“Work That Matters” is a series in which ECS experts discuss their roles and responsibilities and the larger impact they have on the workplace, community, and world. In this installment, we interview Tim Clark, Principal Consultant at ECS. Tim currently leads the technological vision for multiple United States Marine Corps (USMC) projects.
Tim Clark, principal consultant in mission systems, doesn’t think of his job as just a daily routine. Tim came to ECS as part of the acquisition of InfoReliance where he worked since 2005. Since 2011, he’s been leading the technological vision for several United States Marine Corps (USMC) projects including the Marine Corps Training Information Management System (MCTIMS) and the Marine-Sierra Hotel Aviation Readiness Program (M-SHARP).
Tim’s journey has taken him from a childhood fascination with technology to a role that combines his ambition, work ethic, and commitment to building great teams. In a recent interview, Tim described how his role and responsibilities help him meet the challenge and make a difference.
Q: Is working in technology something you always wanted to do? What was the path like, for you, to working in this field?
A: I’ve been programming and “tinkering” with computers for as long as I can remember. I’ve been fascinated with them since I was young. The idea that you can tell a computer what to do, and it will follow your instructions exactly, well, I still find that to be almost magic.
I also love getting to solve big problems: thinking about all the various inputs, outputs, failure points, changes that could happen in the future, pitfalls that nobody has thought about, etc. Then, taking all that background planning and building something that actually solves an important problem for an entire enterprise—that’s amazing.
Q: It sounds like building solutions and solving problems inspires you. In a way, it’s like finding the answer to a puzzle.
A: Yes. How do we help the Marines increase their speed and efficiency? This is so important. These are problems that either couldn’t be done at all by hand, or if they were done by hand, it took literally weeks to complete.
Probably the most satisfying thing is when customers say, “We used to have five people dedicated to doing a task that is now done with one click.” Now those people are available to do the kind of creative work that computers can’t do. We end up saving businesses thousands of hours and millions of dollars, all because we were able to tell a computer how to exactly follow the instructions that we told it to. Like I said, magic.
Q: For a lot of our experts at ECS, the value of problem-solving goes beyond the technical aspects of what we do. There’s always a real-world impact. What does that look like for you?
A: M-SHARP has an enormous reach, affecting everyone served by the Marine Corps. The system tracks every USMC flight, the crew on each flight, the training performed, and more. We’re gathering and providing critical information: who needs to do what training, and when. Rules are programmed into the system to alert flight schedulers if a pilot hasn’t performed the necessary training for a particular flight. This, quite literally, can save lives.
It’s an honor to play a critical role in helping to develop a system that has a direct impact on the aircrews of the USMC. As we know, Marines have to be ready to deploy to anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice in defense of freedom. Our system helps to ensure that Marines are properly trained for their mission.
Q: We’re doing a lot of work with digital modernization and big data across the company right now. What are your thoughts on data and how data management affects the Marine aircrews?
A: The most important result of our work is that the USMC can manage a vast amount of data on all aircrew members in real time. In the old days, we had giant filing cabinets and reports that had to be compiled by hand to get a sense of a unit’s readiness. Today? We can answer those questions with perfect accuracy through a single click. This has an obvious real-world impact.
The importance of solid data cannot be overstated. The commander’s ability to make good, timely decisions is only possible if they possess good, timely information. That benefits the commander, their unit, the entire USMC, and ultimately, all of us.
Q: So, there’s the data and technology, but then there are relationships. What is it like to work with the USMC and how does your team bring new ideas to the table?
A: Though the project scope is large, my team and I work closely with the USMC. They visit every two weeks to see progress and demos, and two of my teammates actually sit at Quantico, side by side with the customer. We have plenty of interaction, which is extremely valuable. It’s helpful when you directly talk to the customers, who are the pilots using the system. They often thank us for our time.
We are doing agile development in a federal government environment, which works because of our systems, processes and relationships. To actually have a team and be agile with an entity as large as the Marine Corps is amazing. Everyone wants to do this, but we’re actually doing it. The team has to be literally ‘agile’ to make this happen. We have everyone on board. It’s impressive.
Q: We’ve talked about where you’ve been and where you are now in this industry and in your career. Can you speak to the future of technology? How do you see it progressing, and what role do you think you’ll play in its development?
A: “The only constant is change” as the saying goes, and never has that been truer than in the past ten years in IT. I’m incredibly excited to be a part of shaping the next ten years at ECS, as we continue to innovate and push the boundaries of what’s possible in the areas of mobile, cloud, big data, and machine learning. I don’t think there’s ever been a more exciting time to be a developer. We’re getting to solve bigger problems, using ever more amazing technologies and practices. I can’t predict exactly what’s in store for the future, except that it’s still going to feel like magic.
Q: How did the M-SHARP team work through the challenges of the pandemic?
A: The team transitioned overnight to 100% remote operations due to COVID-19. M-SHARP is a mission critical system, so we needed to find a way to stay connected and continue to release the necessary changes for the Marine Corps. The team’s success in coming together, and working through the challenges of remote work was nothing short of extraordinary. We deployed over 800 user stories, significantly more than we completed in the previous year.
Much of this remote work involved re-envisioning the way the Marine Corps builds their Training and Readiness (T&R) manuals. In our final demo, we were gratified by the feedback we received from the Marines who will use this new functionality. This new system will revolutionize how T&R manuals are maintained, created and updated…resulting in a better prepared and safer Marine Corps.