The Pirate Flag Story

Back when Charles Green, CEO of AIS, worked in the Adversarial Sciences Lab (ASL) at AFRL in Rome, NY, the pirate flag was an important symbol. So much so that when the decision was made to start AIS, the flag became a part of the company’s identity right away.

“The flag was pre-AIS, but we were formed in the ASL, so we inherited it from them,” said Green. “Back then, we had adopted the flag because we were being challenged to do things differently, which is what the flag represents.”

Eric Thayer, who is now AIS’s Principal Investigator for the Systems Analysis and Exploitation Group was also working in the ASL with Green before AIS became a company. The lab was doing a significant amount of cyber research, which at that time was not the norm.

“At that point, the flag signified ‘the hacker’,” said Thayer. “We had a hacker mentality and approach from the beginning; we had an unconventional way of looking at things and doing things.”

To AIS, being different means more than just standing out from the competition. Having a fun and easy-going company culture was, and continues to be, one of the most important ways the ASL, and later AIS, stood out from the rest.

“In the lab, we were dressing differently, behaving differently and just trying to buck the system, but with our government leadership’s encouragement to do so,” said Green. “It wasn’t always met with the best receptions; some other people in the lab didn’t like how we were doing things and different leadership came in and out having different opinions about it, but we still did our own thing.”

Dan Kalil, Vice President of Commercial Operations, was working close by in the Forensics Lab at the time. Since the labs were so connected, they both adopted the idea of breaking the mold of a traditional work environment.

“Our superiors were charged with helping to define, develop and deploy a discipline that was truly in its infancy at that time, so they knew they needed a team that thought and operated differently,” said Kalil. “As a result, they let us establish an almost dorm-like atmosphere where we could get quality work done, while also not taking life too seriously. One time, I was cooking breakfast for everyone and I blew out all the circuits in the kitchen upstairs. While we were still respectful, we didn’t concern ourselves with the business side of things or stereotypical office behavior.”

Kim Howard, Information Systems Security Manager, remembers that when AIS moved out of the lab and into a new office in 2005, employees kept their senses of humor.

“The floors were so cold at that office in the winter that everyone wore slippers, and you’ve never seen such crazy slippers,” said Howard, with a smile on her face as she remembered some of the most interesting slippers she saw over the years.

Working hard while still being true to yourself is a difficult task, especially when working in the cybersecurity field.

Proudly hanging the pirate flag reminds employees about how essential that balance is and how maintaining that balance everyday makes us different, like the company has always been. When AIS headquarters was built in 2011, it was important to incorporate the flag to represent the company’s heritage. Raising the flag was a way of adding AIS’s own touch into a seemingly corporate building.

“We had a nice new fancy building that looked like a corporate environment,” said Thayer. “Clean walls, shiny floors and big offices, but it didn’t quite have our own flavor. A couple of us went on a mission to the hardware store and got some supplies. We went out after hours one night, lowered the flag, put the pirate flag up and raised it. It’s been that way ever since.”

The cybersecurity industry’s landscape has grown drastically over the years, but AIS has endured the test of time and continues to thrive. Assuring employees know their purpose and the journey this company has been on creates a connection between the employees and the company, as well as each other.

“To me, the flag represents longevity,” said Kalil. “We’ve been doing this for almost 20 years and if you think of all the companies that have come and gone since us, it’s really something to be proud of.”

Each employee contributes to the writing of AIS’s history whether they’ve been with us since the beginning or are newly hired. The story of the pirate flag unites the company, keeps employees grounded in our values and helps push AIS toward the next part of our story.

“We’ve had to grow up a little bit, but the flag reminds us where we came from and who we are at the core. We can never let go of that,” said Green.

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