My 2012-2018 FS SEO Career in Washington DC and Guangzhou, China – Part 1

It takes about a year or more to join the U.S. Foreign Service (FS), which is part of the U.S. Department of State (DOS). I posted in this earlier blog my FS orientation schedule and CIA visit information. When you join the FS as a specialist (FSS), you have three weeks of orientation and then you report for your specialty job orientation. My FSS job was a Diplomatic Security Engineering Officer (SEO). Despite the job title and requirement for an Engineering degree, to do this job you need NO engineering skills. You will be trained for everything you need to do. After FSS orientation, SEOs are given a two-year assignment in the Washington, D.C. area, so you will not be posted overseas yet. During these two years, you will have lots of SEO training, and in the mean time you will sit in an office in Northern Virginia (NoVA) doing some SEO support work, essentially mundane paper work to pass the time. Your SEO training consists of installing and picking locks, wiring up door controls, installing CCTV cameras, installing and working alarm and speaker systems, and more handyman duties. The longest part of training is your TSCM training. After all this training, you are now an official SEO with a badge, credentials (yep, just like a Special Agent), and even a nice SEO certificate and a TSCM certificate.

My SEO office duties from the time I was hired in 2012 up until 2014, aside from training, was working on the complex Microsoft Excel sheet I have ever seen. This fancy Excel document was basically a giant physical and technical security checklist to be used by SEOs at embassies and consulates world wide. This arduous but trivial task required me to do some coding in Excel macros. What fun. Other than that, I did not do a damn thing during my office time in DC/NoVA. I was in an office that did not travel, not even TDY trips. I was so board that I decided to do what I’ve done most of my life, more studying! I decided to study for and take the FE/EIT and then PE exams to become a licensed Professional Engineer. I never took the FE in college so I had to relearn lots of stuff, I actually studied for the FE during TSCM training. I found out that I passed the FE, first try, and then I studied for the PE in my NoVA SEO office since I had nothing else to do.

Around March 2014, I would get a notice that I was selected to be posted at the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou, China for two years, and that I was expected to fly out in June/July 2014. Wow, so I only have a few months to go! The PE exam was scheduled for April 2014. So I had one shot to take it and pass before moving to the other side of the world. The PE exam will be an all day thing. It was an 8 hour test, plus a one hour break, plus administrative stuff at the beginning, plus travel time to the NoVA testing site. I felt nervous but positive, and as the test went on I felt subjugated and subdued. By the end of the day, I felt defeated. In June 2014, I would get a notice in my email….I PASSED THE PE! I’m now a Licensed PE and I’m off to China!

Part 2 – Working as an SEO in the Foreign Service in Guangzhou, China.


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