Around the Table is a three-question interview series from the Make Room email newsletter. Each edition features a conversation with a peer in the national security community to learn about their expertise and experience in the sector.
Daniel Ibarra is a senior consultant within Deloitte Consulting’s Government and Public Services practice. The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the position of Deloitte or the Air Force Reserve.
How has your experience in the Air Force contributed to your career and education?
Joining the Air Force Reserve right out of high school was the best decision I have made up to this point in my career. As a first-generation college student and second-generation Cuban American, I am grateful for the opportunity to have attended college with my service-connected education benefits, such as Tuition Assistance and the Post-9/11 GI Bill, as my family did not have the financial means to support my pursuit of an undergraduate degree at the time. But what began as a decision to assist in getting college paid for ended up being a 13-year adventure that I am still happy to be on. My time serving in uniform has instilled me with the discipline, structure, and follow-through skills that have served me well academically and in my professional journey, from my beginnings as a research assistant in the think tank world to human capital consulting in the national security space.
Pay it forward by mentoring others who are junior to you or new to the national security space.
What have you learned from your time at think tanks and in the private sector?
As a former research assistant at the RAND Corporation, I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity to have developed research and analysis skills on security and defense topics, such as China’s military capabilities, DoD personnel & readiness issues, and Air Force personnel recovery in contested environments. Although I was in an entry level position, I really enjoyed the opportunity to leverage my operational experience serving in the Air Force and use it to better inform my analysis and gain further subject matter expertise. Now that I am a consultant in the private sector that supports national security and intel clients, my policy background gives me a better understanding of why agencies make certain strategy or resource decisions due to geopolitical change versus changes in the trends of the defense/intel market. I am, however, glad to have gained experience in both of these industries.
What resources are most useful for people early in their careers?
My advice would be to find a mentor or someone whose career goals are similar to yours and start building a relationship. I know it sounds cliché, but most people I have “cold emailed” or messaged within the national security space have been super helpful in opening doors that I never knew existed. For example, I had a former neighbor who used to work at the Pentagon and whom I had lost touch with, but five years after we parted ways, I reached out and was able to connect a grad school colleague of mine with her to get advice on Army’s Congressional Fellowship program. She not only responded to my message but also took an hour-long meeting to give my colleague feedback on his application. I believe kindness goes a long way in this community, and—most importantly—once you’ve found your way into that dream job or a position you are really passionate about (or you find yourself as a hiring manager), pay it forward by mentoring others who are junior to you or new to the national security space. Nothing makes me happier than seeing someone I have mentored or helped in their career excel in what they are doing!
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