Career Interview with Skip Schiphorst

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Skip, where do you work now and what exactly is it that you do?

I have been a Chinese Open Source Intelligence Instructor for a little more than a year and I teach on behalf of Switzerland-based I-Intelligence GmbH. I develop and teach courses on how to perform online-research in foreign languages.

Can you tell us more about the industry that you are working in?

Information and risk management, open source intelligence, investigations and investigative techniques, futures and foresights, policy advisory, strategic consulting, education and professional development.

Mainly consultation, education and research in the above-mentioned disciplines for the benefit of organisations as well as individuals.

What skills, knowledge, and background are required to work in your industry?

Information management requires you to be able to master several disciplines. Specialized academic knowledge or a solid technical background will definitely make you stand out when trying to find your “spot” within the industry.

This knowledge does not solely need to be technical however; I believe international relations, history or any humanity study will help you strengthen your portfolio as clients don’t always wish to engage with “tech-only” specialists.

In your view, what are the top skills/attributes to have for becoming successful in your area?

Understanding the information cycle, mastering the basics as well as being able to deliver services and knowledge play important roles. Although these form the elementary skills needed for this profession, it is my opinion that you also need to bring something extra to the table that makes you stand out since there is a myriad of companies offering very similar services.

Where and how did you land your first job?

I grew up in Switzerland as an expat kid and travelled to the Netherlands when I was 18 to join the Royal Netherlands Marine Corps where I served for 16 years until I got injured. There aren’t any words that come to mind in how to land this kind of “job”.

Most people think it’s pure physical strength but I would argue most selections for elite units are more of a mental challenge; you have to really want it. (Of course it helps if you’re physically prepared and heal quickly).

Looking back at how you started and where you are today, what advice do you have for someone who wants to pursue a similar career or even transition to the field you are working in?

A tough question since I consider my path to where I am now not logical at all but it worked for me! I was fairly young when I became increasingly interested in different languages and the military. I quickly discovered that studying and using foreign languages wherever I trained or deployed with the Marines became my key asset.

One advice that I can give is that you don’t always have to wait to see what’s being offered to you in terms of extracurricular education or specialties wherever you work; think out of the box, find what drives you and go for it!  

Transition tip would be: reach out to specialists in this field who share their knowledge.

If you were to hire people in your team, what would you look for? 

Out of the box mentality, cultural awareness, mastery of basic skills, team-player mentality but also able to operate as an individual and having that extra something. Languages worked out for me; what is it that is going to make you stand out?

Looking at your career, is there anything you would do differently today if you had the chance to travel back in time?

I’d probably move slightly more to the left or right and avoid getting shot! Things go as they go and you improvise adapt and overcome. I’ve had plenty of failures and successes and I’m glad I did; I try to take ownership of both as they help me put things into a very basic perspective. If I could I would probably have started connecting with other OSINT experts much earlier.

There is a ton of knowledge out there and most experts are more than happy to share and help.

Where and how do you develop yourself professionally?

Looking for new content, trying out new applications and pin-pointing what I think could be relevant to put in a course is something I do on a daily basis. There’s so much out there and new tools and technique surface so quickly therefore I try to focus on my area of expertise which is OSINT research in foreign languages.

Are there any websites, books, podcasts, or anything else that you would recommend for professional development (does not have to be OSINT related)?

Podcasts have been a major thing for me for the past few years. One of my favourite podcasts is ChinaTalk hosted by Jordan Schneider and the Sinica Podcast hosted by Kaiser Kuo and Jeremy Goldkorn. Both podcasts offer excellent well balanced content by interviewing China-experts ranging from academics, tech’ watchers, policy advisors, business professionals and many more.

I recommend these as well as other podcasts as they can help in better understanding China from different perspectives, especially Chinese ones. I’ve made a list of 20+ different podcasts that all cover China; reach out and I’ll send it to you!

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