In this interview, we speak with CW Walker, IWP Class of 2015.
Please tell us a little about yourself and your background.
My undergraduate degree is in Political Science and my graduate degree from IWP is Strategic Intelligence Studies. My personal passion growing up was always technology, and I tried my best to incorporate that into whatever I was studying at the time.
I began my career in a social media security startup while also interviewing for positions in three letter agencies in the Federal Government. I ended up getting into government, but found I had more fun and made more of an impact in the private sector, where I contracted for the government and finally got an offer recently to work for a private threat intelligence company.
How did you find IWP, and what attracted you to the school?
I ran into Tim Stebbins at a career event when I was attending a well-known DC university for my first semester of graduate school. He was looking for interns, but encouraged me to check the school out, as I was interested in intelligence and international relations.
I sat in on a class by Dr. Dave Thomas and found exactly what I was missing in my current graduate program: classes taught by patriot practitioners instead of academic apologists.
I dropped out of the other school and applied to join IWP as soon as I could!
How did you become interested in cyber?
Although I have always been interested in computers, technology, and security, I never realized it could be something I might be able to build a career out of until I took John Tsagronis and Michelle Watson's course on Cyber Statecraft. I studied the industry and began to focus all my research at IWP on cyber issues and how they related to international relations, national security, and intelligence.
How did you use your IWP education to get a job in cyber?
When I went in to interview for my first Cyber Intelligence Analyst job, the first thing the manager said was "Tell me about this research you have been doing on cyber warfare," referencing the papers I had been writing for my IWP courses.
Since then, I have applied my knowledge of Russian intelligence services as a Threat Analyst fighting against Eurasian Advanced Persistent Threats (in the cyber sphere), and I still use analytic tools and techniques I learned in my classes almost every day. This doesn't even include the deeper changes in the way I think about threats and geopolitics which shape the work products I create.
Above: CW gives a career presentation to IWP students.
Was IWP career services helpful to you in this process?
IWP career services was, without question, the most critical part of my graduate degree. Learning the things I did in class gave me tools to become a good employee, but without career services, I never would have even gotten a job. Every dime I paid for my education was worth it just to have access to career services.
Not only did Derrick guide me though finding a job; meeting with him early helped me think about my graduate experience as a launching pad to doing what I wanted. Every class and paper served a larger goal of building my expertise and credibility so I could have those deeper conversations when the interviews finally came.
When I graduated, I had a job in a three letter agency and was finishing my final interview for another. I ended up going into the private sector with confidence, because I knew what I was getting into at all three places. I felt for my peers that had waited until late in the program to talk to career services, because it took me the full two years to get to the point where I was ready to be employed when I graduated.
Additionally, with guidance from career services since graduating, I have seen my salary more than double, and have continued to get promotions as I demonstrate competence in my roles. Career services helped me know how to negotiate higher salaries and what goals I should be setting for each level of my career as I progress.
IWP has invested in career services, and I can confidently say you will get as much out of your career planning as you put into it. Career services just helped me understand how to best focus that energy and time investment. I could go on for days about how incredible and uncommon IWP's career services organization is.
Please tell us about your current professional work.
I am currently the Federal Solutions Engineer Team Lead for Recorded Future, a threat intelligence company. I work with the DOD and Intelligence Community to enhance their collection and analysis capabilities. My team's work directly affects US national security on a daily basis. We support government units defending the US from cyber and physical threats to supporting units on the ground with open source collection from across the web in open, deep, and dark sources.
Above: CW and his wife Lyndsie at an IWP gala.
Have your studies at IWP impacted how you approach your profession?
My IWP studies absolutely impact how I approach my profession. Understanding the intelligence life cycle has been an important key to success in all my roles. Asking for and understanding intelligence requirements and knowing what questions to ask directly correlates to success in any field, but I have found that understanding to be particularly important in the threat intelligence space.
It's a growing field with a lot of need for professionalization in the processes of information collection and analysis which leads to actionable intelligence. Knowing that has certainly put me ahead of the curve.
My favorite classes were those on intelligence and counter intelligence, but the most useful class for my day to day analytic tasks has been Estimative Intelligence Analysis. Many of the books and tools we used there are brought up and used at work.
What do you feel is the way that you have made the biggest impact so far in your career?
I feel like the way I have made the biggest impact in my career so far has been to know the limits of my knowledge and understanding of certain topics, and be honest enough with myself about that to ask others who know more for help. I have learned a ton by swallowing my pride and fear of seeming clueless to my peers and asking for help when I didn't understand something. People want you to succeed, and they will help you understand where you can study to get better and learn more. The things I have learned and the relationships I have forged have made the biggest impact on my career. It is still scary to open up and admit I don't know something, but I am always the better for it, and I think people respect that.
What are your plans for the future?
My immediate plans involve preparing for the imminent arrival of my baby girl later this summer, but long term I just hope to be able to serve my country as best I can where I believe I can do the most good. I suppose we are all following a similar plan.