Missouri native Marcus Featherston joined Intelligent Software Solutions in 1999 as a senior software engineer, less than a year after the company was founded.
He was ISS’s first employee, hired by the company’s founders. A 1992 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, Featherston spent five years on active duty before returning to Colorado Springs and entering the civilian workforce as a software engineer at Capstone Systems.
Prior to joining Capstone, Featherston was a software developer for the North American Aerospace Defense Command’s System Support Facility at Tyndall Air Force Base. He has a bachelor’s degree in computer science from the Academy and a Master of Business Administration from Florida State University.
In December, Featherston was promoted to executive vice president, mission solutions, reporting directly to CEO Jay Jesse. In his new position, Featherston is responsible for managing a division that provides systems development, subject matter expertise and training activities. The mission solutions division provides support for a diverse set of domains, including air, space and cyber operations, federal systems, Department of Homeland Security, public safety and advanced technology development.
Earlier this week, Featherston shared his perspectives with CSBJ.
You experienced the city’s great technology boom of the late 1990s. Do you think those days will ever return?
Yes, I think that they can. We have assets like the partnership with UCCS [for internships with software engineering students]. We get a lot of great graduates from that program. Also, the large military base that we have in Colorado Springs makes this a good spot to be. We’ve worked with Schriever, Fort Carson and the Air Force Academy. It’s easy to recruit people to come here, and we have both a strong software engineering community and many military retirees with subject-matter expertise.
Tell us about Intelligent Software Solutions.
Our website describes us as “a provider of sophisticated data integration, visualization, event analysis and pattern detection technologies that turn customers’ information overload into information advantage.” We began as a military contractor, but since then we’ve diversified quite a bit. We work with all branches of the U.S. military, with Homeland Security, with our allies and with government, public safety agencies and large commercial enterprises. We don’t just sit around and wait for the government to tell us what they want — we do a lot of internal research, try to anticipate what they need and come to them with a solution. Our engineers sit side-by-side with subject-matter experts, usually retired military that understand how the military uses particular systems and how they can be improved. We have about 550 employees, with about 300 based in our Colorado Springs headquarters.
Information systems seem increasingly vulnerable these days. Has that affected you?
You’re right — they are. It has affected us. Traditional military IT systems were built to last decades, but that model is no longer workable. We try to anticipate our customers’ needs. For example, we adapted command-and-control systems for use by New Zealand, Canada and Australia. New Zealand is a small country — they don’t have a force of 20,000 combat aircraft, so they don’t need a massive, cumbersome system. And here in the United States, the military understands that you can’t build systems that will last for 20 years anymore. You have to be agile.
Have American withdrawals from the Middle East affected your business?
We’ve seen some contraction in the last few years as major conflicts wound down. During the wars we did a lot of support work, but we’ve moved on. We’re built around being an agile company, and we’re working with large commercial clients as well as military customers.
You’ve lived and worked in Colorado Springs since the 1990s — what’s good about the city, and what can be improved?
It’s great place to live, of course. It’s important for people to know about the opportunities [in software engineering] here, and so far it’s more of a grassroots effort without much local government involvement. The Tech Centers in Denver and Broomfield have been very successful in taking software engineers away from Colorado Springs. We’ve even lost people we were considering hiring from the UCCS program because they weren’t aware of local opportunities. What Colorado Springs needs is more awareness of what we have. We need a community/government effort.
Last (or most compelling) book you’ve read?
“Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking,” by Nathan Myhrvold, who was Microsoft’s chief technology officer. It looks at cooking from a scientific viewpoint and helps you understand the science behind the recipes. I’ve used a lot of the recipes. It’s six volumes, 2,438 pages. I’m about halfway through it — I haven’t read it all, just going to the parts that seem most interesting.
What do you do in your spare time?
Spare time? Actually, I love the mountains and I go back home to Missouri when I can. I spend a lot of time taking my two sons [16 and 11] to their basketball games. They both play, so it can get pretty hectic. This weekend I think they have five games.