Three Things I Learned To Do in Ad Tech from Working with the Military

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Kate O'Loughlin, GM & SVP Media Business, Tapad

I started my career as a systems engineer at Lockheed Martin. My job specifically centered on mission operations for a satellite-based military communications system. It’s a pretty far departure from my current role in the ad tech industry, but working in defense has had an immeasurable impact on how I think about solving advertising problems. Specifically, here are three things I learned and can share during Advertising Week:

1. Humans Come First

At Lockheed Martin, we hired a retired major general to give us guidance on our system, as well as to provide a day-to-day reminder that the technology we built had to protect eighteen-year-olds in a war zone. When we talked about our software designs, the major general would encourage us to put names on the personas used to connect the technology back to human lives. To further reiterate the connection with the real users, we went to military sites to understand who was going to operate the software and which problems were most critical to be solved. While on base, I saw the proverbial ‘bat phone’ -- it was intense and eye opening.

Believe me, when you connect with uniformed personnel and then see them in a critical situation, you go back to the office and work very hard to come up with the best solution.

Now of course, advertising isn’t life or death. But the lesson learned was - people are the reason we improve technology.

I’m thankful for the experience of focusing on people — then soldiers, now consumers -- because it has helped me contribute to the invention of new ad tech solutions.

2. Build for Tomorrow

Our mission and operations control software to operate a satellite was going to use technology that didn’t exist yet. It was going to be more than a decade between designing the software and launching the satellite into orbit, so we couldn’t build using current technology alone. That was hard.

Similarly, when it comes to building ad tech solutions, we know we can’t just build for the phones, tablets and computers consumers use today. Given consumers' pace in adopting new personal tech, we have to plan and prepare for eventualities. We build an extensible framework for devices we can see on the horizon — like wearables  — as well as things we haven’t yet imagined. I can’t wait to see even more Teslas, refrigerators, household lights and connected coffee machines contributing data to a unified, cross-device view of consumers.

3. Build a Diverse Team

Defense contracting teams are notoriously “old," male and Caucasian. My first boss fit that profile, plus he had Coke-bottle glasses, an intimidating gray beard and a gigantic brain. But, he knew that if our multi-decade ‘futuristic' project was going to survive and be a success, he needed to find and harness different types of talent. He even went as far as making senior, ‘traditional’ candidates interviewing for the team first pass through me and my co-worker - both female, in our early twenties and entrants into the defense industry from non-traditional paths.  It takes a brave senior leader to stand up for heterogeneity, especially in a military context. I’m forever thankful to him for welcoming me and supporting me. Now, I’m trying to do the same so that our tech inventions will live on and continue to evolve.

I couldn’t have predicted falling in love with advertising technology while working with the military early in my career at Lockheed Martin. But I did. And by utilizing lessons from one career path while moving down another, I am able to set my existing team up for success. We may not hold people’s lives in our hands, but we can still emerge from our industry’s struggles victorious.  

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