The first thing to know about Michael Ferguson, an information specialist with U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Information and Technology, is that he is a reader. If you ask him to describe the core ideas that inform his worldview, you’re likely to hear a favorite passage from something he’s read, recited by heart.
About weathering the ups and downs of a 30-plus-year career, for example, Ferguson quotes from Spencer Johnson’s “Peaks and Valleys”: “You change your valley into a peak when you find and use the good that is hidden in the bad time.” Ferguson’s ability to turn low points into opportunities propelled him through a fascinating professional journey — from serving in the military, to transitioning to the private sector, and finally, to becoming a proud member of CBP. His career hasn’t followed a predictable path, but that is fine with Ferguson.
“Far and away is how I began my journey in life, as a United States Marine in 1979 when I served as a tow-guided missile gunner at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, Second Tank and Second Marine Division.” Ferguson served with the Marine Corps for four years, deploying frequently overseas, from Cuba to the Mediterranean. “Being a Marine was one of the peaks of my professional life,” he said. “Once a Marine, always a Marine.”
After leaving the Marine Corps with an honorable discharge in 1983, it was time to step to a different beat. He used his tuition benefits to earn his bachelor’s degree in information systems and began his career in private sector information technology where he routinely worked with high-level clients ranging from hospital systems to automobile manufacturers.
“Fast forward to Veterans Day 2017, I experienced one of the lowest valleys in my professional career,” Ferguson said. The private IT services company he had spent 15 years building decided to downsize and outsource jobs. Ferguson’s department was one of many being dissolved completely. “For the first time in my IT career, I was out of a job.”
He spent many months applying to jobs through the USAJobs website, but to no avail. “My career was in a tailspin. What would I do?” he wondered. The answer was, as always, to flip the valley on its head and turn it into a peak.
He began working with a counselor at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and was connected with Jeffrey Jack, CBP’s National Veterans Employment Program Manager. In an hourlong late-night phone call one evening, Ferguson and Jack outlined a strategic career path forward. Jack encouraged Ferguson to apply to the VA’s Veterans Readiness and Employment (VR&E), Non-Paid Work Experience (NWPE) internship program, through which Jack had successfully matched many eligible disabled veterans with internships at CBP, at no cost to the agency as NPWE interns are paid a monthly stipend from the VR&E benefit program.
Within two months, in November 2018, CBP secured for Ferguson a NPWE position, providing access management for a key CBP security office. “Just like that, I was out of the valley and streaking to another peak in my career, and this time I’d stay on the mountaintop for keeps!” Ferguson said.
By March 2019, CBP made him a permanent full-time employee, impressed by his dedication, expertise, work ethic, and attention to detail.
“CBP has by far been the most rewarding and fulfilling position I have held,” he said, noting that the NPWE program offers its interns real work situations and valuable experience. “I was placed directly into the GS series and grade for the position and expected to thrive — which I did, in great part due to the supportive nature of the supervisory staff and exceptional team members.”
“I was so excited to be a part of a great mission and a working machine again!” Ferguson said. “I was able to interact with people in the profession I have known and loved for many years. I was able to showcase my talents, experience, and prove myself once more. My career was back on track!”
To date, Ferguson has been a permanent employee at CBP for over two years as an information specialist. “It has truly been a rewarding, exhilarating experience for me,” he says.
Please email Jeffrey Jack, CBP’s National Veterans Employment Program Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on how to participate in the Non-Paid Work Experience program and to find your “peak” career within CBP.