FACES OF THE FORCE: GIOVANNI ODDO
by Ellen Summey
COMMAND/ORGANIZATION: Product Lead for Tactical Network Initialization and Configuration, Project Lead for Network Enablers, Program Executive Office for Command, Control and Communications – Tactical
TITLE: Assistant product manager, Initialization Tools Suite / Product Support
ACQUISITION CAREER FIELD: Program management
YEARS OF SERVICE IN WORKFORCE: 11
AAW/DAWIA CERTIFICATIONS: Level II in program management, Level II in information technology
EDUCATION: M.S. in systems engineering, Johns Hopkins University; B.A. in informatics, Rutgers University
AWARDS: C5ISR Top 10 for 2019; Department of the Army Achievement Medal for Civilian Service 2019
HOMETOWN: Woodbridge, New Jersey
Since he was just a kid, Giovanni Oddo has been fixing things. The middle child and only boy in his family, he stepped into the role of the household “fixer-in-residence” while his dad worked nights building, repairing and later managing newspaper presses. Or, as he explained it, “I had to learn how to do all the chores the girls didn’t want to do.” The role was a natural fit for Oddo, who had always loved tinkering and learning how things worked. “I always wanted to take things apart and modify them,” he said. “I wanted to know how things worked.”
In college, his curiosity and natural aptitude led him to a new kind of problem-solving. He began building data-driven websites for local businesses as a way to pay his bills. “I built custom websites for real estate firms, hair salons and a couple of pizzerias,” he said. In the days before Zillow, just as Amazon was coming online, there was a huge demand for public-facing e-commerce websites for businesses. Oddo was Johnny-on-the-spot, and this foray into the world of technology was the beginning of a career he couldn’t yet anticipate.
Oddo was working as an IT risk specialist at an investment firm during the financial crisis in 2009. Looking for stability and hoping to do more practical, hands-on problem-solving, he started his first government job at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. “As the new guy in a DOD job, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” he said. He was surprised by the sheer complexity and breadth of the Army workforce. He started out doing research and development (R&D) in the network operations branch of the Space and Terrestrial Communications Directorate at what was then the Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center. That has since become the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command C5ISR Center.
It was there that he learned an important lesson about solving problems for Soldiers. “In the R&D side, we were a little too optimistic,” he said. He and his team had designed a device that would use cutting-edge technology to converge multiple networking tools onto a single platform, saving time and effort for Soldiers. “We took it to Fort Polk [Louisiana], and they loved it. But then I found a major challenge—that was taking the solution from a good idea to a reality,” he explained.
“We didn’t necessarily account for what was in the field at that time,” a combination of disparate network operations tools that lacked system-of-systems integration. “Our product wouldn’t integrate well,” Oddo said. He now understands that that’s where the rubber meets the road for Army acquisition. “The challenge is never the technology. The hardest part is integration. We can build a solution, but if it doesn’t fit with the other pieces of the puzzle, then it’s useless,” he said. “When I started in R&D, I was further away from the acquisition process. I knew after a year of working in that area that I wanted to be in the program office.”
That lesson stuck with him. In 2018, he was selected as the assistant program manager for Product Lead Tactical Network Initialization and Configuration (TNIC), within the Network Enablers program management office at the Program Executive Office for Command, Control and Communications – Tactical (PEO C3T). TNIC works to secure the Army’s tactical network, simplify network operations and streamline hardware and software solutions for operational units and program management offices.
“The one-liner is that we build all the data products and network configurations for tactical Army units,” Oddo explained. “Imagine you buy a brand new cellphone. When you turn it on for the first time, there are already things going on in the background, unbeknownst to you,” he said. Your phone will connect to the nearest cell tower and then be routed through the network, for example. That information is all preconfigured, usually by the carrier. Similarly, “We create the phone numbers, IP addresses, routing information, and all the information required by the equipment on the tactical Army side,” he said.
That’s something he really enjoys about his work. “We don’t build a specific product. We make products for everything.” He and his team have to understand all the requirements and the ways in which the puzzle pieces fit together. “We work with all sorts of stakeholders to gather that information and put it together. Every piece has to fit just right,” he said. To make that happen, Oddo said, the key is communication.
“Communicating early and often throughout the life cycle with all stakeholders, teammates, leadership and end users is vital,” he said. Only with good communication can the team ensure that it is purchasing or developing the right solutions for Soldiers. In fact, Oddo would rank communication skills above unique technical expertise if he were hiring someone for his current position. “It helps to have at least a foundation in technology, but you don’t need to be a master of a certain skill,” he said. “We work with super-smart subject matter experts, so it’s more important that you can speak their language and communicate effectively with our stakeholders.”
Oddo has seen many things change since he started working in Army acquisition 11 years ago. The biggest, he named without hesitation. “The Army Rapid Equipping Force and the use of the OTA (other-transaction authority),” he said. “Without a doubt, they are the biggest acquisition movers I’ve seen over the last decade.” That’s high praise from a guy who always tinkers with process improvement and wants to understand how things work.
Ultimately, Oddo said he has found his niche. “My life before becoming a government civilian was hopping from one tech job to the next, so I can’t believe I’ve been here this long.” But he isn’t looking for the offramp anytime soon. “I take immense pride in supporting our country and our Soldiers,” Oddo said. “I did not serve, but I have the greatest admiration and respect for them. I love that feeling of pride here, and I don’t want to go anywhere else.”
“Faces of the Force” is an online series highlighting members of the Army Acquisition Workforce through the power of individual stories. Profiles are produced by the U.S. Army Acquisition Support Center Communication and Support Branch, working closely with public affairs officers to feature Soldiers and civilians serving in various AL&T disciplines. For more information, or to nominate someone, please go to https://asc.army.mil/web/publications/army-alt-submissions/.