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Employee Spotlight: Joseph “Jose” Smith

November 1, 2023
Joseph Smith standing in front of the hand sculpture in front of the NOAA Headquarters office in Silver Spring, MD

Native American Heritage Month is observed every November, and is a time to celebrate the rich and diverse cultures, traditions, and histories of Native people. As we celebrate this year, we’d like to highlight the vital contributions of Native Americans at NOAA. 

We spoke with Joseph “Jose” Smith, an IT Specialist at NOAA NESDIS, to learn more about him.

Where did you grow up?

I was born in Weaverville, California, the seat of Trinity County. I am a Native American, and a registered member of the Pit River tribe, Madesi band. In my childhood, the family would move frequently around Northern California, in the area between the Trinity Alps, Mount Shasta, and Mount Lassen. 

I joined the Air Force out of high school, trained as a linguist, and was deployed to Sarajevo in 1999 to support Operation Joint Forge. After September 11, 2001, I started a technical path as a computer network and switching technician and then an IT Specialist. Post military service, I spent years as a Department of Defense contractor working with cutting-edge technology until getting into federal service at NOAA.

What is your role at NESDIS?

I joined the NESDIS Office of Common Services (OCS) in April 2022 as an IT Specialist with the role of Security Operations Product Co-Owner. I lead a blended team of federal employees from several offices and contractors to implement a Security Development Operations (SecDevOps) method of continuous security.

What led you to pursue a career in government service?

I served in the military and then as a federal contractor. The need for cybersecurity engineers in the federal government drew me in as I saw that I could be useful to the country as a federal employee. NESDIS is the place to be for someone interested in modern technologies. The NESDIS Common Cloud Framework (NCCF) is the future of deploying resources to the cloud, and I help to ensure secure development and access.

What does Native American Heritage Month mean to you?

It reminds me of how much time I spent away from the reservation and my culture. The powwows allow you to spend time with family that may no longer be in the area. They occur primarily throughout the summer until the end of October. November is when everything calms down and you can spend time with your local family. I miss being able to call out to the cousin's network as we have many tribes in northern California, and can call on each other for help. A cousin of mine is directing and producing a documentary on our tribe. 

Additional information can be found here: 

A photograph from the Stillwater Powwow 2023, which Jose attended. Several of his cousins were elected to tribal royalty.
A photograph from the Stillwater Powwow 2023, taken by Joseph Smith. There, some of his family members were elected to tribal royalty, a position that lasts for a period of three years.

What motivates you? Who has served as an inspiration/role model in your life?

I am motivated by the thrill of the puzzle. Give me a complex problem and let me gnaw on it for some time and I will be happy. 

I am inspired by the women in my life. My grandmother, Emma, instilled a drive for education as she helped me not just cope with my mild dyslexia, but turned reading into a lifetime passion. My aunt Jill, an excellent cook, taught me to be kind to those around you and to provide comfort whenever possible. My mother showed me the value of resilience. No matter how many times life knocks you down, you have to brush yourself off and get back up. My newlywed wife, Stacie, reminds me of each of these strong women and she was able to convince me to join federal service, as she has been a federal employee for over 21 years.

A photograph of Joseph's grandmother, Emma, as well as his Aunt Jill and mother. His grandmother is sitting in a chair between the two other women.

What kind of advice would you give people aspiring to pursue a career at NOAA or in your field?

Security engineering is not a straight path. A mentor of mine, David Keever, reminded me that a security engineer needs to be knowledgeable in all the technologies and solutions that they are securing. Try your hand at installing hardware, play around with coding challenges, read up on the latest cloud services. But do not forget about the people around you, learn the name of everyone your position touches, and ensure that everyone you work with knows that their voice is heard and understood.

What do you like to do in your spare time? Tell us something about yourself others may not know.

I collect and play designer board games. I have roughly 500 games in my collection and most are long out of print. It is that drive to learn a system and master it that keeps me coming back to complex board games.

A view of a room in Joseph's house where there are two large game tables. Behind them are shelves with hundreds of board games on them.