Written by Michael Peck
Ask the average person to name an organization driving today’s tech, and they’ll likely name a member of what stock market buffs call FAANGM companies: Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Google, or Microsoft.
Few would mention the military, even though there’d be no Internet without ARPANET, the pioneering network created by the Department of Defense in 1969. While the private sector is responsible for developing the programs and apps consumers use daily, the military has long focused on hardware as the foundation of its operations.
But that’s rapidly changing. Mostly because it has to — and nobody recognizes that better than military leaders.
Understanding software as a “critical capability”
The U.S. Army Deputy Assistant Secretary for Data, Engineering, and Software recently called software “the most critical capability” and an “enhancer to the force,” adding that “what we’re trying to do is posture ourselves to be able to deliver…capabilities on-the-fly as needed, quickly.”
Recent legislation mirrors this point of view. In the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023, Congress notes that due to a competitive labor market for those with software development, data analytics, and cybersecurity skills, the military must upskill its current forces to address the need for this experience on the modern battlefield.
“There is significant interest among the active duty force for this type of training,” the legislation states, adding that “the best way for the military services to grow an organic coding capability is to incentivize participation, ensure service members who complete the training work in their chosen field, and ensure that those in the program remain competitive for promotion.”
In other words, the military needs to be agile and service members need opportunities. There is an urgent need for soldiers who can change code in the middle of an assignment to adapt to real-world circumstances. In-house developers and data analysts who are tactical experts in every domain will enable the Department of Defense (DoD) to bring true agile combat capability to the battlefield.
Better training through software in the military
This type of training is already underway. The U.S. Space Force runs a Supra Coder program aimed at fostering a homegrown engineering workforce. According to the program website, it’s about “aggressively and immediately expanding and nurturing our internal digital talent to address potential future knowledge and capabilities gaps vis-a-vis our peers and adversaries.”
Run by Galvanize in conjunction with the Space Force, the program structure is familiar to anyone who knows bootcamps. The Software Development Immersive is a fast-paced, three-week bootcamp leading to a three-month internship with a Space Force software factory.
Meanwhile, the Air Force has been hosting its BRAVO hackathons since 2021. Aimed at testing and validating new ideas using actual Department of Defense data, the hackathons are open to all American citizens, even if they don’t work for the military or government or have a security clearance. The concept is adopted from similar practices used by Google, Microsoft, and other big tech organizations.
The results: software for the military, made by the military
Military coders are proud of their projects — and rightfully so. Space Force Radar Analyst Theodore Kruczek built IRIS, a Space Electronic Warfare (SEW) GitHub sandbox that allows players to try their hand at analyzing and jamming enemy signals. Additionally, a combined effort of the Air Force and Marines yielded Puckboard, a planning app that’s moved the scheduling of flights, leave, events, and more from physical whiteboards to the digital space.
Military coders have a lot in common with their private sector counterparts, though they ultimately judge their efforts by uptake and not revenue. It all comes down to the user and whether they adopt their creations or not.
“Whenever we are dealing with people and the uniqueness of what we care about and how operations exist, you have to take that into consideration,” said Maj. Eric Robinson, the Development Chief for Artificial Intelligence Assisted Scheduling for the Department of the Air Force-Massachusetts Institute of Technology AI Accelerator. He was also the lead Puckboard developer for many years.
“At the end of the day,” he said, “if they don’t use the system that we make, then the system that we made was wrong to begin with.”
Crucial code: the future is software
It’s no exaggeration to say that lives, as well as the future of nations, will be affected by how the military continues to embrace software development. Done right – and with the right people who are trained to understand and operate the software effectively – it will enable our armed forces to continue to achieve goals set by leadership.
Here at Galvanize, we’re a trusted provider of coding training for active duty service members, leaders, and teams. Learn more about our programs, which include Agile for executives, product management, software engineering, and data analytics. Equip your teams with the skills they need for enduring success.