David Gustafson wanted to be a soldier, but the military didn’t need him, so he became a public CIO instead. Gustafson, who will depart Nevada for the private sector on April 10 to take a position with cable company Charter Communications, served as the state’s CIO since 2009. He led agency consolidations and evolutions in Nevada’s cybersecurity posture. Gustafson’s stint in government helped him develop professionally, illuminated in his mind the true nature of government workers, and fulfilled a life-long yearning to serve his country.
“My dad was a Marine, my grandpa a Marine; I was a good Midwest boy, and I wanted to serve my country,” Gustafson said, recalling a visit to the Marine recruiter’s office during the first Gulf War. The recruiter asked Gustafson if he knew how to repair bridges or heal wounded soldiers. It turned out that the Marines didn’t need him.
“He said, ‘Son, we don’t need computer people.’ So I left,” he recalled. “But I always wanted to pay my country back through civil service. So when government came up, I knew it wasn’t the ideal spot for me to be, but it was an opportunity for me to put in my patriotic duty.”
Gustafson’s chief accomplishments in Nevada include upgrades to the state’s cybersecurity stance, including live threat monitoring starting in 2012, and the consolidation of state agencies into the IT office, including the most recent addition of public safety IT.
“We’ve been able to put in the tools, process and procedures that have already proven to be a success at mitigating threats of the cyberworld, threats that would have otherwise crippled government and led to lost productivity,” Gustafson said.
When he first joined Nevada state government in 2009, Gustafson said the public’s perception of government workers as “lazy and dumb” was soon proven wrong. “Some of these people I can’t believe actually stay in government. They’re highly credentialed people and I was surprised about that,” he said. “There are some really fantastic, highly educated, highly effective people in government, and they are the ones that keep the machine moving.”
Gustafson admitted that government had, in fact, enriched his professional and personal life in ways he had not anticipated. “You know, IT guys don’t give presentations, they don’t speak in front of hundreds of people, they don’t go to the White House, they don’t go to Langley and talk cybersecurity,” he said. “I’ve learned how to speak to budget and accounting folks in ways I never would have otherwise. I have professionally grown quite a bit and I’m really proud of that.”
The Nevada CIO’s days of talking to legislators and working with multi-year budgets will soon come to a close, but he said it’s always a possibility that he could return to the public sector, because, after all, “I didn’t seek out government. Government found me.”
Colin wrote for Government Technology from 2010 through most of 2016.