Luis Gonzalez leads network support at SSC Pacific
“I’d always been an introvert. I didn’t enjoy leading people. It was completely out of my comfort zone, but it was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
'Three or four years ago, I started speaking at local colleges and talking about not only what I do, but about my personal history – how I used to be a network gofer and now I’m head of the network. It can happen.”
Luis Gonzalez leads the networks support division at the Space and Naval Warfare (SPAWAR) Systems Center Pacific (SSC Pacific, San Diego, CA). SSC Pacific is the laboratory for SPAWAR, the Navy’s “information dominance” systems command, responsible for keeping the Navy connected and providing hardware and software for Navy missions.
A tinkerer from the mountains
“I was born in the rural mountains of Puerto Rico,” Gonzalez says. “My father was a doctor and my mother was a teacher. They stressed the importance of education, and college was a given.
“I liked to tinker with electronic devices, appliances and gadgets in general,” he says. “I became a very good troubleshooter.”
Gonzalez attended the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez and earned a 1986 BS in electrical and electronics engineering. “It was a five-year degree but I finished it in four-and-a-half years because I wanted to get started.”
Recruited to the mainland
During his last semester, recruiters from what was then the Naval Electronic Systems Engineering Center (NAVELEX) in San Diego, CA came to the island and offered him a job as a civilian employee with the Department of the Navy (DON). “They came every year and hired Puerto Ricans under the affirmative action program,” Gonzalez explains. “Half of our graduates were women so it was really good for diversity.”
In 1986, Gonzalez said goodbye to his family and brought everything he owned to the United States. But a DON hiring freeze meant his job offer was rescinded, so Gonzalez searched for another engineering job in San Diego. He was hired as a design engineer by Kyocera America (San Diego, CA). He stayed for a year until the DON hiring freeze was lifted, and then joined NAVELEX San Diego as an electronics engineer in the submarine electronic support measures division.
In 1991, Gonzalez was transferred to an internal network administrator position in the information resources management division. “I was a self-taught network engineer,” he says. “I loved it from the get-go. Eighty percent of what I was doing was troubleshooting.”
Through the 1990s, he managed larger and more sophisticated networks until 2001 when he was named project manager for network installation at the strategic network systems branch of the organization, by then known as SSC Pacific. “We completed over 200 network system and software installations aboard U.S. Navy vessels and shore facilities in San Diego, Washington State, Japan and Guam.”
Leaving the comfort zone for leadership
In 2004, a supervisory opportunity presented itself, and Gonzalez reached a turning point in his career. Gonzalez wanted to move ahead, but he was unsure about his leadership potential. “I’d always been an introvert,” he says. “Leading people in close, day-to-day relationships was completely out of my comfort zone.”
But he applied and was promoted to supervisor of the networks integration and implementation branch at SSC Pacific, where he led day-to-day branch operations, planning and execution of network system installations for U.S. Navy West Coast ships. He found that leadership came naturally, despite his introverted nature. “Network guys can be a little arrogant, and I used to be like that,” he admits. “That ended the moment I became a supervisor. It was the best thing that ever happened to me.”
Three years later, Gonzalez was reassigned to supervisor of the shore networks branch, where he oversaw the design, engineering, installation and support of One-Net, the U.S. Navy’s OCONUS (outside the contiguous United States) Navy enterprise network. “It was the same organization and the same work I had been doing before, except this was on land rather than on ships,” he adds. “Little did I know they were grooming me for the division head job.”
Taking the lead
In 2009, Gonzalez was promoted to his current role as head of the networks support division at SSC Pacific. Today, he manages a team of approximately 100 information technology and engineering professionals who provide in-service engineering, distance and on-site support, systems engineering, and lifecycle hardware and software support to various ship and shore-based network systems for the U.S. Navy.
“I have eight people reporting to me directly,” he says. “Three are staff and four are supervisors who are responsible for ships, shore and internal communications. The last one runs the helpdesk and the fleet support office. The helpdesk is 24/7 and processes over fifteen thousand tickets annually.
“My duties aren’t limited to day-to-day management issues. I engage with our stakeholders to set policies, strategies and plans for technical products and solutions,” he says.
“A lot of our work is resolving trouble tickets onboard ships, and some are more severe than others. When that happens, I serve as a systems engineer because I’m taking the input from the customer, trying to translate what the issues are against my expertise, and setting a course of action.”
Gonzalez sees himself becoming fulltime fleet and customer support, and moving into setting policy. “I want to focus more on leveraging the success of some areas across the whole department, and setting up policies that align how everyone is moving. But I still want to retain the day-to-day tactical role of responding to those highly visible, highly urgent needs of the fleet.”
Gonzalez is part of the SSC Pacific commanding officer’s advisory committee, and works with human resources on an annual Navy report that looks at barriers affecting minorities, then documents them and proposes solutions.
Humbled by leadership
Looking back on his career, Gonzalez says that he is humbled by what he does. “When I became the boss of the supervisors, looking people in the face and listening to their problems, it was truly a revelation.”
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