As Chief Data Officer and Senior Data Scientist at the FBI Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO), Maria has had an impressive journey. With 26 years and several managerial roles at the Bureau, she knows a thing or two about leadership styles and approaches.
Despite her busy schedule, Maria is passionate about mentoring and cultivating future leaders, using her experience to enable the success of other women. “Over my 30+ year career in the federal government, I’ve never turned away someone who asked me for career advice or wanted a mentor.” That’s just one of the ways she demonstrates her leadership style.
“Becoming the FBI's Chief Data Officer and increasing the ranks of FBI female senior executives is the pinnacle of my career. Taking on the FBI Chief Data Officer role has been a gratifying personal growth achievement because I took a leap outside of my comfort zone and moved outside a traditional management path to follow a specialized, executive, technical leader position.”
Recently, Maria gave Fairygodboss a closer look at what propelled her to lead enterprise data management activities at the Bureau. She also shares some career advice for women who are currently looking for a job.
How long have you been in your current role and what were you doing previously?
I‘ve been the FBI Chief Data Officer since 2017. Prior to this role, I served as a Unit Chief, managing FBI analytics and information systems. In my 26 years here, I’ve served in various technical and managerial roles supporting the United States domestic and international law enforcement and intelligence communities. Before joining the FBI, I worked as an Electronics Engineer for the Department of Defense Naval Research Laboratory.
Describe what you do in one sentence?
I‘m a senior-level executive responsible for establishing the organization's enterprise data strategy, leading enterprise data management activities, guiding the practice of data science, and advising senior executives.
What’s the first and last thing you do at work every day?
Every day starts with a cup of coffee in hand and scheduled quiet time to do what I call my Daily Prep — at least 30 minutes each morning to read through my to-do list, check my calendar for the day's appointments, and scan and respond to emails. I also schedule a 30-minute, daily, end-of-day Wrap-Up, which doesn’t always happen before I leave the office, but I will still do an abbreviated version at home — this helps me focus and brings closure to the workday. How do you prioritize and deal with your to-do list each day?
I use three basic categories: the Must, the Need, and the Fun to-dos. The Must to-dos are of the highest priority, requests requiring quick turnarounds or due near-term actions. The Need to-dos are those items that fall under my list of responsibilities or commitments that I’ve made to others with future deadlines. The Fun to-dos are those tasks that elevate my mood mentally and physically. Although admittedly, it doesn’t always happen this way, I strive to balance my workday based on these categories.
How would you describe your leadership style?
My style has evolved over my career, and I've adapted it to fit my role, situation, and people. As a CDO, my leadership style follows more of the Visionary or Transformational models. I believe in building mutual respect through collaboration, establishing a vision, and encouraging and inspiring others to move beyond their comfort zones to be innovative and seek new solutions. As a Unit Chief, I was more a Democratic and Coach style leader, valuing others’ experiences, seeking input, and making decisions based on information gathered from many perspectives. I emphasized collaboration and communication and focused on the success of the group more than the individual. As a line manager, I focused on the individual versus the group. I was more of a Servant Coach type leader. I believed in investing in my staff and enhancing their skills to meet mission objectives.
What should new job seekers know about the FBI? What about those who are in a more advanced career stage?
You don't have to be a Special Agent to work at the FBI. We have a diverse range of jobs and career paths; you can learn all about them on our website. For those new to the job market, check out the recruiting events and reach out to FBI recruiters and employees on LinkedIn. Most importantly, don't wait for the perfect job opening; apply to one that you can qualify for at the location you desire. Get your foot in the door, learn more about the FBI, and discover the career that suits you.
If you’re more advanced in your career, learn how you can fit in by talking with FBI employees at government and technical conferences (virtual for now) or reach out to those of us on LinkedIn. For everyone, when completing an FBI job application, always be honest, clear, and accurate.
The FBI is an exciting and fulfilling place to work with a variety of jobs and locations. I’ve met some of the most interesting people, traveled to interesting places, worked on challenging problems, and felt that my work really did make a difference in the world.
How have you used your role to help bring up other women behind you?
I’ve always believed in making time for mentoring and cultivating future leaders in both women and men. Over my 30+ year career in government, I’ve never turned away someone who asked me for career advice or wanted a mentor. Because there are so few women in the technology field and at the executive-level, I go out of my way to encourage women to embark on STEM career paths or to confidently take action to advance in their careers. So often, a casual coffee meeting with a few career development questions turn into regular mentoring sessions and, eventually, a long-term mutually beneficial support network.
What aspects of your work do you believe you’re good at?
I’m great at collaboration, team building, and motivating people. Personally, I’m driven by and passionate about discovering new ways to tackle a problem, improving a business process, or transforming workforce culture. I get energized from talking with people, hearing their insights, gathering their perspectives, and bringing them together. When I share my energy and passion with an individual or team, I’m able to inspire and motivate them to seek, develop and work together to develop the best solution.
What about outside of work — how do you most enjoy spending your time?
Quite simply, I enjoy planning, creating, and helping others. I love researching and planning vacations to new places. I enjoy being creative and crafty. Since the COVID pandemic has restricted many of my prior activities, I channeled my talents and passions to sewing masks, making quilts, and baking for friends, family, and neighbors. I also dedicated more time to connecting with amazing and talented women leaders, discovering women's leadership support networks and groups, and mentoring.
What are you most proud of in your career?
I’m proud of the many contributions I’ve made to support and improve FBI services provided to domestic and international law enforcement. I’m immensely proud of my contributions to improving data management processes and promoting appropriate information-sharing activities across the Department of Justice, FBI, and law enforcement and intelligence partners. And I’m equally proud of my position's opportunity to influence and inspire other women, both within my organization and externally, to embrace their skills and talents, seek careers in data science and technology, and become leaders in their own organizations.
What’s your #1 piece of advice for women and others in technology who are looking for jobs right now?
Don't be intimidated or underestimate your value. Don't be put off by the desired experience for a job. Focus on the minimum qualifications, job descriptions, and responsibilities. If you think you have the skills, talent, and drive to do the job, then apply for the job. Highlight your skills and abilities using keywords, emphasize your experience through the results of your contributions, and sell you! What’s the worst that can happen? They say no? The alternative is you get the job and you show them what you can do.
What else would you like to add?
Get out there, network, share and learn! Sign up for social networks and groups geared toward career-minded women, like Fairygodboss or join a Women in Technology collaboration group or community, attend local technical summits, get a mentor, and join professional societies.
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