In 1986, a three-year-old Luis Lopez and his family fled their home in Nicaragua to escape political turmoil. They came to the US, where his college-educated parents took blue collar jobs to help them survive—his mom cleaned houses and his dad worked in construction. Their sacrifices taught Lopez the value of hard work, education, and relationships.
They also made it possible for Lopez to become the chief information officer at the US Department of Education, one of the smallest cabinet-level agencies with one of the largest federal budgets.
“We never had a lot, but we had enough,” Lopez reflects on his upbringing. “They encouraged me to pursue an education and helped me get into my field. My dad connected me with one of his construction clients after college who took me under his wing and gave me a good fill of IT for two years as a consultant before working my way up in other organizations.”
Those humble beginnings inform how Lopez approaches leadership today. As he spearheads efforts to manage and adapt the agency’s technology effectively, he also works to offer others the same opportunities to grow that he was given. It’s a style that requires humility and trust in the people he works with.
“You have to learn to trust, and empower and enable the folks who work for you,” he says. “I know that I have a great leadership team and when I give them something, they’ll take care of it and that there’s no reason for me to provide oversight. When you make people feel empowered and that you’re there to support them, they’ll perform and grow. Part of it is also being self-aware of what you’re good at as a leader and what you’re not.”
Lopez joined the Department of Education in 2017 and, since then, he has leveraged that mentality to lead major tech transformation initiatives. He’s helped the agency shift from a twelve-year legacy IT service delivery contract to a new service model that modernizes infrastructure, an effort that positioned the agency to prepare for the future and to a successfully support a hybrid workforce. He and his team have worked to modernize the agency’s website in ways that will improve the user experience and reduce the amount of clicks it takes to find information they need.
Additionally, he oversees efforts to provide a better cybersecurity front with a solution that focuses on leading the government space in zero-trust architecture. He’s also excited to explore the potential uses of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotic process automation.
“We want to make sure there’s governance behind it and that we’re being good stewards from a tax dollar perspective,” Lopez says. “So right now, we’re learning lessons from the private sector, but we want to go towards AI. We’re investigating use cases not just internally, but how it could be rolled out in the classroom.”
“Through Mr. Lopez’s leadership, the Department of Education has been at the forefront of integrating advanced technologies to support students, families, educators, and schools,” says Jylinda Johnson, vice president and general manager for government operations at GDIT. “It’s a great privilege for GDIT to partner with Mr. Lopez and the Department to transform operations and improve the customer experience with industry leading zero trust and cloud solutions.”
Prior to his time at the US Department of Education, Lopez spent his early career days at the US Department of Defense. He started as a help desk manager/lead at the National Naval Medical Center, where he assisted its user base, ran small projects, and led the charge on addressing trouble tickets. From the very beginning, he aspired to be a leader.
“I was always interested in IT leadership, and I liked the idea of guiding people and lobbying on behalf of your staff,” the CIO says.
It only took nine months for him to prove that he was capable. After that, he stepped into a deputy chief of service support role, which allowed him to oversee a team of eight staff members who supported all end user support for the center’s command. From there, he became chief of service support and then chief officer with a larger team and greater responsibilities.
In 2015, Lopez came to Defense Health Agency as chief of application, engineering, and integration, responsible for two offices and eight functions across an organization that employed more than 220,000 in sixty-five hospitals, 412 clinics, and 414 dental clinics worldwide.
While he’s proud of the unprecedented IT efforts he helped to lead within military medicine and the transformational initiatives that he spearheaded, Lopez’s proudest accomplishment has been the opportunity to see others prosper.
“My passion has always been seeing the people I grew with and how we helped each other grow,” he says. “I recently went back to the medical center and witnessed where some of my previous colleagues are today. Some have their own companies. Others are engineers. It’s just a wonderful thing.”
Lopez urges young professionals to understand the power of relationships in their careers. “If you don’t build coalitions, you don’t have anything,” he says. “When you meet people, learn what their passions are and help them meet their goals. It’ll make you both successful.”
AlphaSix Corporation is a leader in delivering high-end technology solutions for critical programs for government agencies. Our mission is to provide targeted solutions that enable customers to manage their data and information technology infrastructure while improving operations, understanding threats, and reducing costs. Our expertise spans cybersecurity, data management and technology infrastructure, all currently deployed on contracts within HHS, DOJ and the Department of Education. Visit alphasixcorp.com today to learn more and schedule a consultation for your agency’s IT service and solution needs.
GDIT is a global technology and professional services company that delivers consulting, technology and mission services to every major agency across the US government, defense, and the intelligence community. Our thirty thousand experts extract the power of technology to create immediate value and deliver solutions at the edge of innovation. We operate across thirty countries worldwide, offering leading capabilities in digital modernization, AI/ML, cloud, cyber, and application development. GDIT is part of General Dynamics, a global aerospace and defense company. We have shared our clients’ sense of purpose for over half a century and have a have a unique understanding of their missions, complex environments, and a rapidly changing world.
IBM is a leading global hybrid cloud and AI, and business services provider, helping clients in more than 175 countries capitalize on insights from their data, streamline business processes, reduce costs, and gain the competitive edge in their industries. All of this is backed by IBM’s legendary commitment to trust, transparency, responsibility, inclusivity, and service. For more information, visit ibm.com.