engineers in the spirit of the Skunk Works®. He enjoys working in the military and intelligence domains and strives to make them as innovative and forward-thinking as they were in generations past.

To listen to the interview, click on this MP3 file link

The latest blog on the interview can be found in the Canadian IT Pro Connection where you can provide your comments in an interactive dialogue.
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PARTIAL EXTRACTS AND QUOTES FROM THE EXTENSIVE DISCUSSION:

Interview Time Index (MM:SS) and Topic

:00:38: From a young age, describe your journey, milestones in that journey and any lessons learned?
"....I was born and raised initially in Mexico and was lucky in two ways. First, I was born into a solidly upper middle class family and second, I was born there as an American citizen. My mom is American, she grew up in upstate New York, so she expatriated to Mexico to be with my father. My dad passed away when I was eight and things rapidly changed there and we went from being upper middle class in Mexico to being in Florida and poor. We moved into basically a ghetto for three years and then slowly started the climb back out through academics throughout high school, and I went straight from high school to Cornell....A key part of my experience was simultaneously to be born into a situation where I knew what to strive for, but also to go through poverty to develop that certain hunger and that hunger is a very motivating part of my experience...."

:03:41: You entered the public school system in the US and it gave you an appreciation of the people who come from different economic backgrounds and the struggles and challenges that they sometimes face. You are now professionally at the top of your game, does it make you more challenging of the people who have different economic circumstances or more accepting and inclusive?
"....That's a good question and it does cut both ways. First, it makes me understand that it's easy to say that poor people either choose to be poor or maybe are lazy or misdirected and some of that is true, but there's also a fair number that just don't know how to get out. They don't always have role models (teachers who can guide them or are interested in guiding them), and they don't have a path and a channel that will sustain them. For a lot of them I think they saw their best chance of getting out as being athletics and maybe that's true. Maybe some of them can become superstars in sports, but the odds of that are low and there's also a continuous risk if you want to succeed through athletics that misfortune can really catch you whether it's an injury, etc. Academics is really a much more surefire way, but they don't necessarily see that; from that perspective I do sympathize with their situation - there is a chasm that needs to be bridged for them...."

:06:10: What was your journey to get into Cornell?
"....I wish I knew exactly what was in the heads of the admissions officers, I think part of it was my story, part of it was the hunger and I did well academically in my school....I was solidly qualified I think academically, but when I got to Cornell I was suddenly surrounded by people who in many cases better exceeded what I had accomplished academically so I think what set me aside was that hunger...."

:08:33: You are an authority in security. What are the top trends? What can enterprises do?
"....One top trend right now is a general breakdown in trust. A breakdown in trust that your networks are secure and on the part of consumers that businesses know that their users are not necessarily going to trust as much data to them anymore....I think executive leaders are waking up to the idea that IT security is an executive problem and requires executive oversight and supervision because if anything goes wrong in their data space it's going to land straight on the CEO's desk...."

:10:09: Do you see what I would call megatrends within the security area that would be disruptive? What I mean by that is it would have some global impact.
"....Definitely, I can think of two megatrends right now that I think are underway. One (particularly with the Sony hack) is destructware. For the last few years we know that we've been losing credit card data and there's been criminal enterprise attempting to profit off of cybercrime....Now companies have to deal with the possibility that one day their networks and their systems can be so compromised that they have to figure out how to operate all of their business without having all of their business systems available, so I think there's a shift there....A second megatrend is a shift from network security to application security. The focus now is toward assuming that your network is going to be compromised, that the adversary is already there. If we assume the intruder is there then the next tier of defense becomes defending my application. I think it's fair to say when I assume my network is not secure and I secure all of my applications, then what is the real value in securing my network? I think there's going to be a paradigm shift there; moving away from the concept of the corporate enterprise network and redefining the enterprise more around applications and data...."

:13:56: What are the top resources that help you in your work?
"....In my work, for gathering information as much as I can I love Stack Overflow. I love looking things up on Google Search ....When I need to be able to plop into an environment where I'm not going to get the tools that I want and I need to get stuff done, that's when I'm going to turn to .html, JavaScript, VBA and Office and PowerShell scripting. When I do get to pick my environment I'm a big Eclipse fan....In terms of resources for knowledge I listen to a lot of podcasts in iTunes U....For books - a book I really like is Refactoring by Martin Fowler. A book that has been inspirational to me from an engineering perspective is a Kelly Johnson book (his memoir), called 'Kelly: More Than My Share of It All' where it explains where he grew up and also his philosophy for running the Skunk Works®. That book I felt was very interesting because it played out the way that high performing teams can operate, and it described Agile before agile was really a word so I really liked that book...."

:17:17: What are your views on this, one OS that fits across tablets, mobile phones, xBox, embedded devices and SMBs and enterprises, where one OS will accommodate all of those?
"....I think it's a great business move. From a business perspective one of the things that I'm really heartened by in Azure is they are accepting and open to having non-Microsoft platforms hosted on those systems and becoming very flexible with them....From a security perspective it's good and bad at the same time that there's one platform to conquer them all at every scale, whether it's a workstation, laptop, tablet or phone where the decision is to have one OS (or at least one kernel) running across all of these systems, there's also the probability that if there's a vulnerability that it can be exploited across all those. So there's a risk there, but on the upshot it's one vulnerability that would be upgraded across all of those so hopefully that would play back. Where I think it starts to get into an issue potentially is the concern whether the consumers will necessarily enjoy that. I think Apple has a very good model for creating very desirable products, people like their products and will bring their Apple products to work and that's a lot of where Shadow IT starts. When people starting bringing the devices that they personally desire to the workplace that's where I think Microsoft has a challenge...."

:21:12: What are the top opportunities in security and why is this so?
"....I think the top opportunity now is securing applications at the application layer, creating some kind of identity and access management that resides and works seamlessly at the application layer and allows users to feel productive.....Another opportunity specific to the InfoSec world is the ability to reduce analysts' labor....Another opportunity in InfoSec as a service, the ability to outsource network monitoring. There are now companies offering that and I think this is going to grow....I think there is also a big opportunity in InfoSec for more Red Teaming and more external assessments....There are companies offering cyber insurance and even if a company isn't taking advantage of cyber insurance I think that they are exposed to a certain amount of liability for holding personal records, holding records about their customers, holding credit card data, holding medical data perhaps and employee data. If any of this data is lost the company is susceptible to liability....Another area of opportunity in InfoSec is going beyond encryption. I think there's an opportunity here to come up with an alternate method beyond the public key encryption infrastructure that we have to provide a different means to make sure the data is secure...."

:26:18: You are known for innovation. What innovations interest you currently and in the future?
"....One of the areas that interests me is autonomous cars. I think that it's fascinating on two realms. One realm is a straight technology realm. How can the cars actually discern that there are humans crossing the sidewalk, that there are bicycles pedaling, how can it know which set of rules to apply to a 4-way stop versus right on red versus merging into traffic on the highway? How does it go through those modalities?....I think we are also going to see a move towards more voice-activated systems, and in particular I think there's an opportunity here if we look at something like Siri or Cortana or other similar systems. I think there's a lot of anxiety on the part of consumers about trusting a lot of data to a single entity, and I think when it's one voice that becomes problematic because if we look at the way we interact with humans, I don't want that to be the same person. I want each of these people to serve a specific function in my life, have a certain amount of information and be constrained in what they can know and share about me, so I think as we move towards more voice systems it will be necessary also for companies to start separating out who does what...."

:31:03: It's interesting that you are talking about isolating these areas of intelligence, I don't see that happening I see the opposite – this amalgamation of it (which you spoke about as being problematic) but where these digital assistants are going to be 'all knowing' and tying into everything.
"....I agree to an extent. I think both can be true simultaneously but I think the challenge right now is what I call the "Google directed ad challenge". I think you can learn a lot about a person by seeing which ads pop up when they are doing Google searches or watching YouTube videos. The data can be aggregated to a location, it can be cross-correlated, companies can share or one company can own it all....Certainly there are times in history where even kings have been misled by their servants, or we talk about CEOs being in a bubble where the most senior lieutenants are feeding them the information either that they want to hear or the information that they want to present to get the decisions that they want to have, so I think that the companies that are aggregating this information will have to tread carefully. If they are aggregating this information or if they are monetizing it and attempting to steer users in a certain direction because that's what makes financial sense for the business, they can do that as long as they are not seen to be doing that...."

:36:00: You lead the top young engineers in the world with the Shark Tank®, which you lead and co-founded, involved in capturing $2B in revenue and growing rapidly. Based upon your global expertise what are your top predictions in any domain (not just confined to computing but in any domain)?
"....My big picture prediction is the US innovation economy I think will continue to dominate. It's been threatened multiple times and each time the US came out on top and I think that will continue for the foreseeable future....Another prediction that I will tie into this is that I do think that the US and the OECD and developing countries all together are cleaving into two distinct economies. One economy is globally competitive whether they are in finance, software engineering, law, trade; these are people who have a transnational mindset and are globally competitive. And the other that cannot do that, another that I will describe as the global poor.....In addition I think that software engineers hold a special place in the market because software engineering simultaneously makes obsolete its own practitioners when it creates automation.....I think voice is the killer app. I think that people will start interacting with computing systems more and more by talking to them because I think it's the most natural way for humans to communicate with each other..... I think in terms of predictions, that quantum computing is real....In the military domain I will give two predictions there. One, we are coming to the end of the aircraft carrier, in the same way aircraft carriers obsoleted battleships in World War II, I think long range drones and long range missile systems are going to obsolete the aircraft carriers. The second military domain prediction, with the cyber dimension I think we could be on the cusp of what I'll call quadruple envelopment. In World War II we saw the beginning of triple envelopment where units on the ground can be flanked left and flanked right by the opponent but also have paratroopers coming above them and landing behind the front lines - that was triple envelopment. I think a quadruple envelopment is going to be being able to cut off communication to that group....One more prediction. I think that Elon Musk has most of the pieces for a Mars colony and I think Musk is getting all the technology pieces in place. I don't know if he'll succeed in his goal of getting to space in his lifetime but I don't think it will take much longer than that and I think it's a good time to start having discussions about the legal framework...."

:52:05: Ingemar comments further on the various issues around the US economy in regards to innovation.
"....I think the biggest threat to the US economy from that perspective has less to do with what other countries are doing in education (although that is very significant and very important), I think that a bigger threat to the US is if those hungry, creative, and capable immigrants no longer see a reason to take their energy and their ideas to America, and instead are able to stay home and succeed at home and allow that critical mass to develop at home...."

:53:31: Can you comment on perhaps the perception that the US may not be as accepting of immigration of people who are entering the country by whatever means, and perhaps the US is getting this veneer of being not as easy of a destination if you are eager, innovative and perhaps there are other climates which are better for them?
"....I think it's actually a sign of the globally poor in America being very concerned of their situation in the world right now, and I think they are reacting simultaneously in a very understandable way. They are angry and upset that they have lost their jobs. That their mothers and fathers had a better chance at living a solid middle class life than they have themselves....I don't want to say that the education scores don't matter, they definitely do. The differences in education need to be looked at on a histogram to see where the top 10,000 students are. It's the top of each country that is going to create the future and the future paradigm shifts. Those top people wherever they are in the world are going to be globally competitive and will have the option to move to different parts of the world or their companies will be able to conduct their business and move to any part of the world. If the US creates a political situation where it is unfriendly or it is hesitant and makes it hard for the global top minds to move to the US as they have in generations past, then that's going to be the threat...."

:57:49: Can you talk about some of your top ideas around building prototypes in any promising new areas?
"....Prototypes are always fun and it's always an exploration. I think the key part to any prototype before the person embarks on developing it, is to know the question that the prototype is answering. The prototype should always be answering a specific question or specific set of questions and I think that those questions can broadly fall into two categories. One category is, are you answering a technical proof of concept? Another one would be to prove that a certain concept can scale....A piece of advice that was handed down to me in graduate school and it has paid off dividends is: if it looks too polished people will be reserved in their feedback. So make it look like a mockup, make it clear that you are inviting them early, that you really want that feedback....Remember the human - it's really important to remember the usage patterns and think about what the user is going to want to do with it....You need to avoid mockup tool distraction. There's a lot of mockup tools available and some of them are really cool and at the end of the day it's the idea that's important, not the mockup paradigm....Technology Readiness Level (TRL), (the Department of Defense has a very voluminous specification that has a very heavy-handedness and it can be overdone), but in a nutshell what TRL can tell you when you look at your prototype and are assessing where you are, you can use it as a yardstick to know: Am I able to run this in theory? Am I able to run it against structured, curated lab data? Does this actually run against real user data or in a real environment. Those are all important to know and it could also be used to create an easy roadmap for buying-down risk...."

:01:03:18: We have many seasoned developers in the audience, can you provide some of your top software engineering and developer tips?
"....My number one tip is design patterns are good until they are not. In the software community we tend to see design patterns as intrinsically good as a starting point, but we always need to remember that design patterns were not created to optimize for machine-run time or for memory, and they weren't optimized necessarily for user experience. Design patterns are optimized for our fellow developers and that is a good goal to make sure that our fellow developers can understand, follow, and modify our code. But we always need to remember that should really be a secondary goal, after making sure that the users have a good experience and that the system runs really well on the hardware that it's running on....The second one is beware of object-oriented dogma. This is similar to design patterns. I think it's easy to overdo it in the beginning....The last one I will share is from a security perspective, third party libraries and APIs, I love them as much as everybody else - they make it much easier to write code, you get a lot of power in your hands right away, but remember that it takes a lot of security out of your hands...."

:01:07:18: Can you share any stories of "impossible" challenges you were able to master?
"....There's a couple of stories here and one is Shark Tank® and has a few stories within it. First, was creating a virtual organization inside of an existing organization that could run even if it went through periods of zero funding. By being able to create the system where it was able to run without funding then you could scale to infinity. The second part that ties in with that was getting grassroots volunteering.....Another impossible challenge. This was a project to create one simulation of all known communication systems available to the DoD and there were a lot of people who said you can't do that. This was in 2008 and I said I'll take that challenge and the way to succeed at that challenge I thought was to have people who were mostly fresh out of college, who were not yet indoctrinated in knowing that this was hard to do or that this was almost impossible to do and just setting out to do it. We had a good team and we took our 3 years and we did it and that's part of why that research project is still ongoing...."

:01:11:08: Are there any additional thoughts you want to give about the important lessons you got from the last question?
"....For me the biggest lesson from those opportunities is that the people challenges often loom larger than the technology challenges. The technology challenges are real, they are there and they need to be conquered. The key to tackling the technology challenges is to get the right team in place and to give that team the right environment...."

:01:12:05: Do you feel computing should be a recognized profession on par with accounting, medicine and law with demonstrated professional development, adherence to a code of ethics, personal responsibility, public accountability, quality assurance and recognized credentials? [See www.ipthree.org and the Global Industry Council, http://www.ipthree.org/about-ip3/global-advisory-council]
"....I really do. I think that distinction needs to exist to identify software engineering and architecture professionals from other computing professionals, but we need to have an ecosystem for the responsible production of critical code. I think the right paradigm maybe is to take even one step farther back to the construction. In the case of buildings and bridges there's a broad understanding that there's a public safety matter, that it cannot be buyer beware and I think that needs to be the same in software and software cannot be buyer beware....Because software development is transnational (especially when you get to third party libraries or Open Source tools like compilers or interpreters), they cannot just be a closed governmental model. We need to have a model based around credentialing people (and re-auditing credentialing of people) for the skills that they have and that needs to go across the world to one cohesive structure. Tying with this, in order to enable this we need to have an ecosystem of what I call a critical code stack, whether it's all the way down to the physical hardware, whether it's a board, the kernel running on top, the bios, or the executed code residing on there, these critical systems need to sit on top of an entire certified stack and we need to have an infrastructure to support that...."

:01:16:32: You have many interests. Can you talk further about them?
"....One of the interests that I find fascinating is urban planning. One of the things that I see happening now for urban planning - we see the metrics that millennials are driving less, they are owning cars less, they are moving to the urban areas and to the city cores. I think that we are in the midst of a change in land use patterns similar to the way that land use was being redefined in the 1950s toward the car, when we were building out roads everywhere and we were building out highways everywhere and roads go from being a public space for anybody to becoming a public space only for cars. I think we are in the midst of a reshaping now where everybody has smartphones and wanting to connect, not just on Facebook but actually physically and without wanting to drive and having that downtime when you can't be on your device or on your smartphone or laptop. I think we are going to see the urban space defined around those use cases...."

:01:18:45: Can you share some stories from your extensive speaking, travels, and work (perhaps something amusing, surprising, unexpected or amazing)?
"....There's a lot of people who work in the Defense Department security arena who don't get to tell anybody what they do for long stretches of time or ever. Initially that's kind of interesting to know what's being worked on and to learn about it, but there was one day when it really hit me hard, the sacrifices that these people were actually making....the sacrifice of not being able to tell everybody everything that you've worked on and why you are so excited about it and be able to have that public pride being associated to a specific product out there in the open...."

:01:22:10: You choose the topic area. Are there any top challenges facing us today that you want to talk about and maybe propose some solutions of how they can be solved?
"....Education in the United States in particular has kind of been focused on pulling up the bottom. It has been hijacked by an agenda of making sure that everybody graduates, which is a good and noble goal but has been done to a degree where it now ignores how to push out the top. I agree that more people graduate but we also need to know that if there is a truly gifted person sitting in the classroom, how can you identify that person and pull that person through to do even more and better things?....I think right now there is a certain amount of skepticism, but that needs to be restored so that the internet economy can continue to grow and support the people that it wants to support....Another big challenge facing us today is actually a moral issue and software engineering is in the middle of it. As a society how do we plan for the future unemployable? I think it's fine that the companies have creative destruction but we need to have a moral contract, a societal contract for how we take care of people when they are displaced by technological progress...."

:01:26:31: Is there anything that we left out that you want to talk about?
"....Who is a computing professional?....The line of who is a computing professional is getting fuzzier and it's getting much wider and the number of people who are in some ways computing professionals are in some ways growing, but because software engineers are in the business of obsoleting everybody and obsoleting everything I think there needs to be a cognizance on the part of computing professionals to not allow ourselves to get plowed and sideswiped by technological progress...."

:01:30:31: Ingemar, with your demanding schedule, we are indeed fortunate to have you come in to do this interview. Thank you for sharing your substantial wisdom with our audience.


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