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Department of Defence

  • #6 in Government & public services
  • 1,000 - 50,000 employees

Sarah

I’m grateful for the opportunity to work with, and see the mateship between, both civilian and military personnel.

What's your name and job title?

My name is Sarah and I am an Intelligence Officer.

I studied a double degree of Science and Engineering (Hons), graduating in 2015. My majors were in electronic and environmental engineering, focusing on renewable energy systems and natural resource management.

Where did you grow up? 

I was born in Africa, and migrated to Australia when I was school-aged. I completed school and university in Canberra, and have grown to love it here! Since school, I’ve worked numerous jobs in IT support at the local university, as an engineer on residential construction sites, and with wind turbines and waste-to-energy facilities.

How did you get to your current job position? 

I have been at the Australian Geospatial-Intelligence Organisation (AGO) since February 2015, when I started on the graduate program.

What does your employer do?

AGO is the lead geospatial and imagery intelligence organisation in Defence. Its purpose is to provide geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) from imagery and other sources in support of Australia’s defence and national interests. GEOINT is intelligence derived from the exploitation and analysis of imagery and geospatial information about features and events, with reference to space and time.

What are your areas of responsibility?

As an Intelligence Officer I provide GEOINT as described above, however I also have some fairly technical skills. Recently I have been focused on automating the workflows of other analysts in the organisation, and for some of our customers. To do this, I spend a few days immersed within different teams to learn about how they complete their work and how I could help them. Automation of repeatable workflows allows analysts and customers more time to complete other tasks and products – I really believe this is the way of the future.

Can you describe a typical work day?

Besides the norm of arriving, logging on and checking my emails, no day is really the same for me. I’ve spent time in analytical, technical and administrative roles here in the organisation, and I’ve come across something new each day. I’ve worked across a range of projects, and feel very lucky that there is variety in my work and that I’m able to meet someone new every day.

Suppose a student was considering your career. What would you advise them to study? 

Intelligence Officers come from all different degrees and backgrounds. We have everyone from engineers through to people who have history degrees – as long as you can think critically and creatively! If I was recommending courses, I would suggest Geographic Information System (GIS) courses, international relations, remote sensing, surveying, cartography, earth and environmental science, engineering or geomatics and spatial systems. However, it is important to note that AGO has a training program which all graduates, and even some direct recruits, partake in. This is all about teaching you the skills you will need to work here, and there are no prerequisites.

I would consider work experience as incredibly important. All the jobs I had prior to working in Defence have set me up to succeed – they don’t have to be relevant to your degree to teach you a lesson. Prior to coming to AGO I already knew how to work within teams, how to research and how to conduct analysis. I would encourage everyone to grab hold of opportunities and work wherever you can.

I would recommend that if students are curious to know a little more about AGO, that they visit their website at www.ago.gov.au and try out the photo interpretation challenges.  These are challenging and so much fun!

What sort of person succeeds in your career?

People with critical and creative thinking skills. Anyone curious and interested in learning new things. We would hope they are hard workers, and have a positive attitude!

What do you love the most about your job? 

I love the people. I’m grateful for the opportunity to work with, and see the mateship between, both civilian and military personnel.

I also enjoy the long term projects – ones where I’m presented with a challenge which involves prototyping and testing to solve it.

What’s the biggest limitation of your job? 

We bear responsibility as we handle classified information and are expected to hold a high clearance. However, unlike my friends in consulting firms, I’m not expected to work on weekends or for unreasonable hours.

What would your career be if you weren’t doing what you’re doing now?

I would love to have a career focusing on renewable energy systems, or in other areas of engineering.

Which three pieces of advice would you give to a current university student? 

  • Don’t just study. I would encourage all new applicants to gain some work experience and to be involved in extracurricular activities. It’s important to be a well-rounded individual. 
  • Don’t leave applying for jobs to the last minute. I made sure to research workplaces and attend careers fairs in my penultimate year. This meant when it came time to apply I had already narrowed my preferences to a few key workplaces, and could try really hard on those few applications.
  • Travel, and learn about other cultures. It still amazes me when people can’t point to a country on a map.