Lonye Ford, Arlo Solutions

Episode Transcription:

[00:00:00] Trac Bannon: 

Being a part of a community means investing time to grow the community. You’ve got to keep a pulse on the voices, ideas, and themes, and look for way to continuously contribute. Sometimes, it could be a blog post, other times, maybe an open dialogue. I was organizing a panel on DevSecOps and CyberSecurity in government and looking for a well balanced set of experts. The panel’s list was shaping up though I noticed a trend of going to the same old folks. Reaching out to a colleague for ideas, we realized the community had some early warning signs of stagnation. We need to have a constant influx of new ideas and perspectives. 

My colleague said, “I have someone you must meet! Her name is Lonye Ford and she’s gonna blow your mind.” 

A few clicks later I had a facilitated intro. Email led the way to a Zoom call. My colleague was right… Lonye joined the call and immediately, we could simply feel her presence. She’s a mix of grit and grace. Articulate with an accent hailing from Chicago, Lonye experienced, level headed and determined.

Lonye grew up in Chicago’s south side. Her predominantly all black community was underserved, surrounded by high crime rates and limited opportunities. 

[00:01:14] Lonye Forde: 

I am actually from the greatest city in the world. Yes. Chicago. I came from some very, very rough beginnings in Chicago. I grew up in that crack epidemic time. I came from Chicago and ground zero. I am from the south side of Chicago. Affectionately known as the wild hundreds that lets you know how wild it is.

[00:01:38] Trac Bannon: 

You are listening to Real Technologists. I’m your host, Trac Bannon, coming to you from Camp Hill, Pennsylvania. Each week we choose a unique guest behind leading Edge Tech innovation to explore their genuine stories, their true journeys. Technology touches nearly every aspect of our lives. It’s being driven by diverse perspectives and experiences of real humans.

You’re in the right spot to hear about the Real Technologists reshaping our world. Stay tuned for stories that will give you something to noodle on.


[00:02:22] Trac Bannon: 

Chicago was the only home Lonye had known, but as she neared high school graduation, she needed to make some tough choices. It was the late 1990’s and she was in complete survival mode.

Lonye was not looking for a college degree or an education. She was laser focused on putting food in her belly and a roof over her head. 

The military was an option but which branch to pick? An older cousin named Cookie came home on a visit from the military. Cookie saw Lonye’s situation and recommended the Air Force.

[00:02:53] Lonye Forde: She was in the Air Force and she was so proud to be in the Air Force. I remember just being in awe of her. I saw her in uniform, in her statue and where she spoke. I was like, oh, this is amazing. ” Hey, you can join the service Lonye… even in the four years you can save you some money and get some furniture and a radio… then you can come out and you’re gonna have the GI Bill.

 When I decide to go in the military, many people really tried to get me to change my mind.

[00:03:26] Trac Bannon: 

Those around Lonye told her the military was not a safe place for blacks, that she would experience racism. She did not let that change her decision. Growing up on the south side, she didn’t have access to any information about the military. She enlisted despite the notions and ideas planted by those around her.

She was young spirited and strong-willed. From Southside Chicago to US Air. Having never strayed far from home before. She was scared and still in survival mode. 

[00:03:57] Lonye Forde: 

I was transported to a land where no one spoke like me. No one really looked like me. And so that was, a tough environment for me… how do they operate in this new environment? People don’t realize, coming from where I came from than going to the military.

 Everyone spoke a different language. It It was, tough from that perspective. and again, there’s a lot of ways that people handled that. Initially I started conforming and when I started conforming, I started acting like the people that were around me.

And in the Air Force. Many of those people were white males. I wasn’t comfortable that my authentic self would be accepted. No one that looked like me. And it’s literally no one that spoke like me.

[00:04:44] Trac Bannon: 

Her first deployment was to Aviano Italy. Lonye may be tough as nails, but she cried when she received her orders to go to Italy. She wanted to be close to Chicago. That was not in the cards. She was scared, trying to conform, and brought her own biases with her. 

[00:05:01] Lonye Forde: 

I got in a lot of trouble initially because I think I tried to fight the system because I was so different… In hindsight, the people around me did not let me fail. They could have… to be honest, I could have been kicked out of the military. 

[00:05:16] Trac Bannon: 

There was a tipping point that should have resulted in punishment. . While stationed in Italy, her superior officers invited her to play golf. Having no experience, she declined. Without missing a beat, the officer responded, “you can just come and be my caddy.”

Worlds collided. You see, in the world where Lonye grew up, golf was seen as a white male sport. The only time she ever heard about golf or had seen any movies with golfers, the caddy was black. 

[00:05:45] Lonye Forde: 

And there was a group of people, and guess what I said… who the fuck do you think you’re talking to? 

[00:06:00] Trac Bannon: 

What happened next stretched both Lonye and her senior leader. She was a young, black woman who had just cussed out senior leaders in front of other senior leaders. Called into an office to sit down and go through the write-up process, Lonye and her superiors started to talk openly about the situation. She had not responded with respect; she had reacted with a motion to what she perceived as a racist statement. 

[00:06:26] Lonye Forde: 

They didn’t even understand that it was a racist comment. I truly believe him. I don’t think that he did that to embarrass me purposely… I don’t think that he necessarily gave that any thought, because his perspective is different from my perspective. He was attempting to be inclusive.

From my perspective, it was degrading, it was demeaning and it was embarrassing… what I appreciate about that moment is they took that as a lesson and they understood my perspective. It helped me see people from different perspectives…

it helped me see entitlement from different perspectives. We think white entitlement is the only one, it’s not! Pretty people entitlement… women, we have entitlement.

[00:07:09] Trac Bannon: 

The incident and the response opened her eyes to the need to learn about other perspectives and points of view. Things are not always as they seem. The Air Force introduced her to people, to foreign lands and to technology. When she joined the military, she went through the usual placement test. She scored very high and was given the choice of Intel imagery or IT. Growing up in Chicago in the late 1990s, she had never been exposed to computers. She wanted the Intel position. The problem with that choice was that the Intel program had specific entry windows. For her to take this route would mean delayed enlistment. That is how she landed at the IT help desk. Remember how spirited Lonye is? She threw herself into the new role and volunteered for anything and everything. Her sense of adventure grew as did her experience! 

[00:08:02] Lonye Forde: 

Once I got to the help desk, I was volunteering to be a wire dog and cable dogs. I was pulling cable through buildings, you know, building cat fives… I would do anything, any new assignment that came up, I took it. 

[00:08:17] Trac Bannon: 

From IT help desk to fixing PCs to system administration. Lonye’s experience and expertise grew. She was in the right place at the right time. A new field was emerging called security. Lonye volunteered. Since the field was small and was so few in it, she would be flagged at each new base as a security expert input into new and different security positions. This is how her cybersecurity journey. 

She spent a decade building her skills. It’s common around the 10 year mark that those in the military retrospect about their next steps. Often it’s a stay or go decision. Lonye was approaching her decade anniversary. Remember that young, spirited black woman who enlisted and felt she could not be her authentic self. She had done well in the Air Force and yet backlash from a single expression of self caused her to really think about leaving. What was that bit of self-expression? A hairstyle. Lonye grew up with cornrows and french braids. The military considered those to be faddish and doesn’t permit colors that are unnatural. Still, lonye wanted to express herself and sought out permission to color her hair ombre. She took pictures to her superiors and explained the process. And it was approved, but when she returned to base, she was taken aside and told to fix her unnatural hairstyle immediate. 

[00:09:41] Lonye Forde: 

I am the person that volunteers for everything. I am the person that gets up early, stays late, goes to training, take care of everyone, and you are talking to me about my hair. It just truly got under my skin. 

 I’ve always been a person that knows when it’s time for me to leave in every situation. I feel it in my gut and I don’t second guess it. I didn’t know what my life was gonna be outside of the military, but I know that I had outgrown that space… that was truly the determining factor. 

[00:10:16] Trac Bannon: 

Being true to oneself is a common trait among Real Technologists. Some lose themselves and reemerge and others, like Lonye, mute themselves for a while. When she left the military, she had no interest in working in IT. How odd after a decade. This stylish veteran wanted to work in retail. It was the mid 2000s and Longye went back to her beloved Chicago. She became the . General manager at a Sears store and then tried her hand in banking. This didn’t last for long. While she simply loves to serve people, she’s not interested in selling. This led to a bit of introspection and self-discovery… what is her expertise? Is it tech? Is it Cyber? 

[00:11:01] Lonye Forde: 

My expertise and passion is not Cyber. My expertise is solution finding and my passion is service. So I can solution find in any career field and I can serve in any career field.

[00:11:15] Trac Bannon: 

While still in the service, Lonye had received her undergrad degree from Hampton University while she was stationed at Langley. When she got out, she used the GI bill to get her MBA. 

Young, experienced, educated, and passionate to serve. She applied for a few IT roles in Chicago though was often overlooked. She pondered if there was an age bias, then stopped worrying about it. A friend of hers told her come to DC. In addition to all her other qualities, she also held government clearances. She literally got online and started applying for jobs. Within weeks Lonye was being courted by many companies. Imagine the excitement of being flown in for an interview and being hired on the spot? 

[00:11:59] Lonye Forde: 

From Chicago, I got in my car with my then fiancee and drove from Chicago to DC in a blizzard. And on my way, I got another job offered to support DISA. I said, okay… I’m on my way to DC right now, but if you like me, you have to hire me today and I have to start on Monday. 

[00:12:31] Trac Bannon: 

DISA is the Defense Information Systems Agency. Lonye would initially start supporting telephony security focused on the connection to approval process.

Lonye went on to write the first connection approval guide for telephony. She was contracting to DISA when they made the conversion to multifunction switches. This was when voice-over-IP was being first adopted. Lonye contracted this way until 2008 when she took a GS position with the Army. 

She served the program execution office enterprise Information Systems: PEO EIS. For two and a half years in this role, Lonye verified compliance with certification accreditations and regulations of over 40 unclass and classified systems. This was only part of her cybersecurity work with the Army. By 2011, she had moved on to become an Information Assurance Manager with Systek. Each step of the way, Lonye brought a 6th sense to the table being able to identify risks and even chairing task forces focused on special information assurance.

For nearly a decade after leaving the Air Force, Lonye kept pushing herself to not be comfortable. Every 2-3 years applying her CyberSecurity skills to continuously bigger and more complex military efforts even working on security satellite systems. 

In fact, if you ask her what company or consultancy she worked with, she often can’t remember. What is indelible to her is the customer and the mission. One of her many sought after skills is her ability to devise ways to assess new technology. 

[00:14:09] Lonye Forde: 

I can pretty much put a strategy and a framework together for assessing any type of technology that you can think of, because that’s truly where, that’s truly what I’ve been doing. 

[00:14:21] Trac Bannon: 

Life is filled with twists, turns, disappointments, and surprises. In 2014, Arlene Wube and Lonye co-founded Arlo Solutions to provide professional services to the government. They are data protectors, information confidants, tech aficionados, and digital innovators on a mission to streamline government technology. Most but not all of their work is with defense and intelligence. How did Arlene and Lonye meet? Through a recommendation by a work associate named Taz.

[00:14:54] Lonye Forde: So I was working with Taz, and Taz said… you know, I just want you to meet my wife. He kept telling me I needed to meet his wife. Finally I met his wife and over a lemon drop martini. 

She came from working in big data for some larger companies. I would say one of the reasons I was able to start Arlo was that I really met my partner soulmate. Her name is Arlene, she’s Ar and I’m the lo. At Arlo, it really just clicked for us. We started this company, we decided to go into government contracting. I had worked on contracts, but I had no idea how to start a government contracting company.

[00:15:32] Trac Bannon: 

Arlene and Lonye gobbled up all the resources and help available to get smart and start their company, especially help from the SBA (small business association).

For nearly two years, they would get dressed in their business suits and go a few times a week to the SBA. They took all the free training that was available including how to respond to government requests called RFPs. This started to build their confidence and their business. 

These were exciting and trying times. During those two learning years, the money was lean. Lonye had left her prior role and was using her funds while Arlo was starting up. She also became pregnant. Arlo Solutions was still her dreams but the bills needed to be paid. 

[00:16:16] Lonye Forde: 

I went back to work, I went to work at the Pentagon. And one reason I worked at the Pentagon because it was close to my house and I had a new child. 

[00:16:25] Trac Bannon: 

The foundation of her company was built so her strategy was to build relationships and ally-ships at the Pentagon. A gamble that paid off. While she was at the Pentagon, she had an opportunity to build the new Air Force CISO office. It was there that she co-authored the Air Force’s Fast Track, ATO process. ATO stands for authority to operate and can take months or years to field new software and systems. Lonye helped revolutionize the process. 

Arlo Solutions began to take on subcontracting and direct contracting for the DoD. Arlene and Lonye have continued to learn, invest, and improve. 

By 2021, the company generated $8.7 million in revenue partnering with companies like Booze Allen, Deloitte, and Accenture. In August of 2022, Arlo Solutions secured a $28 million government contract. 

Quite a feat when you think back to her humble beginnings. Homeless at 12 now CEO of a multi-million dollar corporation.

 Lonye admits to working hard but is quick to call out her mentors. 

[00:17:38] Lonye Forde: 

I am the person that always bucks the system and never forces my stay in comfort zone… that was just been my guiding principle. I think that has helped me drastically. If I talk about mentorship, that has helped me drastically having so many male allies and a lot of white male allies. But I have mostly white male allies to be honest. But, it’s helped me tremendously to be able to have those discussions and because it’s a certain entitlement that’s there that I wanted to learn from. Once I start meeting the people, the individual people, I just had such an amazing experience and I had so many advocates of every race, of every color.

[00:18:23] Trac Bannon: 

Lonye is at the point of really giving back. Arlo Solutions pledged to donate $30,000 to Camden, New Jersey based nonprofit, Urban Promise. This is their first corporate philanthropic initiative providing funds to send as many young people to college as possible. My colleague was right, meeting Lonye Ford completely blew me away… she defies labels and defies the odds…

[00:18:51] Lonye Forde: 

My wife and I have two boys. We have a 7 year old and a 6 year old. I struggle with labels in general. I fit in so many different descriptors… being black, being a woman, having a wife… I have so many different descriptors and boxes that people want to put me in. I don’t care what society says, you know, I don’t. I am who I am and I want to be recognized for my knowledge, my skills, and my ability.

I make the joke that I’m a hood patriot because I love my hood from Chicago. And I actually love the Air Force, it was the best decision that I could have made for my life. A lot of lessons learned in Chicago is really what made me the CEO and the person that I am. It is important to put myself Out there for other people that look like me because I may be the only example that they get. And so I do need to tell about my story.

[00:19:54] Trac Bannon: 

And that’s a wrap for today’s episode of Real Technologists. I want to thank my guest, Lonye Ford, for sharing her story. Your insights and experiences are truly inspiring. I’m grateful for the opportunity to share them with the audience. This podcast is a Sourced Network production and updates are available weekly on your favorite audio streaming platform. Just search for real technologists and consider subscribing. Special thanks to our executive producer, Mark Miller, for making this show possible. Our editor and sound engineer, Pokie Huang has done an amazing job bringing this story to life. Thank you both. The music for today’s episode was provided by Blue Dot Sessions, and we use Descript for spoken text editing and audacity for the soundscaping. The show distribution platform is provided by CaptivateFM making it easy for our listeners to find and enjoy the show. 

That’s all for today, folks. This is Trac Bannon. Don’t forget to tune in next week for another intriguing episode of Real Technologists and something new to noodle on.

Episode Guest:

Lonye N. Ford Serving as the Chief Executive Officer of Arlo Solutions, Lonye Ford is responsible for the recruitment of specialized Top Secret cleared, senior-level experts, business development, and the company’s strategic planning. Ford builds key strategic business relationships and teaming agreements. She also develops networks and collaboration across boundaries, finding common ground with a diverse range of affiliations to increase revenue and contracting opportunities. Her career in cybersecurity classifies her as a Subject Matter Expert allowing her to take a technical lead in Arlo pushing the company into new frontiers to capture significant market shares as a small business.  An alum of Hampton University, Ford then earned her M.B.A. from Strayer University. Also, she is a proud veteran having served her country for over a decade.  

Episode Transcription:

[00:00:00] Trac Bannon:

In our world today, technology plays an increasingly significant role in shaping our lives. The way we communicate, work, and even entertain ourselves is being revolutionized by tech. Behind every innovation, there’s a person, a human being with unique experiences, perspectives and challenges. Understanding what shaped their perspective is a real goal.

From The Sourced Network remote offices in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, welcome to Real Technologists. Each week we explore the genuine stories and true journeys of folks shaping our digital future. How did they navigate this complex world of ours? What challenges did they face? What are the innovative ideas that continue to propel them forward?

Each episode is crafted to broaden your perspective, spark innovation, and help you make better decisions by showcasing the diversity of thought and experiences within the tech industry.

Today, we’ve included some short excerpts to give you a taste of what’s to come.

Let’s start out with Jennifer Leggio, Chief Marketing Officer for Netography and cybersecurity strategist. She’s also luminary for the accountability and responsibility and security marketing. Just who helped her along the way?

[00:01:17] Jennifer Leggio:

” He would push me and say, I see more in you. I see more in you. And so because of that, Cisco wasn’t enough for me anymore, and it wasn’t Cisco. It was the role because it’s such a huge org. My role was very finite there, focusing on security strategy and communications and messaging and such. I’m like, you know what? I’m gonna quit.”

[00:01:41] Trac Bannon:

Caroline Wong, Chief Strategy Officer at Cobalt got her start with eBay as an intern. Her experience and exposure to eBay said in motion a series of domino events transforming her into a leading voice in cybersecurity. Funny to think it all started with dating a Stanford student.

[00:02:02] Caroling Wong:

” For my summer internship between my junior and senior year, I wanted to live at his house with his parents in Silicon Valley and not my house with my parents in San Francisco. And so when I applied to internships that summer, and I must have applied to 50 different internships, I only applied to companies located in Silicon Valley. And I got an internship in IT at eBay.”

[00:02:31] Trac Bannon:

Katy Craig is a cybersecurity expert who has spent her career focused on the US Navy. She’s a retired veteran, educating the next generation of ethical hackers.

[00:02:43] Katy Craig:

” It’s very special to build a ship, to be part of the pre-com crew, to be a quote unquote plank owner is a very special, privilege. I am a plank owner of Bonham Rashard. We went through a lot on that ship. I was there on 9-11 when the planes hit the towers. we deployed early to go hunt for Osama Bin Laden.”

[00:03:06] Trac Bannon:

Lonya Ford grew up on the south side of Chicago and joined the military as a way to put a roof over her head and maybe give her an education. When she started out, she found herself believing that she could not be her authentic self.

[00:03:19] Lonye Forde:

” It was scary joining the military because I was transported to a land where no one spoke like me. No one really looked like me. And so that was, a tough environment for me. And, you know, for a while I think what I started to do was conform a little, right?

[00:03:39] Trac Bannon:

Rosalind Radcliffe is an esteemed IBM fellow driving big blue to drink their own champagne, so to speak, in their adoption of modern software practices and DevSecOps. As a self-proclaimed high school dropout, she is leading the way for the DevOps-ing of IBM’s z/OS.

[00:03:58] Rosalind Radcliffe:

” So I went to school in Wisconsin for two years and then my dad was moving to Florida to teach at the University of Florida via England for a year. And so they sent me to the university and the university said, would you like to show up in August? I said, no, I’m going to England for a year. So let me go to England for a year and I’ll come back and then I’ll go to the university. And so technically I’m a high school dropout.”

[00:04:22] Trac Bannon:

That’s what Real Technologist is all about. I delve into the lives of innovators to discover their journeys, their passions, and their motivations.

This is Trac Bannon, the host and storyteller for the Real Technologist Podcast. I’ve been in the tech industry since the 1990s. Along the way, I’ve worked with scientists, researchers, consultants, educators, military and hardcore technologists driving digital innovation.

I’m an active member in many technical communities ranging from digital transformation to software architecture, to DevSecOps. With a vibrant network of professionals who are constantly monitoring what’s going on, I’ve developed a passion for uncovering unique stories and perspectives.

I believe that behind every technological innovation, there’s a unique individual with a captivating story to tell. Our goal, my goal, is to bring you face-to-face with the real technologists behind the latest tech trends, and to give you a glimpse into their lives, their passions, their motivations.

Real technologists is more than a podcast about diversity. It’s about amplifying the goodness that comes from our diverse spectrum of voices and experiences. It’s about genuine stories, true journeys, our complex world. Whether you’re a tech enthusiast, an entrepreneur, or just curious about the world of technology insights, the interviews are sure to inspire and educate. Consider joining me weekly at Real Technologists. Each episode will leave you with something to noodle on.

Episode Guest:

Lonye N. Ford Serving as the Chief Executive Officer of Arlo Solutions, Lonye Ford is responsible for the recruitment of specialized Top Secret cleared, senior-level experts, business development, and the company’s strategic planning. Ford builds key strategic business relationships and teaming agreements. She also develops networks and collaboration across boundaries, finding common ground with a diverse range of affiliations to increase revenue and contracting opportunities. Her career in cybersecurity classifies her as a Subject Matter Expert allowing her to take a technical lead in Arlo pushing the company into new frontiers to capture significant market shares as a small business.  An alum of Hampton University, Ford then earned her M.B.A. from Strayer University. Also, she is a proud veteran having served her country for over a decade.