March 01, 2021
Air Force intelligence and Apple smart homes with Devin Gund
By Bill Brink
In his quest to make an impact, Devin Gund has a knack for finding opportunities that shouldn’t exist.
As a freshman at Carnegie Mellon, he got an internship with Apple the old-fashioned way, talking with a recruiter at a career fair. He became, to his knowledge, the first student to double-major in Electrical and Computer Engineering and International Relations and Politics. He convinced an Air Force Reserve recruiter to give him a shot at becoming an intelligence officer, a challenging path for a civilian.
Gund, who graduated in 2018, is now a software engineer at Apple, working in their smart home division, and an Air Force Reserve intelligence officer. His experiences to date have given him a sense of purpose and resolve when times are tough.
“In the midst of this pandemic and unprecedented attacks on our institutions, through misinformation and now through physical attacks like the tragedy that occurred at the Capitol, I want to inspire others in my generation to become more involved and invested in our country rather than withdrawing,” Gund said. “Our obligations to ourselves as well as others demand sacrifice and commitment to the public good, and we all have unique skills to contribute.”
Gund went to high school in Ridgefield, Connecticut, and was 15 when Hurricane Irene hit in 2011. Connecticut doesn’t get many hurricanes. The power was out for a week, phone lines were down, and no one knew what was going on. Gund had been teaching himself Objective-C, a programming language for iPhones, and built an app called myRPS that allowed Ridgefield Public Schools to communicate with the community.
Gund liked the idea of using coding, a free resource that requires only time and training, to solve problems. He chose Carnegie Mellon because he wanted to further his problem-solving ability by studying computer engineering.
“I basically want to build things that help other people,” he said. “There’s a lot of problems out in the world. There always will be. If I can use my problem-solving skills to help those grander problems on the world stage, then I’m really interested in doing that.”
With help from Institute for Politics and Strategy Deputy Director Emily Half, Gund played some Tetris with his Advanced Placement and foreign-language credits and added International Relations and Politics as an additional major. His favorite IRP class was Comparative Politics, which gave him a granular look at countries that he still uses today in his intelligence work.
“You don’t look at a country at a high level,” he said. “You say, who’s in charge of the country? Who’s in the cabinet? What are they interested in? What are the people interested in? What does the environment give you in terms of, what can they make, what do they have to import, how do they travel? And that gives you a really, really good idea about how the country works.”
Gund wanted the experience of working in government, so he participated in the Carnegie Mellon University Washington Semester Program during the fall of his senior year. He interned at the Securities and Exchange Commission and helped revamp their Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis, and Retrieval (EDGAR) program, through which companies submit their filings to the SEC.
“It was really neat for me because it was at the intersection of policy – we need to consider all these stakeholders within the SEC and outside the SEC and what it should do – but also I got to use a little bit of my technical background with cybersecurity and technical design,” Gund said. “We could tell the leadership at the SEC, ‘I know you want this; here’s what can actually be done.’”
Silicon Valley’s innovative tech culture enthralled Gund, and he knew he wanted to work at Apple because of their craftsmanship and values. He wasn't sure why he broke through at the career fair, but he thought his history of building apps helped, and he focused on the daunting task of interviewing as a freshman. After two phone interviews did not result in offers, the third one did, with Apple’s smart home technology division. It ended up being the perfect fit: He spent three summers there and now works in the department full-time, creating Apple’s smart home ecosystem.
“It can be more eco-friendly,” he said. “You can have your thermostat know when you aren’t home and stop using energy. You can have your lights turn off if you left them on, but left the house. In the future, people will realize that it’s better for them and it’s better for the planet, and it’s really more convenient for everyone. At some point we’ll look back and say, wow, that was crazy that everything was so manual back in the day.”
Gund loves his job at Apple, but he retained his commitment to public service and missed foreign affairs, so he worked hard to earn a role with the Air Force that fulfilled both. When the recruiter told Gund that commissioning as an officer and working in intelligence would be challenging without prior military experience, Gund said, “Well, I’m definitely willing to try.” He performed well on some tests. Some units saw his Carnegie Mellon degree and thought he’d be a good candidate. He had a shot.
Gund attended the Air Force’s Officer Training School and the Intelligence Officer Course. His courses, projects, and exercises drew from classified, real-world information, and he learned how to research, synthesize, assess, and brief. He now has top secret clearance and works out of Beale Air Force Base, about three hours north of Silicon Valley, one weekend a month.
Carnegie Mellon helped open the door for Gund, and he advised others to take advantage of what it has to offer, specifically the Washington Semester Program.
“When you go to DC, you’re going to actually be involved in it,” he said. “You’re going to be in the middle of it. You’re going to be hearing from people coming in to lecture you that work at Congress, or agencies, or think tanks, or outside institutions, and you’ll probably have an internship in one of those places, too. It’s a great place to apply what you’ve learned and immerse yourself.”