Isaiah Makonnen successfully completed the Foreign Affairs Information Technology (FAIT) Fellowship in 2022 while earning a Master of Science in Information Systems from the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University Bloomington. His first post in the Foreign Service is the U.S. Embassy Prague, Czech Republic. Since this interview, the Information Management Specialist (IMS) role has evolved into the Diplomatic Technology Officer (DTO) role. 

What inspired you to pursue FAIT Fellowship program?

What inspired me to pursue the FAIT Fellowship program was the endless number of opportunities it lent me as an IT professional. Obviously, the two internships come to mind: the domestic internship working in Washington, D.C., and the overseas internship. The domestic internship in DC is more application/development based, it’s more about working on software. In the overseas internship, you’re really working hands on, putting in the work and putting your time into providing support and feedback to the diplomatic mission. So, first and foremost, that overseas internship really made me understand how valuable it is to ask for help. When I graduated with my master’s degree, I felt like I knew everything when it comes to the world of IT, but it’s different when you’re on the ground and in the field. There were so many mentors that helped guide me through my domestic internship as well as my overseas internship. We had an endless number of opportunities and seminars to create professional as well as personal growth.

What advice do you have for individuals working on their application or preparing for the application process? 

I’d advise to start the application early and review it often. Before the application cycle starts, make sure you have your materials ready and have close family or close peers help review your application materials before submitting it. And when it comes to the selection process, just be yourself. I know it’s a process, in terms of having multiple interviews, assessments and proctoring tests. When it comes to the selection process, if you put your best foot forward, you’ll come out with the best results, so just be yourself.

What was a typical week like in your first summer domestic internship in Washington DC? What did you value the most?

We were the COVID cohort so most of our work was done virtually, but it was still similar to being in person. Duties and tasks were still handled the same. We would have daily stand-up meetings on Google Meet, one in the morning and then one late afternoon before we log off. I worked for the cloud program management office in DC, so we would continue to be in presentations, as well as supporting our clients and getting their feedback when developing and testing applications, troubleshooting, and determining what we can do to provide a better application.

Where was your overseas internship and can you share your most memorable experience?

My overseas internship was in Singapore, and it was an amazing experience. The most memorable experience related to working in the IT field in the embassy was setting up and planning the events from a communication and networking connectivity standpoint. The Pelosi CODEL held in Singapore was a smaller and tightly knit gathering. It was a fun and memorable experience to prepare for that event, and make sure all the devices were connected and that everybody had support if something failed.

Thinking about your experiences over the past two years, can you describe how FAIT Fellowship has affected your life personally and professionally?

It has affected me both professionally and personally. I feel like these go hand-in-hand, so when it comes to talking about both, I can’t really separate the professional from the personal.

Going overseas for me was a huge thing. I’m from Fort Wayne, Indiana and I haven’t been anywhere like Singapore before. The experience overseas – working with new and different people, in different organizations and agencies, making new contacts, and expressing myself and getting hands-on with new tools in I.T., and working with new management styles – really made me a better professional as well as a better person.

Where is your first post and how do you feel about it?

First and foremost, I feel proud to serve my country. My first post will be in Prague, Czech Republic, and I’m very excited because it’ll also be my first time in Europe. I’m very excited to experience my first post. I can’t wait to meet the new staff and people I’ll be working with.

What is the most interesting or valuable experience from your training at the Foreign Service Institute?

The most valuable lesson I learned at FSI was within the Entry Level Supervisor program. In my first position [as a Diplomatic Technology Officer] in Prague, I’ll be a supervisor to the local staff. The training really taught me some fundamental skills in management, as well as I.T., in terms of how to be a better leader for the organization, as well as for the team. I think the ELS program here at FSI was really good and taught me the things that I needed to know before heading out to post.

There’s so much nuance when it comes to stepping out in the real world that doesn’t really come from academia and that you can’t really experience until you’re out there. I feel like it goes for every job, but especially this job. When you’re put into different posts in different countries overseas, you really have to fail fast in order to succeed in the long run.

What are you looking forward to most as you embark on your first assignment and start your career with the Department of State?

I’m looking forward to learning and growing, first and foremost, as well as creating new memories with people that I meet at post. And really trying to do best in terms of, not only coming to a post and receiving it well, but also leaving it in a better spot in furthering diplomatic missions.

Do you have any closing word of advice for those who are thinking about applying?

When thinking about applying for FAIT, don’t think, just apply. You have nothing to lose when you apply. It’s a phenomenal program.

Photo: US Marines Honor Guard Ambassador’s Residence Prague