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Career Interview with Dean Cornelison

Welcome to our second blog post in a series of posts that dive into the vast landscape of OSINT jobs and industries. This week, we publish our interview with Dean Cornelison, who works as a Solution Architect at Skopenow. He explains what he does and what role OSINT plays in his job. Furthermore, Dean shares valuable insights and lessons learned from his career.

Connect with Dean on LinkedIn.

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

I work at Skopenow (www.skopenow.com) as a Solution Architect. In this position I work within the space between Product Management, Sales and Customer Services as a SME (Subject Matter Expert) in the Insurance and Private Investigation business sectors. 

This position allows me to help customers effectively use the platform to complete their investigations into social media and open-source data sets. I focus on helping users consider the surrounding factors on their use case, use available data on how to locate, document and preserve the most materially relevant data for their cases or investigations which can involve persons, businesses, or combinations of both.  


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

Skopenow (www.skopenow.com) is a privately held SaaS (Software as a Service) company working within business, government, and non-profit entities in the OSINT (Open-Source Intelligence) sector.


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

It depends on the company and the industry involved. The skills can range from extremely technical expertise to those with softer skills like training and learning aid creation. An extreme interest in technology, change, and early adoption of constantly changing TTPs (Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures) along with a healthy curiosity into the topics and areas of your expertise are crucial. A reasonable period of direct experience in the industries involved is usually necessary. Depending on the position, prior experience could involve computer science education, coding, and project-based work. Having teamwork, interpersonal and customer service skills are crucial as those will likely form a large part of daily work within most positions.


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

I joined Skopenow in July so I would hold my opinion until I had more experience to provide a better-informed response.


Where and how did you land your first job?

My first professional position was with Liberty Mutual in California after leaving college. I was trained to handle insurance claims as an adjuster for commercial lines of business specific to Workers’ Compensation, General Liability, Bodily Injury and Property Damage claims. I worked with businesses of moderate to large size with UPS, IBM, General Mills, JCPenney, Red Lobster/Olive Garden, Red Lion Hotels as accounts I handled for claims.

This was a formative time in how to work effectively with others in a high stress, high volume, complex environment with exposure to different topics in contract law, medical treatment, legal concepts (Civil, Administrative and Criminal) and business communication areas.  I started in business when email, PCs and voicemail did not exist. Making contacts during this time and navigating Fortune 100 corporate life were skills I would use later.  

The biggest take away was how to investigate, document, argue and present findings on accident, injury, and property damage claims. This could involve verification, payment, denial, or reduction of benefits or damages. I was involved in policy and claim related legal activities such as discovery process, depositions, appearing at court, attending settlement conferences, and resolution of claims or lawsuits. 

This occurred within an office environment but also “on the road” about 30-60% of the time.  From talking to injured workers, employers, law enforcement, witnesses and reviewing reports resulting from the incidents all helped form the experience and my mindset going forward.


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?

Get your education or experience plan together. Talk to people in the industry you are interested in.  Seek internship to expand your knowledge. Consider volunteer activity in the area you are interested in.  Leverage the internet and social media to both follow people and concepts you have an interest in. Take advantage of learning how to do research, write effectively, present in public and think critically.  There are many paths here, and it is dependent on interests, capabilities, and resources.

Consider academic training, the military and self-study on topics of interest.  Another key area is to pursue interests outside of your chosen area to get a larger perspective of the world, community, and yourself.  This will only help you see things in a deeper way and make connections.  Also, the human element of building networks of friends, colleagues, mentors, and people who are SMEs (Subject Matter Expert) is crucial for future opportunities and learning.  Last, is being flexible to situations you find yourself part of.  Learning and understanding can come from many areas of life, situations, and people.  


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

I would hire a team of intellectually curious, motivated, and thoughtful people who can anticipate second and third order effects from decisions, actions, or outcomes. I prefer flexibility and consider a sense of humour to be an asset but there are many talents I appreciate such as divergent views/thinking to fill out the team. Everyone can bring their talents to teams but having a safe place to shine as an individual with a team mindset is what I would foster.  


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

I would have also focused on psychology and computer science more in college. I am in the US and would have considered a stint or career in Intelligence or Analysis with the Military or Federal Law Enforcement. I think those opportunities would have fit well in my future based on what I know now.

Where and how do you develop yourself professionally?

This has primarily been through courses in the business area I worked in. I would attend training and certification classes in the anti-fraud space in the Insurance industry. I would also seek out formal training by way of college course work that is available through tuition reimbursement scenarios at employers.  I attended Crime and Intelligence Analysis courses at the University level, but also completed self-study for designations or licenses in my industry such as FCLS (Fraud Claim Law Specialist), CIFI (Certified Insurance Fraud Investigator), PI (Private Investigator License), CIFA (Certified Insurance Fraud Analyst) and CFE (Certified Fraud Examiner).  

Additionally, I read SME books or content to maintain or increase my knowledge base such as those of Michael Bazzell, Cynthia Hetherington, and other technically proficient experts.  I maintain daily, weekly, and monthly monitoring of topics of interest in the OSINT, SIU (Special Investigation Unit) and hacking communities.  Last, I attend industry conferences and build my professional networks on LinkedIn to maintain a stable of resources that I can call up on when I have issues, I need help with. 


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

Definitely. Most can be found using simple OSINT keyword or #osint search terms.  

Michael Bazzell, Cynthia Hetherington, Toddington, SANS, etc. are all excellent resources.  There are too many other to list. I believe researching your own sources, contacts and materials based on your specific use case is important.  What are you trying to solve? Who do you work for? What are your interests and capabilities?  All these considerations can help to guide you in directions that you may find relevant.  

I also pay attention to media stories, movies, articles, documentaries, and current events to see how OSINT is used (or abused) by people to get information, influence, manipulate or research something.  

Last, I think trying to engage with like-minded people who have similar interests is beyond helpful but you should seek out information from several areas so you can remain open to all possibilities.


[End of interview]

Note: this interview has not been edited.

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