Ledia Rivera isn't a field operative, but her role at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA, Washington, DC) is equally critical. She manages IT support for the agency's always-essential telecom services.
Rivera was born in Puerto Rico and came to the U.S. as a small child. The CIA recruited her in 1988 at a fair at her college, Herbert H. Lehman College of the City University of New York. She's steadily climbed the agency's management ladder, handling a great many varied IT duties along the way.
Today she's second in command of an office that provides telecom infrastructure for intelligence gathering. Her office handles regular commercial phone service and internal secure communications, as well as pagers, Blackberries and other communication instruments.
Coaching a large staff
"I not only write directions on software programs that are being executed, but also help manage the career and development of the officers on my staff," she notes. "I see what training they require and areas where they need to develop, and give them appropriate assignments.
"I assign the task based on what I think they're capable of, and then I'm there to coach them if needed," she says.
She'll even delegate some of her own responsibilities to staffers she thinks have leadership potential. "If there's a meeting I feel they can cover I'll send them to speak as my voice, and they appreciate that."
Rivera rotates among various IT areas every three years or so, and she's been in her current position for two years. Each assignment expands her responsibilities and expertise, she notes.
She encourages her staffers to be equally flexible. "You need to have both depth and breadth in your career and to learn more and more about the IT world, so you're ready any time the agency requires your skills." She notes that the agency encourages managers to help their people shape career paths.
Rivera started at the agency as a software developer, and then worked with other developers to run and design programs. Later she supported the agency's network services.
About six years into her career she began taking on management responsibilities. She was given the lead on a software integration project and oversaw a small group of staffers and contractors.
Next the agency sent her to a forerunner of the present executive leadership program put on by the Office of Personnel Management. She was one of a class of 3,365 women from across the U.S. government. The program lasted a year, during which she worked in a variety of sixty- to ninety-day assignments. On some, she was able to observe the software development process in action at the CIA. Still continuing her education with agency encouragement, she's currently in an MBA program.
A balanced life
Rivera is delighted with the agency's attention to work/life balance. "I get to exercise, I get to spend time with my family and I get to spend time with my friends," she says.
She has also benefited from mentors she considers excellent. One was her first line supervisor, an African American software developer. "I still admire her today," Rivera says.
Rivera has always tried to emulate important women in her life. Her mother, who came to the U.S. as a young widow with little education, raised her four daughters alone and encouraged them to pursue their dreams. "My mom has always been my role model. She was always there for us when we needed her. I credit her for my success," Rivera says.
Shaping a career
In high school, Rivera took a software programming class as part of a college-bound program. "They were teaching Basic at that time," she notes.
She found few women and fewer Latinos in her college software courses. "I motivated myself to try harder because I was one of so few in the class," she says. She worked her way through college at a retail job, all the time hoping to have a career at a company like IBM.
"I never thought of the CIA. It wasn't a household name. I hardly knew that it existed as an organization."
The recruiters she met set her straight about that, and Rivera liked both the work and the agency mission they described. While waiting a year for her security clearance to come through, she worked for the Leukemia Society of America as a data processor.
"The closer I came to getting my clearance, the more excited I got. It was like, 'Wow! This is really going to happen!'" It was even more exciting to know she was one of the select few to be chosen. "Not just anybody can come work here," she says.
"And then, when I started actually turning out a product, that was really cool! That was when I said, 'I can make a career here at the CIA. This is where I want to be.'"
After 9/11, the environment at the CIA got "really high-paced," Rivera recalls. "People were working long hours, and we were very mission-focused."
Rivera hasn't decided what type of job she'd like to take on next, though she does hope to stay in IT management, possibly in charge of a larger team. "I like knowing the IT side of the house. With the technology changing as fast as it does today, you can explore different things all the time," she says.
She's also interested in helping other women achieve their goals. She goes to SHPE's annual conference where she enjoys sharing "what it's like to be a Hispanic at the CIA. Any time I can support the agency recruitment process, I'm happy to go," she says.
Rivera is a member of the agency's Hispanic Advisory Council. The group organizes an annual conference where Hispanic employees can hear Hispanic managers talk about their careers. It also pairs new recruits with mentors from the group. Rivera is one of the mentors, and she enjoys that.
In fact, Rivera likes just about everything about her CIA career. "My father died young; my mom didn't have an education. I look back at my life and career and say, 'Wow! Who would have thought?'"